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?


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, and other popular media sites. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.


11 thoughts on “Husband v. Wife

  1. Hi Tabby,

    Excellent topic again. How we are evolving in our primary partnerships is a very popular topic with me. I look forward to staying in touch with this discussion!


  2. As my brother is about to be married for the first time (age 42… nothing like waiting til you are ready) and his soon-to-be-wife is going to be a non-working housewife, Martha Stewart wannabe I wonder how he will handle being the breadwinner and dealing with being the forever bill payer of the life she wants.
    And then of course there is me and my dear Terry running the total opposite side of the field… I am the breadwinner. I am the worker bee and he, though wonderful isn’t really a housewife. Relationships are something to learn about. I’ve been with Terry for 6 years, have had many relationships before that and am only now realizing what it really is to have a REAL RELATIONSHIP with another person and not just be with someone while I have my life and he has his… 🙂
    Good though for my day Tabbie!

  3. Roy and I have never had a conventional marriage I don’t think. We have worked together. Sometimes I was his boss, other times he was mine. At home, if I’m honest, he defers to me in most things, but not because he has to, he just trusts me and doesn’t have that urge to “be in charge.” Money has never mean much to him. With us both, it’s all about our experiences and our relationship. One night I’ll be on the floor rubbing his feet and the next night he’ll be doing the dishes and emptying the cat litter box, helping me fold the clothes. I guess what I’m saying, mostly, we don’t have defined roles. And money doesn’t really factor in. We just work as partners – we are a stronger team than we are separate compenents. We compliment each other’s weaknesses and strengths. Sorry to ramble. Hope this was to the point of your question.

  4. I am 49yrs old and the primary breadwinner in our home for the past 7 yrs. My husband retired from his career at 49yrs old and receives a small retirement every month-hes 56. I make a good living but it comes with a price – extremely high stress and tremendous pressure. My work environment is dominated by males with the majority of their wives being stay at home. I struggle everyday with the resentment that I feel for having been put into this “role.” I dont know how to stop feeling this way! It is ruining my respect for him for the simple fact that he allows this to happen. My husband is not a slacker and works very hard on home projects. He even spent 2 weeks in Haiti helping out and then another week visiting his elderly mother. But, while he was there, I was at home, going to work everyday, holding down the “fort”, paying the bills, keeping the insurance, taking the garbage out, etc, etc, etc. In all honesty, I would be bored staying at home but then I resent the fact that I am in a situation where I work and he doesnt. It just seems I position myself in a lose-lose situation. The fact that he gets up everyday and chooses exactly what he is going to do for the day and when he is going to do it just irritates me to no end. Many days I leave him and he is in his pj’s eating breakfast and then will go sit in our hot tub. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to overcome my daily struggles between how I always imagined my life to be and my reality???

  5. It may go even further than this. I think the entire institution of marriage is going to be shifting, perhaps radically, over the next few generations as physical security becomes less of a driving force in the decision making process. I have a cousin in college now who doesn’t even see herself getting married, it doesn’t make sense to her, what would be the point? Many people are deferring marriage until they are older, or are in “alternative” arrangements such as open relationships or polyamory. When relationship becomes about spiritual growth it no longer makes sense to control duration or assume monogamy, though that is certainly one option. If relationships are more about love and spiritual growth the traditional marriage model loses its cultural foundation. I see there being a growth in diversity of relationship models as the old socio-economic factors continue to change, with the traditional marriage being one choice of many.

    If relationships are to be seen as sacred partnership then one of the shifts that occurs is that it’s no longer about “me”, or “us”, the question becomes “how can I serve love?” And that answer varies over time.

    I think it’s a good idea to throw out some assumptions about relationships that the traditional marriage model has brought into our collective psyche. Throw out the expectation of life-long partnership, it may happen it may not. Throw out the expectation of monogamy, it may be the right choice, it may not. Throw out gender role assignments, they may work, they may not. Sacred partnership could also be called creative partnership. In a sense that would honor the feminine principle of reality: fluidity and formlessness. It just occurred to me that the traditional marriage model is masculine in form, maybe the shifts in relationship format and the gender-role tensions within traditional marriages are reflecting the growth of the feminine principle.

  6. hai,my husband even for small arguments,doesn’t accept my decision,always sticks to his mothers though mine is good,so because of this he doesn’t speak to me for days.10 days and so,this really irritats me,give me suggestion

  7. I believe marriage is changing also, and I believe it is for the best… In my own marriage, I have grown to trust my wife’s judgement in all endeavors. In general, women are more nurturing and family oriented (yes, I know I’m stereotyping) so I look forward to the traditional patriarchal marriage being replaced by a more feminine oriented partnership. The fact that women are becoming more and more the main earner as well as women becoming a majority on college campuses just helps this along.

    I now defer to my wife’s judgement and have never been happier. I’m even considering adapting her last name.

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