The Egalitarian Marriage and the Bedroom
The perfect marriage. She makes the kugel, he mops the floor. He does the morning carpool, she picks up in the afternoon. She pays the electricity bill and he takes out the trash.
Until about 15 years ago I believed that a 50/50 marriage was the absolute ideal.
But over the past decade and half or so of observing marriages, I have noticed something over and over that once surprised me, but doesn’t anymore. I have seen how the expectation of an egalitarian breakdown of household duties is not only NOT the recipe for a perfect marriage. It is, in fact, the recipe for destroying one.
I think this New Yorker cartoon says it all:
In this cartoon, the couples marriage is on the rocks. Why? The wife doesn’t think the husband is pulling his weight around the house. And now, in order to please the marriage counselor, he is folding laundry. But the choice of folding laundry means the wife isn’t only interested in basic help around the house– dropping the kids off at school, sweeping up, putting on a pot of spaghetti. This wife is dissatisfied because she folded the laundry last week, and this week it’s his turn. 50/50 or else!
Here’s another video with a similar message:
The wife dreams of the day that her neanderthal of a husband will become a perfect husband: cooking and cleaning and making dinner and entertaining the baby.
But I think the video’s implication to the 10 million women who have viewed it is clear: if your husband isn’t cooking and cleaning and making dinner and watching the baby then he is no better than this gaseous neanderthal.
And what have I seen? That when a wife is constantly calculating whether her husband did exactly as much as her in the house, then it is almost inevitably a source of marital and personal bitterness and tension.
Until last week, my impressions about the harmful effects of the 50/50 marriage were nothing more than a strong feeling– but then I received a link to a New York Times article “Does an Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex” (this is an important article and also an extremely graphic one. That’s why I’m not linking to it, Google it at your own risk).
Author Lori Gottlieb writes:
“Today, according to census data, in 64 percent of U.S. marriages with children under 18, both husband and wife work. There’s more gender-fluidity when it comes to who brings in the money, who does the laundry and dishes, who drives the car pool and braids the kids’ hair, even who owns the home. A vast majority of adults under 30 in this country say that this is a good thing, according to a Pew Research Center survey: They aspire to what’s known in the social sciences as an egalitarian marriage, meaning that both spouses work and take care of the house and that the relationship is built on equal power, shared interests and friendship. But the very qualities that lead to greater emotional satisfaction in peer marriages, as one sociologist calls them, may be having an unexpectedly negative impact on these couples’ sex lives.”
“A study called ‘Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,’ which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.”
The article goes on to explain that no matter how much a woman says she loves being married to a man who cooks and cleans and changes 50% of the diapers, when push comes to shove egalitarianism is a major turn-off.
I heard recently about somebody who bought a home and then chopped down the wrong wall and the whole thing collapsed into a pile of rubble. And when I read this article that’s what I thought of—that is exactly what this 50/50 expectation is doing to our marriages.
Husbands should treat their wives with respect.
Husbands should be active parents to their children.
Husbands should help out in the house.
But I think we need to rethink our expectations. The 50/50 breakdown is not the ideal, and it can actually wreak havoc on one’s marriage and one’s joy in life.
As a Jewish woman you are the Akeret Habayit, the essence of your home. I know it’s tough. Often very tough. But we’ve got to learn to love that role. To own that role. To reach our ultimate potential through that role.
And what if you’re collapsing under the pressure of the house and the kids? Look into getting help a few hours a week from a teenage girl who would love some extra pocket money. Recruit/bribe older children to help more. Lower expectations. Do Flylady. Eat take-out.
Do whatever you need to do to rely less on your husband’s help in the home. And at the same time learn how embrace and love your role in the home.
If you give up on the 50/50 dream your husband will be happier, your marriage will be happier, and ultimately, I promise you, YOU will be happier as well.
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