Outdated Relationship Styles Don’t Lead To Happiness In Modern Times
Women initiate 70% of divorces for this reason
When my husband James was a little boy his parents built a new house. This was an exciting thing for them, but it also tells you in one snapshot how his father related to the rest of the family. Their new house was a three-bedroom, two-bath home. It had a master bedroom, another bedroom that James and his brother shared, and the third bedroom was their father’s den.
Dad got the master bathroom and his wife shared the other one with the two boys. He was the king of the house, and he figured it was what he deserved. The rest of the family would be fine. After all, he went to work every day. His wife did too, and then she came home and made dinner and took care of the house and the kids. But, as the man, he still deserved a place to get away from things and relax after a long day.
The builder had to convince their dad to make the boy's bedroom a bit bigger since it was really too small for two people to occupy as originally conceived. This meant that his study would have to be slightly smaller than he really wanted, but at last, he conceded, probably shamed into it by the builder. They lived like that for a couple of years, until James’ parents ultimately divorced when he was 12.
In 2004 when Americans were asked if “the father of the family was the master of the house” 52% said yes, a number that was actually up 10 points from 1992. This indicates that patriarchal ideas about family and marriage are alive and well, and that presumably many women support this idea too, at least in theory.
“The American Sociological Association conducted another study, which found that women initiate two-thirds of all divorces. This is a staggering 69%. So, what exactly are the reasons for these high divorce statistics among women?”
Everyone wants intimacy and connection in relationships, but women, in particular, need this to feel safe and fulfilled. They want the small gestures and closeness that are a part of courtship but can tend to dry up once a couple moves in together or are married. Women want to continue to feel desired.
If a man checks out of the emotional part of the relationship, it’s going to be very detrimental. Some women may still believe that their husband should be the head of the household, but that doesn’t mean that they want to feel distant and disconnected from him.
Justice Schanfarber writes in Why Women Leave The Men They Love that as a marriage counselor, he sees this all the time.
“Women leave because their man is not present. He’s working, golfing, gaming, watching TV, fishing… the list is long. These aren’t bad men. They’re good men. They’re good fathers. They each support their family. They’re nice, likable, but they take their wife for granted; they’re not present.”
He further says, “Your wife is not your property. She does not owe you her soul. You earn it. Day by day, moment to moment. You earn her first and foremost with your presence, your aliveness. She needs to feel it. She wants to talk to you about what matters to her and to feel you hearing her. Not nodding politely. Not placating. Definitely not playing devil’s advocate.”
Of course, the same goes for women. If they aren’t being present to their husband or partner and really engaging with him, it’s going to harm the relationship. However, this is something that women are trained to do from a young age, for all the people in their lives, but particularly for their male partner.
This doesn’t mean that all women are adept at it but it is a huge part of female socialization. Conversely, traditional norms discourage men from vulnerability and attention to other’s needs that contribute to real intimacy. In fact, one of the primary reasons it’s discouraged is that such traits are considered to be feminine, and therefore not appropriate for men. This is a serious mistake and contributes to relationship disharmony.
The organizing principle of female sexuality is the feeling of being truly desired. Quickie sex with little romantic prelude can be a lot of fun if you are already emotionally close, but if it’s the only kind of sex you ever have and a couple isn’t already deeply connected, it’s not going to be very satisfying to most women.
When men complain that their wives don’t respond to their amorous advances, chances are they are approaching them as husbands rather than as admirers. They make the mistake of thinking that a wife wants primarily to be loved, when in fact she principally wants to be desired, not just loved and taken care of. A husband who approaches a woman without wooing her is not likely to get much of a response, because he hasn’t addressed her core need.
In patriarchal-style marriages, it’s assumed that what women primarily want is security and love. Failing to understand and address female sexual needs is something else that contributes to unhappy relationships. When women aren’t getting the variety and passion that they crave, it shuts down their interest in sex.
“Overfamiliarisation with a partner and desexualisation kills women’s libido. We used to think it’s only men who became sexually bored after marriage; turns out that’s not true. It’s when women get married that it’s detrimental to their libido.”
And then there’s the issue of care work in the home. Women still do the bulk of childcare and housekeeping duties, even if they also work outside the home. In fact, in families where the woman is by far the breadwinner or the man does not work outside the home at all, she still typically does most of the chores.
“As wives’ economic dependence on their husbands increases, women tend to take on more housework. But the more economically dependent men are on their wives, the less housework they do. Even women with unemployed husbands spend considerably more time on household chores than their spouses. In other words, women’s success in the workplace is penalized at home.”
Researcher Michael Rosenfeld notes that non-marital breakups occur equally between men and women, but that women overwhelmingly are the ones to seek the dissolution of a marriage. In other words, it’s not just that women are more attuned to relationship difficulties, as has been previously assumed.
Women initiate divorce 69% of the time and what these women report when choosing to leave a marriage and a man that they might still love are all of the things discussed above: Emotional and sexual disconnection, feeling taken for granted, a man who doesn’t make maintaining the relationship a priority in the same way that they do and who doesn’t do his fair share at home.
Rosenfeld said his results support the feminist assertion that some women experience heterosexual marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.
“I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality,” Rosenfeld said. “Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare.
On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”
The hierarchical style of traditional marriage is not geared towards cooperation and true partnership. Based on all of this, it seems apparent that maintaining the more egalitarian, companionship-oriented relationship style that many non-marital couples have would, therefore, be a better strategy for lasting happiness. And there’s no reason that married people can’t have that. They just need to leave old outdated ways of doing relationship behind and embrace one that nurtures both partners.
Some married people are clearly doing this already but based on the rate of divorce, which still hovers just under the 50% mark, and the fact that it is overwhelmingly women who initiate divorces, I think there’s plenty of room for improvement.