The High-Paid Wives Club

Equality: Are We There Yet?

Of course, as an overall society, we're still far from one big, happy, post-gender-role family.

As Paul's wife Naomi points out, some parenting double standards are alive and well.

"When Paul's out with the baby at the gym or a cafe, he gets a lot more attention than a mom," said Naomi, who is 38. "It's like a magnet, or a puppy. But hello, moms do that all the time and get no recognition."

For Dan's wife Kim, a manager at a high-tech firm, though, the double standards have been self-imposed.

Division of Housework Important to Marital Happiness

"I just now stopped apologizing for working late," Kim said, noting that Dan, who sometimes had to work evenings as a band teacher, never felt the need to apologize for it. "It took Dan saying 'That's part of your job' before I stopped."

Then there's every couple's favorite topic: housework.

"Research shows that one of the best predictors of a wife's satisfaction in marriage is how she perceives the division of labor in the household," Coontz said.

Simply put, the more housework a husband does, the more sexually attracted to him his wife will be. Likewise, Coontz said, studies show that men tend to be happier in their marriage when they have more sex.

"We have a win-win situation here," Coontz advised men. "Do more housework and you'll both be happier."

That was Jocelyn's thinking when she agreed to support her husband for a couple years while he pursued a screenwriting career.

"I originally imagined him being a bit more of a Donna Reed around the house," said the 36-year-old Madison, Wis., project manager. The couple didn't have kids, and Jocelyn's husband was home all day, so it seemed like a fair trade.

Only Jocelyn's husband wasn't much for cooking or cleaning, or even screenwriting for that matter. And soon Jocelyn's two years of playing breadwinner turned into 10.

"I think it did cause a serious imbalance," said Jocelyn, who' s now in the process of getting a divorce. "You have to each shoulder an equal burden, and it doesn't have to be financial. It's more about pulling your weight than about gender roles."

Turning the Tables -- Again

As for me, I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how important it may or may not be for me to pull my financial weight in my relationship.

Let me explain: My boyfriend, who makes more money than I do, is fond of dreaming up fantasy remodeling projects for my house. Last weekend, he suggested an idea for reconfiguring my cramped kitchen so two people could actually prepare a meal in it at the same time.

"I could never afford that," I protested.

Shaking Gender Roles Tough to Do

When he offered to pay for it -- earnestly -- it was both endearing and terrifying. Suddenly my independence felt like a rug being pulled out from under me in slow motion.

That night I dreamed I lost all my freelance writing work and wasn't eligible for unemployment. What little savings I'd had was gone and I moved in with my boyfriend out of necessity. (I'm guessing my house went into foreclosure.) If I needed dinner or a new printer cartridge, my boyfriend's credit card and checking account were at my disposal.

There was nothing cave-man-ish or controlling about it. He was simply helping me until I got back on my feet.

Still, in my dream state, I felt like the most worthless person in the world. Not only had I lost my cherished job and home, I couldn't even afford to buy a slice of pizza without tapping my significant other.

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