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.

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.”

How To Keep Your Marriage Strong When You Have a Child with a Disability

Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture our relationships amid our busy lives.

Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.

The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.

The Stress Adds Up

Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:

  • Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
  • When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
  • Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
  • The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
  • Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.

Stress Makes It Hard to Relate

So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.

As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.

Give Your Marriage Care Too

No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.

One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.

You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.

The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.

The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

How to Make Friends With Your Anger

What messages did you get about anger when you were growing up? I bet you heard statements like these:

  • Girls shouldn’t get so mad.
  • Don’t curse. It isn’t very ladylike.
  • Guys don’t like angry, bitter women.
  • Calm down. You’re being so dramatic..

The people who instilled this kind of thinking in us weren’t doing us any favors. Misconceptions about anger and a lack of healthy strategies for dealing with anger can damage your relationship. So, let’s get a fresh perspective on this intense emotion that you might fear and avoid.

When Anger Goes Wrong

Far too many women think anger is telling them something negative about themselves. Thanks to what they learned from their families of origin and our culture, they fear deep down that anger means they’re a bad, aggressive person. They believe that if they could just be “better” somehow that they wouldn’t get angry.

These beliefs lead to …

  • Tolerating behavior that makes you feel disrespected (for example, your husband habitually runs late) or even behavior that harms your family (like overspending).
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs. Never having an argument doesn’t improve your marriage. In fact, the opposite can happen if you are sweeping issues under the rug.
  • Seething silently in resentment. In many marriages, women build up resentments around housework and emotional labor.
  • Withdrawing and becoming depressed. This happens when you lose any hope of getting your needs met.
  • Complaining. Complaints do give voice to your anger, but in a way that’s unlikely to get your husband to change what’s making you angry.
  • Mean-spirited venting with friends. Again, this might feel like you’re doing something with your anger. But you’re actually just cultivating contempt for your husband while avoiding the real issues.
  • We all have a breaking point. If you suppress anger long enough, you’re likely to lash out. When that happens, your words will be a lot more hurtful than the ones you would have chosen if you’d addressed your anger earlier.

How Anger Can Help You

You may not realize that anger doesn’t have to result in screaming and wounded feelings. It can actually help you improve your relationship. Anger also isn’t some indication of your character, or lack thereof.

The very wise psychologist and author Harriet Lerner recommends viewing anger as a warning signal. It reliably tells you when something is wrong and you need to take action to protect yourself.

To use anger in a positive way, first notice how you react when you notice angry feelings surfacing. If you tend to judge yourself (“Ugh, I shouldn’t be such a bitch”) or push your anger down (“No time to feel that now!), see if you can just let yourself feel the emotion without trying to judge it or squash it.

Instead of recoiling from your own anger, tune in and ask yourself what your anger is trying to communicate to you. Some common messages behind anger include:

  • Your needs aren’t being met.
  • You are being disrespected.
  • You are doing too much.
  • Someone has crossed a line with you.

When you have a handle on what’s causing your anger, you can act on it in a more effective way and use your anger as catalyst for positive change. For example, you can establish or affirm healthy boundaries around what you will do, how much you will give and what you will tolerate. You can lovingly but firmly stand up for what you need and what you expect.

Read More About Women and Anger

I won’t lie to you: While embracing your anger is liberating, it can also be an uncomfortable journey. All of those early messages are deeply ingrained in our minds, and our society still has some deeply messed-up attitudes about women and anger. To aid you in this work, I recommend Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger, as well as my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love.

A Lack of Sleep Can Hurt Your Marriage

The health of your relationship can depend on how things are going in bed. And I’m not talking about sex!

When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep schedules are out of synch, it’s a lot harder to have a happy, connected marriage. So today I hope to convince you that catching some ZZZ’s together is one of the most romantic things you can do.

What’s Causing Your Sleep Problems?

For working parents, a great night’s sleep can seem like the impossible dream. Lots of factors can come together to keep you from getting the rest you need. They include:

  • Stress and anxiety. You wake up at 3 A.M. and an endless loop starts playing in your mind: Will there be layoffs at work? Will your son pull up his grades? Is your mom showing signs of dementia? What’s going to happen next in this crazy world? More than two-thirds of Americans report that they lose sleep because they’re worried about something.
  • Your jobs. Different work shifts can put the two of you on different sleep schedules. Sleep also gets disrupted if either of you feels compelled to keep checking work email late into the night.
  • Technology. Even if you aren’t using your devices for work at bedtime, having them in your bedroom still makes it harder to sleep because they keep your brain alert and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
  • Packed schedules. Our busy days don’t leave us time to wind down and process the day. So we end up staying up later just to get the mental space we need.
  • Your kids. If you have young children — or even older kids who still wake up at night — your own sleep can suffer.
  • Each other. When a night owl marries an early bird, they can cost each other sleep. And when one partner has a sleep disorder — such as snoring or insomnia — the other often loses rest too.
The Sleep-Deprived Marriage

Have you ever noticed that even when people complain about a lack of sleep that they seem almost proud of it? It’s as if they’re “humble bragging” to the world that they can still do it all even when they’re exhausted.

But the truth is that skimping on sleep can profoundly damage our health, our work and our relationships. It keeps us from being at our best and from being there for others in the ways we want to be.

When you’re not in a healthy sleep routine, you may notice negative effects like these on your marriage:

  • Weaker connection. If the two of you are on different sleep schedules, you miss out on pre-sleep talking, cuddling and sex. The same is true if you go to bed at the same time but spend the moments before sleep on your phones. Marriage is all about maintaining connection, and missing these intimate moments can contribute to the two of you drifting apart.
  • Less interest in sex. A lack of sleep lowers libido for both men and women.
  • Nastier arguments. Being sleep deprived doesn’t just lead to more conflicts. It also changes the tone of those conflicts. Couples who get enough sleep are more likely to stay constructive and keep their sense of humor when they argue. On the other hand, couples who lack sleep get more hostile and negative. This is important because how often you argue is less important than the way that you argue.
  • A lack of gratitude. Appreciation is one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. But when you aren’t sleeping enough, you feel less grateful for you partner.
 Sleep Your Way to a Happier Marriage

You know now that you need more sleep. But you also know that your crazy schedules and all the things causing you anxiety aren’t going away. So what can you do to get the rest and the nightly connection you need to keep your marriage strong?

  • Create work boundaries. For some tips to help keep your job out of your bedroom, see my recent article on workaholism.
  • Curb technology. Ideally, you should keep your devices out of your bedroom before sleep. But if that’s not possible, start putting them away earlier to give yourself more time to wind down and to connect with each other.
  • Create a “good night” ritual. If the two of you don’t go to bed at the same time, you can still share some moments of connection at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to cuddle and talk even if one of you gets back up afterward.
  • Take care of yourselves. If you’re prone to middle-of-the-night worry sessions, look for at least one way you can start better managing stress, whether that’s exercising more or planning some time to talk with a friend.
  • Give yourself some breathing room. You might need to create some space in your schedule for more downtime and sleep. That’s especially true this time of year, when traveling, socializing and even wrapping presents can keep you up late.

It’s easy to let sleep fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. But when you take steps to get the rest you need, you’ll see the benefits quickly in your marriage and in other areas. For more advice on maintaining a happy marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.