“Shortly after tying the knot, a friend asked if I wanted to watch a football game at a local bar and grill. I hesitated. “Maybe. Let me check with the wife first.” Then I quickly added, “I’m probably forgetting some plans we’ve already made, but if not, then I’m definitely in.” The sinking feeling in my stomach begged two gnawing questions. First, did I give up my decision-making power at the wedding altar? And second, did I lose some manhood along with it?”
This is the opening salvo from a post by Eric Sentell, about the power dynamics of marital decision-making. Sentell describes his personal experience learning that the power dynamics of marital decision-making are changing and that this is a good thing for both husbands and wives.
As a husband, was he not the “head” of the household? He wanted to make the decisions for him and his wife; he did not like his wife questioning his choices (made without consultation with her) his “mistakes”. Sentell recognizes that relinquishing his authority and not measuring up by making “mistakes”, are his insecurities, not measures of his masculinity.
Masculinity is evolving in the context of going from independent bachelor to interdependent married man. As Sentell says, “(a)n interdependent person retains individual identity while also forging a partnership based on shared power.” Sharing power does not equate to a loss of masculinity.
By being interdependent, you as a young husband will be sharing power and accepting your wife’s influence. Both of these aspects of marital dynamics are good alterations in modern, millennial, male gender roles.
John Gottman is a very well-known psychologist who has researched, written about, and counseled men and women in marriage. In his research, he found that marriages in which husbands resist their wives’ influence will self-destruct. “Letting your wife influence you” became one of the seven principles for making a marriage work that Gottman proposes.
Gottman found that in the long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, men who were willing to be influenced by their wives had happier marriages and were less likely to divorce than men who resisted their wives’ influence Gottman says that there is an 81% chance that a man’s marriage will self-destruct if he is not willing to share authority and power with his wife.
Other marital researchers have demonstrated the marital dynamic behind husband’s resistance to their wife’s influence; it is called the “demand-withdraw” or “demand-resist” dynamic in marriages. Actually “demand” is not where it starts. The pattern usually starts when a wife seeks some change in the relationship, and finds that her husband engages in some avoidance tactic that “resists” responding to the request. And, it is most often the wife that seeks change in the marital relationship, primarily because of the old “head” of the household mantra. Over repeated instances of this interaction, her “requests” become intensified and her husband gets more resistant.
Will millennial husbands find themselves resistant to changes in the gender dynamics of their relationships? Will they be willing to be self-reflective about their own issues about power and authority? You can follow Sentell’s lead.
“Spouses should share power and accept each other’s influence because doing so increases the collective power, happiness, and fulfillment in their relationships. Marital power should not be a zero-sum game in which one spouse loses if the other wins. It should be a win-win dynamic characterized by putting the marriage first. Sure, I sacrifice some independence and power when I check with the wife before scheduling a guy’s night out. But I gain masculinity every time I humble myself to consider my wife first and foremost. That is one of the truest and most confident forms of masculinity.”
Gottman, John M., and Nan Silver. (1999). “Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You, “in the Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work (Chapter Six, 100-127). New York: Three Rivers Press (Random House, Inc.
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