Women, Men and the ‘Breadwinner’ Stereotype

breadwinner

Couples tend to underestimate how much what’s going in our society as a whole affects their marriage. Cultural norms and expectations about men, women and families play into our relationships, whether we agree with them or not.

And sometimes those norms and expectations change more slowly than the realities of our lives — which gives today’s busy couples yet one more thing to navigate.

Take family income, for example. In 2017, Pew Research Center found that in almost one-third of U.S. cohabitating couples, women brought home at least half of the earnings. That’s a big leap from 1981, when that figure was just 13%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 38% of wives earn more than their husbands.

While women’s earning power has increased over the years, there’s been less change in our perceptions of who “should” be the breadwinner.

The Pew Center also reports that 71% of adults believe that a good husband or partner should support his family financially. Only 32% say the same of women. On top of that, a study by a Harvard professor found that couples are at a nearly 33% greater risk of divorce when the husband doesn’t work full time.

All of this is important information to be aware of if you make more money than your husband does. The two of you could face criticism (veiled or otherwise) from friends and family, especially if your husband stays home with the kids — which means the two of you are breaking another norm.

You might also discover that the income disparity brings up some surprising feelings for both of you. In theory, both of you may have always supported the idea that it doesn’t matter which spouse makes more money. But, in practice, you might run up against some ideas about men and women left over from the way you were raised — ideas that you weren’t even aware affected you anymore!

None of this means that there’s anything wrong with how your family’s income breaks down. It’s up to you and your husband to decide together how much money you need and what you both want from your careers and your work-life balance. The important thing is just to understand the power of these entrenched expectations, how they might play out in your relationship and how you can manage these challenges together.

For more tips on negotiating all of the expectations and pressures of marriage today, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

He Cheated — Should You Leave Him?

affair

If your husband has had an affair, you’re hurt, you’re angry and you have some big decisions to make. Should you try to repair your marriage? Or should you end your relationship because of his infidelity?

There’s no decision that’s right for every person. Today I want to give you some questions to consider that will help you make the best choice for your marriage.

How Badly Did He Mess Up?

How long was he unfaithful? Has he had multiple affairs? Were his infidelity physical, emotional or both? How emotionally entangled is he with his affair partner? A one-time slip might feel less daunting to work through than an ongoing pattern of cheating.

How Much Do You Have Invested?

How long have you been married? Do you have children? Are you deeply involved in each other’s families? While infidelity is devastating in any relationship, you may feel more motivated to stay and work it out if you lives have been deeply interwoven for years and you still have kids at home.

How Is Your Marriage Otherwise?

What else isn’t working? What is working? Do the positives of your relationship give you a strong enough foundation to rebuild your marriage? For example, do you share values, parent well together and still have a friendship? Or have you been feeling disconnected from each other for years?

Are Other Issues Involved?

Is he experiencing addiction or mental illness? Is there a history of infidelity in his family? All of those factors can make repairing your relationship more difficult.

Did He Learn His Lesson?

Does he understand the pain he caused you? Has he apologized sincerely? Is he showing you with his actions that he’s willing to do the work needed to save your marriage and to be faithful going forward?

If You Decide to Stay

  • See a therapist. Healing after an affair is possible. But it isn’t easy. If at all possible, get counseling as a couple.
  • Set boundaries. If you tell people close to you about your husband’s infidelity, their first reaction might be to urge you to leave him. That’s understandable. They’re hurt and angry on your behalf. But they can also become a barrier to your reconciliation. Remember, it’s your decision whether or not to stay with your husband. And you’re under no obligation to reveal all the details about what’s happening in your marriage to anyone.
  • Realize that things are different now. Even if you stay together, the marriage that you had before is gone. Going forward, you’re building a new relationship. The good news is that, while neither of you will forget this painful chapter, you can create a healthier and more honest marriage than the one you had before. As you do, I invite you to use my book Strong Women, Strong Love as a resource.

Kids at College? How to Cope With Your Empty Nest

empty nest

It seemed like it would never end. You got your kid through all the rigors of college applications (and maybe a few rejections along the way). You helped them make lots of memories during their senior year. You made sure they packed everything they needed for school and then carried it up all those flights of stairs in their dorm. You tried to hide your tears when you had to leave them on campus. And then you came back home — without them.

So now what?

Many parents experience Empty Nest Syndrome after their kids leave for college. According to “Psychology Today,” the symptoms include sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress and a loss of meaning and purpose. Moms who don’t work outside the home can be hit especially hard.

Empty Nest Syndrome is painful, but part of a very normal transition in life. Your child is starting college and you are now entering a new stage in life. You’ve probably strongly identified with being a “mom” for a long time. But now it’s time to reconnect with the other aspects of your life as well. Here are a few questions to help you move through Empty Nest Syndrome and spread your wings again.

What’s Going On With You and Your Husband?

Do the two of you still feel connected? Or have things been so busy that you are more like strangers? If that’s the case, now is a great time to rebuild your intimate friendship. You probably have more time to spend together, and you may even have a little extra cash for some fun weekend trips or other new experiences. If you want to refocus on your relationship now that you are empty nesters, my book Strong Women, Strong Love is a great resource.

Could Your Other Relationships Use Some Attention, Too?

Just as you might have neglected your marriage due to your focus on parenting, you may also have let some of the other relationships in your life fall off the radar. If your “social life” used to revolve your kid’s activities, think about the other options you have now. Perhaps you can hang out with the old friends you never seemed to have time to connect with before. Or maybe you could get to know your colleagues better by taking part in the after-work activities you used to skip. However you choose to expand your “relationship portfolio,” doing so will help with the feelings of loneliness that Empty Nest Syndrome can bring.

What Are YOU Interested In?

This can be the hardest question for many women to answer! You may have lost touch with your dreams, ambitions, passions and hobbies as you raised your kids. Now, just as you reconnect with others, it’s also time to reconnect with yourself. What activities would enrich your life? What would be just plain fun? (There’s a bonus here, too. When you pursue your own interests, it often spices up your marriage.)

What’s Meaningful to You Now?

According to the famous psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, you are now in stage of life called generativity vs. stagnation. At this stage, we feel compelled to create something meaningful that will outlive us. We start thinking a lot about making a difference and leaving a legacy. If we feel like we are failing at these things, then we have a sense of stagnation and disconnection.

Of course, you’ve already done something incredibly meaningful: nurturing a child who is now thriving at college. But as you’re remaking your life, look for other projects and relationships that enable you to make a contribution and feel connected something bigger.

With your child in college, there’s no denying that a part of your life is over. But an exciting new part is beginning. Enjoy your marriage, your other relationships, your passions and, yes, your grown-up kids!

Can a Boring Marriage Recapture Its Spark?

We tend to joke about how marriage gets boring after a few years. But it’s actually no laughing matter.

Researchers have found that boredom may be even more damaging to a marriage than conflict is. Psychotherapist and a bestselling author Esther Perel even sees a link between boredom and infidelity:

When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and that story becomes the life you live. … And sometimes you realize, after years of living those parts of you, that there are other parts of you that have virtually disappeared. The woman disappeared behind the mother. The man disappeared behind the caregiver. The sensual person disappeared behind the responsible person.

And there is an expression of longing and yearning. Longing for connection, for intensity, for a sense of “aliveness,” which is really the word that many people all over the world would tell me when they are having an affair. They don’t talk about sex and excitement and titillation, actually. … What they say is they feel alive — as in vibrant, vital; as in a reclaiming of something that had gotten lost.

And what is boredom if not the opposite of aliveness?

What Makes You Feel Alive?

If you have kids, I bet you invested in classes, camps or other activities for them this summer — and not just to keep them supervised while you were at work. You wanted them to learn, to try new things, to have experiences that would enrich who they are.

As good parents, we do this for our kids. But we often neglect to do the same thing for ourselves. But, just like your kids, you need to stretch, grow and have new experiences. And your marriage will be better when you do.

So now that the kids are back in school, what’s one thing you can do that makes you feel more alive? This doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Revive your yoga practice. Take an online class. Make a list of things you’ve never done in your town, and start doing them. Reconnect with a friend you love spending time with. Whether you do something as a couple or on your own, you’ll be bring some new energy into your relationship. Over time, that energy multiplies, and boredom vanishes.

Are you looking for more ways to keep the spark in your relationship even after you’ve been married for years? Pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

How To Respond If Your Husband Likes to Argue

You’re the kind of person who avoids conflict. Your husband, on the other hand, seems to relish picking fights. It’s driving you crazy, but is it a serious problem in your marriage?

The answer is “it depends.” Let’s look at some reasons he may argue with you.

Possibility #1: He Just Likes to Debate

Some people just love to spar over politics, which “Avengers” movie was the best, where to order pizza … and on and on. For others, this is exhausting. That being said, very few people actually enjoy aggressively stirring up real arguments.

If he’s a debater and you’re not, the important thing is realizing that the two of you have different styles, and that you must learn to peacefully coexist.

“Respect” is really the key word here. If it suddenly feels like he’s talking about you, instead of, say, politics, pay attention. There’s a big difference between “I disagree with your candidate” and “You’ve got to be an idiot to vote for that guy.” And the latter statement is a sign of a deeper trouble in your marriage.

Possibility #2: He Wants to Talk EVERYTHING Out

You and your husband may be different in how much you feel a need to discuss things. Maybe you usually shrug off little annoyances, but he tends to make everything “a thing.”

You grit your teeth and put up with his family. He doesn’t hesitate to tell you how much your mom drives him nuts. You don’t say a word when he’s binge watching his favorite show. He lets you know he’s unhappy with the amount of time you spend on Instagram. Why can’t he chill out?

Maybe he came from a family where everyone expressed themselves openly, and your family was more reserved. Or, perhaps you were taught to let little things go, and he wasn’t.

Whatever the case, there isn’t necessarily a “right” approach. Some people with great marriages don’t express conflict openly. Others bicker all the time. The frequency of your arguments isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on in them. As long as you remain respectful, you’re on solid ground. (See “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”)

Possibility #3: It’s Really About His Unmet Needs

Unmet needs can sometimes also be the source of intense conflict. The influential psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, noted:

Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.

Could this be true of your husband? Is it possible his agitation is really about a need that’s not being met? Maybe he wants more time with you? More appreciation? Consider listening deeper for that unmet need rather than joining him in the fight. How would your response change?

Now this doesn’t mean that he has license to yell or throw tantrums and to expect you to read his mind. He has some responsibility to ask for what he needs. You have every right to ask that he be calm and constructive.

Conclusion

No matter which one of these scenarios applies to your marriage, please know that you and your husband can manage it together. Understanding the reason for the disagreement is important in helping you determine how to respond. Next time he picks a fight, I hope you’ll start by asking yourself, “Why is he arguing with me?”

Is Your Marriage More Intimate Than You Think?

Women will often say that they want more intimacy in their marriage. If you’ve had feelings like this, I want to give you something to think about.

Typically, when a wife complains about a lack of intimacy, she means that she and her husband are not having deep and candid conversations about things like each other’s true feelings, thoughts, and dreams.

However, intimacy can take different forms in a marriage. Some men — especially those with a more traditional upbringing— have an easier time with nonverbal intimacy than with building intimacy through conversation.

Paths and Roadblocks to Intimacy

When your husband seeks intimacy more physically than verbally, it’s easy to misunderstand his motivations. You may think things like, “It’s all about sex for him” and assume he’s only seeking you out to fulfill his own desires. Usually, the truth is more nuanced. Yes, he’s probably enjoying sex. However, he’s also seeking connection and intimacy with you in a way that just feels more comfortable for him.

When you seek intimacy through conversation and he seeks it through physical connection, neither of you is wrong. You just need to see that these are two different paths to feeling closer, and find a way to honor both.

To set the stage for more intimate conversations with your husband, make sure there’s an atmosphere of safety and respect in your marriage. Listen when he talks. (Put down your phone!) Be curious about what’s going on with him. And don’t micromanage or criticize him — would you want to open up to someone who is constantly getting after you?

Enhancing Nonverbal Intimacy

In addition to deepening your connection through conversation, appreciate the various forms of nonverbal intimacy in your marriage and look for ways to increase that too. I’m not just talking about sex. You could also…

  • Offer physical comfort.
  • Reassure or encourage with a squeeze of the shoulder or a gentle touch.
  • Hold eye contact.
  • Hold each other.
  • Wink and smile.
  • Gently caress his face, hair, or arm in a cherishing way.
  • Sit close to each other.
  • Speak quietly and lovingly.
  • Lean on each other.
  • Reach out and hold hands.
  • Embrace.
  • Kiss.
  • Give him a pat on the butt.
  • Walk arm-in-arm, holding hands, or arm-over-shoulder.

On their own, these gestures will bring the two of you closer together. They could also make it feel safer for your husband to risk opening up to the intimate conversations you’ve been longing for.

A Minute of Silence

I want to leave you with one of the most vivid reminders of the power of nonverbal intimacy that I know of. Perhaps you’ve heard of Marina Abramovic’s work “The Artist is Present” in which she sat across from strangers and shared a minute of silence with them. That’s intimate enough itself! But when Abramovic’s ex-love sits down, look at how much passes between them before they even speak a single word.

As Abramovic shows us, there’s nothing more powerful than the connection between people. Make it a priority to constantly build your connection with your husband, whatever form that intimacy takes. My book, Strong Women, Strong Love, can give you more ideas on how to stay close no matter how busy and hectic your lives are.

How to Stop Being Too Controlling of Your Husband

You’re so controlling! Can you just get off my back?

If your husband has ever hurled words like these at you during an argument, you no doubt remember their sting. But besides feeling hurt, you were probably also confused. Me? Controlling? Where’s he coming up with this?

This conflict can cause real damage in your relationship if it continues unchecked. Today, I want to help you get to the root of the issue and to suggest some shifts that both you and your husband can make to strengthen your marriage.

Are You Really Controlling?

If your husband has told you that you’re controlling, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common points of tension in marriages. But I don’t believe that most wives are out there secretly scheming to find new ways to boss their husbands around.

What’s actually happening? As you know firsthand, we women have a lot on our plates. In addition to going to work, women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do. And then there’s the emotional labor that goes along with having a family, which also disproportionately falls on women.

With so much going on, we have to be very good at getting things done. To keep all the balls we’re juggling in the air, we’re relentlessly focused and efficient.

Why He Thinks You’re Too Controlling

Here’s where issues of control come in. When you’re driving so hard to check off all the things on your list, sometimes it can feel like your husband is slowing you down or getting in your way. So you end up doing things like this:

  • Telling him how to do a task “right.”
  • Jumping in and taking over if he’s doing it “wrong” or taking too long.
  • Constantly reminding him about something you asked him to do because you’re worried he’ll forget.

You know that you’re just trying to get everything done because you care about your family. But he’s taking away a very different message from your behavior. If he complains that you are too controlling, he isn’t just saying that he feels micromanaged. The deeper meaning behind his words is that he doesn’t think you trust him or respect him which makes him feel demoralized and unmotivated.

Again, I know these aren’t the messages you’re trying to communicate to him. But they’re the ones he’s taking away.

Step Back So He Can Step Up

Your marriage doesn’t have to stay stuck in this destructive pattern, though. Here’s how to change the dynamic between you and your husband.

  • As we’ve discussed, the behaviors that he perceives as controlling are probably happening because you have too much to do and you feel stressed and overwhelmed. That means it’s time for an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores, childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more equitably.
  • Once you agree that a task or responsibility is his to manage, back off. Don’t jump in and sideline him, even when you know that you would do a better job. Yes, taking over might be easier right now, but giving him some space to grow is better for you both in the long run. He might make some mistakes, but he’ll grow from them.
  • Remember “the friend test.” Our spouses are so close to us that sometimes we take them for granted and don’t show them the same respect and consideration we would show a friend. When you’re tempted to tell your husband how to do something, or to jump in and start doing it for him, ask yourself whether you would behave the same way with a dear friend.

Persist Through Discomfort

Shifts like these may feel uncomfortable at first because things will take longer to get done, and they might not be done according to your high standards. But I believe the closeness you’ll gain in your marriage more than makes up for any efficiency you lose. He’ll feel less controlled, you’ll feel less burdened, and you’ll both enjoy a more collaborative partnership that gives you more freedom and flexibility.

For more marriage tips like the ones in this article, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In it, you’ll find many more strategies for maintaining a strong relationship amid our busy, stressful lives.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

If He ‘Needs Space,’ What Should You Do?

Nothing’s wrong — I just need some space.

Those are some of the most alarming and confusing words you can hear in your marriage. Today I want to help you decode them.

What Is He Really Saying?

If your husband says that he needs space, or if you notice that he’s been distancing himself lately, a lot of thoughts might race through your mind:

  • He doesn’t love me anymore.
  • He’s keeping a dark secret.
  • He’s having an affair.

So what does “I need space” really mean?

I’ll let you in on a secret: It means he needs space. Yep, guys are pretty literal most of the time. And this need for space is not necessarily a signal that something is wrong in your marriage.

Why Does He Need Space?

Speaking very generally, “space” is a more confusing word for women than it is for men. As a result, when your husband doesn’t want to collaborate, you might quickly assume the worst.

However, men in the U.S. are usually socialized very differently than we are. They’re taught to be stoic and deal with problems and issues on their own. So when he says he needs space, here a few things that might be going on with him:

  • He’s working through a challenge or a problem, like a tough time at work.
  • He’s exhausted. Men will more readily take some time to themselves to recharge. This is one area where we should follow their example!
  • He’s experiencing a difficult emotion, such as grief, that he needs time to process.

I’m not saying that taking some space is the best way to handle any of these situations. But it’s his way, and it probably doesn’t reflect on his feelings for you.

When the Need for Space Is a Red Flag

Sometimes, however, “I need some space” really does translate to “There’s a problem in our marriage.” This is especially true if you typically have a very close and collaborative relationship and he suddenly wants more space. Don’t rush to conclusions, but do realize it’s time to open a discussion about what’s happening with him.

This is just one example of how navigating the differences between your husband’s emotional needs and communication style and your own can be tricky. For more proven strategies that can help, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

Is It Ever OK to Gossip About Your Husband?

You’ve met some friends for a glass of wine. Or you’re grabbing a coffee with your best girlfriends at work. Or maybe you’re huddled with some other moms on the sidelines of your kids’ soccer game. And then it starts: gossip about your husbands.

Does This Sound Familiar?

He’s STILL so helpless around the house. It’s like having another kid!

I asked him to pick up the gift for his mom, and he forgot — of course! He’s just useless.

He’s let himself go so much. We’re way beyond “dad bod” here. It’s killing my sex drive!

You’re amused and even titillated at this look into your friends’ marriages. And you can definitely empathize with some of the things they’re going through. In fact, you’ve got a couple of stories about things your husband has done lately. You know they’ll understand where you’re coming from. What’s the harm in a little venting?

Actually, there can be a lot of harm in gossiping about your husband. Here a few things to consider the next time you feel like dishing with your friends.

Is This Really ‘Joking’?

Sometimes there’s a fine line between poking some gentle fun at your husband’s quirks and talking about him contemptuously. You’re probably not doing any harm by sharing a couple of anecdotes about how obsessed he gets with work. However, if you start saying things like “I swear, he knows more about what’s going on with his coworkers than his own kids,” that’s a sign of some serious bitterness behind your jokes.

Would He Be OK With This? Would You?

How would your husband feel if he knew what you were sharing with your friends? Would he laugh at himself, or would he feel that you had betrayed his trust?

And here’s something else to think about: How would you feel if you knew he was gossiping with his friends over an embarrassing mistake you had made? Or if he was complaining to them about your low libido?

If there’s even a small possibility that he would consider what you’re about to say a betrayal, then just don’t say it.

Are You Avoiding Taking Action About Something?

If you’re having a problem in your marriage, gossiping about your husband with friends probably makes you feel better in the moment.
However, if your husband has no idea there is a problem, nothing can change. Does he have any idea how you’re feeling? If not, consider talking to him directly, rather than venting to others.

Is Your Listener Trustworthy?

I do understand that there will be situations in your marriage when you can’t talk to your husband. For example, you may need to get your own thoughts sorted out first or want some advice about how to approach him. In those cases, make sure the person you are confiding in is someone you can trust completely.

Your marriage needs an environment of respect and emotional safety. What you say in one careless moment can instantly undermine that environment. That’s why I urge you to tread very carefully whenever a conversation turns to gossip about your husbands. Take a minute to think through the consequences of sharing information about him, always choosing to protect the trust you have built together over the years.

For more advice about creating a healthy and respectful marriage, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”

Why are Women More Stressed at Home?

Have you been in this situation with your husband?

The two of you are at home after work or on the weekend. You’re catching up on household tasks or things you need to do for the kids. Or you may be trying to rest, but your head is spinning with thoughts of all you should be doing.

While you’re stressed, he’s relaxing by the TV or happily scrolling through his phone. If it’s bedtime, he’s out like a light.

One of the most frustrating and fascinating things I see happening in relationships is that there’s still a big gulf between the way men feel at home and how women feel in the same space.

Despite all the changes in gender roles and expectations that have happened in the past half-century, I believe that most men continue to view home as a place to relax and as a refuge from the stress of the outside world.

Meanwhile, women see home as a place that has its own set of responsibilities and stresses. There’s a good reason for this. Wives still tend to do more housework than their husbands do. Primary responsibility for childcare also continues to fall mostly on women, as well as the emotional labor of the household.

And then there are the cultural norms that affect us all to one degree or another. Traditionally, we’ve seen the home as the woman’s domain. A lot of us know deep down that if, for example, the house is messy when someone drops by that we will be the ones who are judged for that, not our husbands.

Making Things More Fair at Home

But, just like your husband, you deserve to get some rest and relaxation at home. And your marriage will be better if you don’t have underlying resentment that you’re doing more around the house.

Change starts by talking openly about the unspoken expectations and assumptions both of you have. You might discover that the behaviors you were taking personally (“He’s lounging around and doesn’t care that I’m so stressed!”) are actually just habits he learned in his family of origin or stem from his lack of awareness of how much is on your plate.

After you’ve cleared the air, negotiate how the two of you can divide domestic responsibilities so that you both get some rest. For example, maybe you agree that each of you will take a set amount of time to decompress after work and then have certain tasks to complete. Or, perhaps, you’re responsible for the dishes and he does the laundry. The more specific you can be, the better.

This common conflict really drives home how social expectations can affect your marriage. Remember that you are both on the same team and can create a less stressful life if you work together to ease the burdens on each of you. For more ideas about decreasing the stress in your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”