Husband v. Wife

Written by Tabby Biddle

The title of this blog might indicate that it’s a piece about husbands and wives in competition with one another in some way. Some kind of tension between men and women …  some kind of battle of the sexes. However, that’s not what I am writing about today. I am writing about the changes going on in the institution of marriage.

Probably many of us can agree that for much of the 20th century the archetypal gender roles of marriage were: husband as breadwinner and protector and wife as homemaker and mother. Even if a woman was working, there was an unspoken code about the roles a husband and wife would assume upon being married. But over the recent couple of decades, due to economic and socio-political changes, that code can no longer be assumed and more to the point — is in a process of reconstruction. Add to this that same sex marriages and partnerships are causing many to reexamine our suppositions about marriage.

Last week in The New York Times, writer/performer Sandra Tsing Loh wrote an opinion piece entitled “My So-Called Wife” discussing the changing roles of men and women in marriage. “I don’t know how it’s going for my sisters, but as my 40s and Verizon bills and mortgage payments roll on, I seem to have an ever more recurring 1950s housewife fantasy,” says Sandra, the main breadwinner in her first of marriage of 13 years and now the main breadwinner again with a new partner.

The conversation on this topic is hot right now because a recent study by the Pew Research Center, entitled “The Rise of Wives,” found that while men overall still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

I look at this and think, Okay, that means that 78 percent of husbands are still the primary breadwinner in families … why is everyone making a big deal about these numbers? Then I realize that as it becomes an increasingly common situation for a woman to make more money than her husband, this rattles the very foundation of our belief system about marriage.

In our household, while my husband is still the main breadwinner, he is also the one who takes care of the home. He does the cooking, laundry, etc. He considers cooking a masculine activity, or at least not a gender-specific one.

(I do want to point out here that while my husband enjoys a lot of domestic duties, he draws the line at some things. “I don’t think I’d pull the vacuum out if you had a bunch of your girlfriends over. That might be a little embarrassing.”)

Some day our roles might switch and I could be the main breadwinner. The idea of being the main breadwinner sounds exhilarating to me. However, I wonder … when I am there, will I still feel the same way? How deep does the “husband” and “wife” archetypal programming go?

Tara Parker-Pope, health and wellness columnist for The New York Times, poses the question in a recent article: [Is] a financially successful woman a threat to her husband or a relief?

I have one male friend who insists that while his ex-wife may not admit it, the demise of their marriage began when she started making more money than he did. “She lost respect for me,” he said. And from there, a host of other problems ensued.

In Gary Zukav’s book, The Seat of the Soul, he argues that the old archetype of marriage is no longer functional. He says it is being replaced with a new archetype that is designed to assist spiritual growth. Instead of marrying for physical security, couples are coming together to assist in their mate’s evolution and spiritual growth process. In other words, a shift toward an archetype of sacred partnership.

It’s hard to deny that the circumstances affecting modern-day marriages have changed. Perhaps what needs to happen is a complete disassembling of the old notions of marriage and assumed roles of husband and wife, so we can start anew.

How to do this? In my own marriage – one step and one day at a time.

While redefining archetypes may not be easy for every couple, it may be worth it for the benefits of personal growth and marriages that are more meaningful … and that last longer.

What do you think?

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Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. is a writer and editor specializing in health and wellness, women’s issues, social change, personal growth and empowerment. Her work has been featured by The Huffington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, LonelyPlanet.tv and other popular media sites. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.