WHEN MOM AND DAD SHARE IT ALL

Creating HIP MarriageThis post is about how to achieve a HIP marriage (High Investment Parenting) touted by Richard Reeves in his 2014 article in The Atlantic, titled How to Save Marriage in America”.   As Reeves notes, having this kind of marriage is a huge commitment of time, energy, money and attention to all aspects of the care and development of children.  Because of the significant change in women’s economic and social status, HIP marriages are recasting family responsibilities with Mom and Dad sharing the roles of both child-raiser and money-maker.  This takes the juggling, trading, and negotiating.

Let me introduce you to Marc and Amy Vachon who are very committed to the idea of equally shared parenting.  They are well described in an article, “When Mom and Dad Share It All“,  written by Lisa Belkin for the New York Times in 2008.  As Belkin described, the Vachon’s have designed their lives to prioritize home life.  The primary elements that help them keep their lives afloat are lightened workloads and what Amy calls the “bravery” to stand up to gender stereotypes.

Amy and Marc both worked 32 hours a week.  They didn’t divide up childcare and household tasks or divvy up specific responsibilities, nor keep track of who has done what.  They each took responsibility for all aspects of parenting their two children on separate days.  After their first child was born, the couple negotiated part-time schedules.  Amy worked four days a week, Monday through Thursday and Marc worked three ten-hour days, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

They divided their childcare responsibilities (getting the children up, feeding them, getting them to daycare or school, etc. etc.) based on who was working what hours on a given day.  For example, if their daughter wanted to schedule a visit with a friend (a play date) on Thursday, Marc took charge of the arrangements because that was his day with the children.  If their son had a play date on Monday, Amy took responsibility.

Amy and Marc continually stayed alert and monitored how things were being shared between them.  To avoid skirmishes about parenting or household tasks, they had to decide together what the standards they were going to live with.  For example, did they want to work toward a set nap schedule? Yes.  Did their daughter’s outfits have to match perfectly? No.  How neat did the house have to be?  (Remember the post “The Case for Filth”).   What constitutes “doing the laundry”?  How often do we need to vacuum?

For the Vachon’s, consensus emerged over time.  They gave up being “experts” on anything since such expertise is usually involved a gender stereotype.  They each had the privilege of doing things the “wrong” way, i.e. not “my” way.  An example cited by Belkin is Marc’s wanting to “party in the tub” with their daughter when she was a baby while Amy thought this was not the best way to ease a baby toward sleep.  They also did not compare themselves to what other mothers and fathers do, e.g. Marc once saying he did more around the house than any other man he knew.

Amy had to work to accept that she was likely to be blamed if Marc failed to write thank you notes.  Sometimes the tasks they did would fall along traditional gender lines.  The point is not to default to gender-driven roles but to think things through and talk about it.  They worked hard at not nagging, at having no passive-aggressive forgetting, feigned incompetence, and no honey-do lists.

Amy and Marc published a book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents in 2010.  They also have a blog, Equally Shared Parenting: Half the Work, All the Fun, which will be most helpful to you in your quest for equally shared parenting.

In addition to Marc and Amy, Belkin also talks about several other couples working toward sharing parenting.  In addition, Katherine and Roger Kranenburg are another example of what more and more American parents are striving toward: parity in parenting.  They are introduced to us by Janice D’Arcy in a 2013 Washington Post magazine article.  The Kranenburg’s talk about the difficulty in creating and maintain parenting parity in their marriage.

Another significant resource for you as you try out equally shared parenting which the Vashon’s and others introduced in the Belkin article relied on is The Third Path. This is an organization begun by Jessica DeGroot who with her husband, Jeff Lutzner, who have lead the life of what they call “shared care”.   This organization is a wonderful source of information about finding new ways to redesign work and to create time, for family, community, and other life priorities.

As Lisa Belkin notes, there are lots of Marc’s and Amy’s throughout the county who are suggesting something simple—Gender should not determine the division of labor at home.

When There is Strong Social Support

Jennifer Senior in her article on how difficult parenting can be referenced one well-designed study done with European parents, which found that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier children.  Of course, such a finding should not be a surprise.  Here are the benefits that such countries provide parents:

  • A year of paid maternity leave
  • Affordable childcare
  • Free education
  • Free healthcare

Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” notes that in the United States compared to European countries, we put our energy into being perfect parents instead of political change that would make family life better.

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz is aware of the barriers parents are up against as they try to change the child-rearing rules.  Coontz says that couples need to be less indignant with each other and more indignant with society.  Our work demands, our familial infrastructure, the schedules of schools and offices remain fixed in a two-parent, single-income world.

As Jennifer Senior says, more generous government policies, a sounder economy, a less pressured culture that values good rather than perfect kids—all of these would certainly make parents happier. But even under the most favorable circumstances, parenting is an extraordinary activity, in both senses of the word extra: beyond ordinary and especially ordinary.

Some Practical Advice

There are scads of web sites and books about bringing up healthy and happy children. Don’t forget, you will get lots of advice, good and bad, from friends and relatives.  You will want to try to seek out the best advice you can get about how to raise each child.  Here are a few tips on how to sort out parenting resources.

Nancy Heath, Ph.D., Director of  Human Development and Family Studies Programs at American Public University has given us a few good pointers about for choosing parenting resources:

  • The advice should build your confidence as a parent, not make you feel inadequate. There are few ironclad rules about how to be a good parent, so there is no reason for any resource to take a critical attitude toward how you are raising your children.
  • Seek at least one resource that talks about normal developmental milestones. Don’t get too hung up on what’s normal.  Use these developmental milestones as general guides not as fast rules by which to measure your child
  • Assess whether the resource is based on scientifically-established child development principles. Authors have their own approach to raising children, which should be grounded in proven research.  However, choose another author if the advice makes you feel frustrated or incompetent.
  • Choose resources that help you enjoy your child. Heath believes that the best parenting advice of all is to have fun with you kids.  Remember, developing a trusting relationship with you is more important than the management and control of your children.

Below you will find a list of parenting books that Kristen Kemp from Parents Magazine says have stood the test of time as relaible guides to turn to.Parenting Books

A Few Last Words

References

Lisa Belkin. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.”  The New York Times Magazine, June 15, 2008.

Richard Reeves. “How to Save Marriage in America.”  The Atlantic, February 12, 2014. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

Jennifer Senior.  “All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting.” The New York Magazine.  July 4, 2010.

Moira Weigel.  “The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock”.  The Guardian, May 10, 2016.  (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/10/foul-reign-of-the-biological-clock)

 

 

 

 

COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE IN YOUR EQUAL MARRIAGE

Takeaway for Comm PostAn important part of interaction between you and your spouse is interpersonal communication, i.e., the way in which you are able to effectively communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings primarily through verbal communication.

Your ability to verbally communicate with your spouse can enhance significantly the kind of relationship that will exist between the two of you.  The goal of this post is to assist you in being able to regularly express your thoughts, ideas, and feelings with respect and support for each other.

Above all, communication is not a debate between partners about whose preconceived notions about what is going on between the two of you.  Communication in a personal relationship is about a husband and a wife collaborating with each other by sharing perceptions, feeling, ideas and thoughts so that they can come to an understanding of what is happening between them, what is their joint reality.

Collaborative CommunicationID-10045230

How to Communicate Collaboratively

The first thing you will have to do in conversation with your partner is to unilaterally disarm, i.e., do not start a conversation thinking you are right about something.  This does not mean compromise or capitulation; you have a right to all your thoughts and feelings

  1. When you have something on your mind, give your partner a “heads up” about the topic, giving him/her time to think about his/her own thoughts.
  2. Set a time when you both can have a conversation about the topic.
  3. Start out with the idea that your partner may have something to say that is worth listening to and be willing to give serious consideration to.
  4. Remember, a conversation is not a battleground where you must prove you are right.

How to Talk to Your Spouse

You start a conversation knowing your own thoughts and feelings about a topic.  Remember, you want an opportunity to discuss these thoughts and feelings; so does your partner.  Here are some tips:

  1. In your conversation, stick to your thoughts and feelings. Don’t get sidetracked by accusing, criticizing, or blaming your partner.
  2. Be prepared to talk about what you want in a clear and direct fashion. Be cautious about lapsing into “I need” as a way of privileging what you want over your partners’ wants.  For example, say “I want more affection” rather than “I need you to be more affectionate with me”.
  3. What you want in your relationship may reflect old issues from your personal history. Be sure to continually “vet” your wants and wishes.
  4. Be willing to “own” up to where these wants come from…be willing to talk about painful personal histories, unfulfilled childhood needs, the way you protect yourself from these old, painful childhood experiences.
  5. Be sure to treat your partner with the respect and decency with which you treat any other person.

How to Listen to Your Spouse

Listen to your spouse with an unconditional interest in understanding what he/she is trying to say.  This is the way to get to know your spouse and what it is important to him/her.  Here are a few thoughts about listening:

  1. Listening is about your spouse who really wants to be heard. It really isn’t about you.
  2. Be sure to focus on what your spouse is saying, not your reaction to it. If you find yourself reacting, take a time out, to refocus on your spouse.
  3. It will be helpful to indicate that you are listening to him/her. You can try reflecting back what you are hearing him/her say so your partner can correct you if you are not understanding what is being said.  For example, you can say “I hear you say (what you heard), is that right?”
  4. By listening intently to your partner you may learn something new about her/him and about the ideas and feelings she/he has. You can gain a new perspective about your partner.

 

ID-10095377 (1)Defining Your Own Relationship Reality

Through this kind of conversation in which you both are able to say what you want and listen with interest to each other, you will discover a deeper understanding of what you both are experiencing with each other.  This kind of understanding can help to eliminate misconceptions, misinterpretations, and miscommunications that can occur in a relationship. What you end up with is a clearer picture of yourselves and of the reality of your relationship.

Communication Involves Both Content Messages and Relationship Messages: Reading Between-the-Lines

Content messages refer to the obvious aspects of your communication.  It refers to the specific issues around which the interaction is occurring, who is going to get the kids to school today, are we going to have sex tonight, who is going to do the dishes this week, am I getting the affection that I want.  The relationship message refers to what is occurring interpersonally between you as you talk about the various content areas.  A relationship message says something about the connection between you and your spouse.  Conflicts can occur because one of you misunderstands the relationship message and fails to clarify the difference between this and the content message.

Here are some examples of statements in which a relationship message is misunderstood:

MESSAGE WHAT YOU HEARD

(Misunderstood Relationship Message)

HOW TO CLARIFY THE MESSAGE
Husband from other room, “You’re calling me?” “Don’t bother me.” Go into other room and ask for what you want.
Husband says “You paid $100 for that?” “I can’t believe you did that? Ask, “Are you concerned about what I spent?”
Wife says to husband, “And that’s all you did?” “You really should have done more.” Ask “Would you like me to explain why I did what I did?”

 

Misunderstanding relationship messages typically occurs because you and your spouse are responding personally to the way in which the content message is said, e.g. the tone of voice, the context of the message, or emphasis on particular words.  You will be able to recognize when you are likely misunderstanding the relationship message because of your own personal reaction, i.e. getting irritated, angry, upset, etc.  In the three instances in the table, the way to clarify the message is to respond to the content of the message not your experience of the relationship message.  If you seek to clarify the content of the message, you will be able to talk about any ambiguity about the relationship message.

It is also the case that sometimes you will use a relationship message to convey some covert feeling that you are harboring about the relationship.  In the examples above, “And that’s all you did?” can be said with a tone that implies a critique of what was done.  It is up to you both to be aware of any hidden relationship messages you are trying to (mis)communicate.  If you respond to a perceived negative relationship message in a non-reactive way, you open the way to be able to talk about what you perceive as a negative relationship message.

Communication is Inevitable

That communication is inevitable refers to the idea that in interaction with other people you are always communicating in one way or another even when you think you are not.  When you don’t respond to a question your wife/husband asks, you are communicating something.   What occurs in this situation, is your spouse will likely interpret your silence as a relationship message, which may create a disconnect between the two of you.  It is best to understand that you cannot not communicate.

Communication and Gender

We return again to ideas about gender that can get in the way of creating and maintaining an equal relationship.  In order to get beyond gender stereotypes in communication, we need to say what they are.  Here are a few stereotypic ideas about how men and women communicate:

  • Communication matters more to women than me
  • Women talk more than men
  • Women have better verbal skills than men
  • Men talk in order to get things done; women talk to make connection with other
  • Men talk about things, women talk about people, relationships, and feelings
  • Men use language in order to provide information, preserve their independence and compete to maintain status; women use language to enhance cooperation, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony
  • Women tend to soften their statements by using tag phrases (e.g. “don’t you think”, “if you don’t mind”); men are more direct

These old ideas about how men and women communicative became dogma, i.e., unquestioned articles of faith, with the publication of John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” and Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand”.  Tannen is a well-respected linguist who publicly defends these communication differences between men and women despite the fact they are widely disputed by 30 some years of research on language, communication and the sexes.

However, most of us do not read scientific journals; we read popular books like Gray’s and Tannen’s.  Even when a retraction is made about a gender stereotype published in the popular press (e.g. the statement that women say 20,000 words a day while men say about 7,000 in The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD) the false belief continues because they become part of the stereotyped narrative about women and men, usually with a negative view of women.

A close study of Tannen’s work done by Alice Freed, Professor Emmerita of Linguistics at Montclair State University shows that she (Tannen) is actually an apologist for men.  She excuses their insensitivities in her examples as part of their “need for independence”.  She emphasizes the importance of women adjusting to men’s need for status and independence.

In Tannen’s book “You Just Don’t Understand” we can read about Josh, who invites an old high-school friend who is visiting from another town to spend a weekend with him and his wife, Linda.  The visit is to begin immediately upon Linda’s return from a week’s business trip but Josh doesn’t first discuss the invitation with her.  Tannen describes Linda as being upset by his failure to do so, her feelings being hurt.  According to Tannen, Linda’s hurt feelings would disappear if only she understood that for Josh to ask permission would imply that he is not independent, not free to act on his own.  He would feel controlled by Linda’s wish to be consulted

This is a glaring example of a person of authority, a linguist, buying into the old gender stereotype that women must defer to men in order not to threaten their egos. 

Crosschecking with your partner is not “seeking permission”.  It is being willing to negotiate with your spouse what works for both of you.  If Josh feels “controlled”, he needs to take an inventory of that experience. By the way, Tannen also relies on the old notion that “hurt feelings” are what is important to Linda.  What is important to Linda, is that Josh was unwilling to negotiate with her about what he wanted.  Tannen is using her status as an academic to promote stereotypic ideas based on anecdotal material, i.e. stories like the one described above.  She uses these anecdotal stories as a basis for sweeping generalizations about men and women.

To have an equal and sustainable marriage depends on your willingness and ability to confront such old gender ideas and to establish yourselves as individuals not as a category.

Here are the takeaways from this post:

  • You can become competent in communicating collaboratively
  • Approach conversations with your spouse by unilaterally disarming
  • Be prepared to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas; stay away from getting focused on your partner
  • Be prepared to listen to your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas with interest
  • If you react to or misinterpret relationship messages, there will be trouble
  • Clarify content message to clarify relationship message misunderstandings
  • Be on guard against old gender stereotypes about communication between men and women.
  • You are both individual people, not a category

References:

Deborah Cameron, “What language barrier? The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/01/gender.books)

Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis, “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” University of Rochester (http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=5382)

Communication Between Couples:  How to Communicate in a Relationship.  PSYCHALIVE (http://www.psychalive.org/communication-between-couples/)

Freed, Alice F.  (1992).  “We Understand Perfectly: A Critique of Tannen’s View of Cross-sex Communication”. In Hall, Kira, Mary Bucholtz and Birch Moonwomon (Eds.) Locating power: Proceedings of the second Berkeley women and language conference (vol.1). Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group. 144-152.

 

THE CASE FOR FILTH

MARCHE SQUALOR“The Case for Filth” is the fun title of a NYT opinion piece by Stephen Marche, writer for Esquire and author, who takes a look at the discrepancy between the amount of housework done among well-educated, egalitarian-minded husbands and wives.  Marche references a 2015 study done by the Council on Contemporary Families, which looks at housework, gender, and parenthood patterns between 1965 and 2012.  Here are some of their findings:

  • Gender is still the most influential determinant of who does housework and childcare today despite the increases in mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities.
  • Data from 1965 to 2012 shows that women’s and men’s housework and child care are much more similar today achieved through
    • Steep reduction in women’s housework and modest increase in men’s housework
      • Men increased their core household tasks such as cooking and cleaning, not just fun tasks
      • Even women with time available are cutting down on domestic work; what sociologists term “disinvestment”Family in park
    • Both mothers and fathers have increased time caring for children
    • Still substantial gender differences in time and kind of activities spent in child care time and activities
  • Gender differences persist; why not more change?
    • Still have entrenched individual and cultural beliefs about the “essential” qualities of being a woman versus being a man. Do women spend more time cleaning and doing laundry because of gender expectations about appearance and femininity?  Do women get caught up in cult of domesticity?  For Marche being “fetish” about domestic life is the macho equivalent for women
    • Is it related to gender inequities in earnings? Some household activities can be outsourced by eating out and using dry cleaners.  Outsourcing may be more difficult for single women who earn about 80 cents for every dollar a single man earns.
    • An interesting finding is that in some countries, women who make more money than their husbands tend to do more housework. Sociologists say this can be an effort to reduce so called “gender deviance” created when men and women have gender atypical occupations and earnings.

Marriage should be equal.  And, there is lots of advice about splitting the housework to create equality, much of which is useless.  Advice about how to split up the housework relies too much on being “fair” requiring some kind of objective evaluation of who does what.  What this approach fails to appreciate is the perception of effort in doing such tasks.  Whatever task I am doing, I am aware of the actual work done and I am more aware of the effort it takes me to do the job.  Effort is perceptual, not objective.

In addition, trying to be objective about doing tasks propels you into an “exchange” approach to housework; you are in some kind of transaction with each other.  This doesn’t work because exchange transactions are based on maximizing one’s self-interest not about tending to your relationship.

The HIP Marriage

Mothers and fathers have a new cultural norm about marriage and parenting that Richard Reeves calls the HIP marriage, i.e. high investment parenting marriage.   Parenthood has become associated with a gendered division of housework even among couples who maintained relatively egalitarian patterns before the birth of a child.  When the first child is born:

  • Father’s increase their paid work time and decrease housework
  • Mothers decrease their paid work time and increase housework

While fathers today feel that children are entitled to men’s close attention and time, mothers are still held accountable to standards of intensive parenting more than father are.  All parents are working longer hours in paid work, housework, and child care; they are pulled between work and family.

Some suggestions:

  • As Stephen Marche says, do less and care less about tidiness: leave the stairs untidy, don’t make the beds, don’t repaint the peeling ceilings, dishes can wait, etc.Dirty dishes
  • Outsource what household tasks you can
  • Don’t let housework continue to be a feminist issue; remember house work is not something wives owe to husbands
  • Housework and taking care of children is the daily stuff of which the relationship is made. You are married to help each other; helping each other the marriage
  • Work toward changing workplaces that value long work hours and value work over family
  • Because paternal leave is so stigmatized, create your own “Daddy Quota”  (say on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon) when Daddy is solo and in charge.

Achieving and maintaining gender equality in household tasks and child care is not going to be easy.  Most couples fall into unequal patterns without their conscious intention or awareness.  Successful egalitarian couples are vigilant and proactive in decision making BEFORE and AFTER the baby is born.  Keep in mind the kind of life you really want together.

 

References)

Noah Berlatsky.  “Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.” The Atlantic.  March 19. 2013. (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/spouses-probably-shouldnt-try-to-split-household-tasks-exactly-evenly/274133/)

Stephen Marche.  “The Case for Filth.”  New York Times.  December 7, 2013.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/opinion/sunday/the-case-for-filth.html?_r=0)

Richard Reeves.  “How to Save Marriage in America.” the Atlantic.” February 13, 2014.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

Llana Sayer.  “The Complexities of Interpreting Changing Household Patterns.” (https://contemporaryfamilies.org/complexities-brief-report/)

Brigid Schulte.  “After the Baby: Dads Do Less at Home.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/07/once-the-baby-comes-moms-do-more-dads-do-less-around-the-house/)

 

 

 

 

 

SEX IN MARRIAGE #3: FEMALE SEXULAITY

FEMALE LUST GETS LEGIT

The standard view of male and female desire, currently promoted by evolutionary psychologists, is that men are libidinous and promiscuous animals who are hard-wired for sex (a reproductive strategy designed to spread their genes as far as possible) and women as hard-wired for intimacy and babies, wanting to enforce marriage (monogamy) on men. Thank goodness there are a growing number of female scientists, a “gathering critical mass”, who are venturing into the field of female sexuality, a historically male-dominated field.

Daniel Bergner’s What Do women Want?” Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, reviews much of the recent scientific research, conducted primarily by women scientists, designed to challenge  traditional notions of female sexuality.   None of these scientists are claiming that women’s sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm are exactly like men’s.  Instead they are arguing that women have a stronger sex drive than commonly thought.  These researchers are challenging several long-held stereotypes of female sexuality:

  • That their sex drive is lower than men’s
  • That they’re aroused by love, not sex
  • That they’re not naturally sex agents but responders
  • That women are not as interested in new and different partners as men (both men and women struggle with being interested in sex in long-term marriage)
  • That women are not visual creatures (i.e. they don’t get aroused by visual images) when it comes to sex

One group of researchers at the University of Michigan lead by Terri Conley1 reviewed various theoretical and empirical approaches to gender differences in sexuality in order to shed light on the very prevalent misconceptions noted above.  Here are a selected few of their findings:ID-10043638

  • Do women desire and actually have fewer sexual partners than men? Bottom Line: No. When women thought that their true sexual history could be revealed by a polygraph (nonfunctional for purposes of the research), differences in reported sexual partners disappeared.
  • Do women orgasm less frequently than men? Bottom Line: Yes, but. The orgasm gap (men experience more orgasms than women) diminishes greatly when sex occurs in committed relationships; and it may disappear entirely when committed partners “are more generous in providing noncoital sexual attention (‘foreplay’)”.
  • Do men like casual sex more than do women? Bottom Line: Yes, but. A greater willingness to engage in casual sex is one of the largest documented sexuality gender differences.  Such previously documented discrepancies evaporate when female subjects considered sexual offers from very attractive or famous individuals.  Women were also equally as likely as men to accept offers of casual sex from close friends whom they perceived to have high sexual capabilities (would provide them with “a positive sexual experience”).  Conley concludes from her findings that the only consistently significant predictor that women, and men, will accept a proposal of casual sex is the perception that the one who is making the proposal is sexually capable (i.e., would be “good in bed”).  She also found indirect evidence in her work that women are less interested in casual sex because they perceive greater risk than men do in this kind of sexual encounter.

Considering the research they reviewed and their own research, Conley et.al. suggest that  gender differences in sexual behavior, which are the bread and butter of evolutionary psychologists, rather than being biologically rooted in our evolutionary past,  are rooted in much more mundane causes:

  • Stigma against women for expressing sexual desires
  • Women’s socialization to attend to other’s needs rather than their own
  • A double standard that dictates different sets of appropriate sexual behaviors for men and women

The Conley et.al. article is a well-presented, easy-to-read research report.  Bergner’s book covers some very interesting research.  In addition, he has a number of anecdotal stories from individuals, often pretty provocative.  He, like Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity have interesting discussions about dominance and submission in sexual activities.

ID-100246202One reviewer noted that Bergner’s book is a testament to the very existence and celebration of lust in women.  Bergner does acknowledges that people may marry not because it is the best possible arrangement for vibrant sex.  But it is the best way to have emotional stability and long-term companionship, which appear to be something both human males and females want.

Elaine Blair (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/books/review/what-do-women-want-by-daniel-bergner.html?_r=0) who reviewed the Bergner book, asks why is female lust getting such a big dose of scientific legitimacy at this time.  Is it because of women’s and men’s evolving social roles, because of women’s increasing economic and political power, feminism?  Many of the scientists are women which in itself is a novel situation.  As Blair notes, and I agree, the old story of the libidinous male and sexually indifferent female doesn’t make sense anymore. Don’t you, the reader, buy that old shibboleth either.  Claim your own sexual desire and fulfillment!

1Conley, Terri , Amy C. Moors, Jes L Matsick, Ali Ziegler, and Brandon A. Valentine.  (2011). “Women, Men and the Bedroom: Methodological and Conceptual Insights That Narrow, Reframe, and Eliminate Gender Differences in Sexuality.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(5) 296-300.  (http://www.newsucanuse.org/wp-content/bedroom.pdf)

2Conley conducted several projects challenging a very famous paper published by Clark and Hatfield in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, “Gender Differences in Receptivity of Sexual Offers.”  The purpose of this 1989 study was to provide support for what is called the Sexual Strategies Theory, a mainstay of evolutionary psychology, that men would be more responsive to an offer of casual sex than would women.  Conley embarked upon a project of four studies designed to determine under what conditions women are willing to agree to a casual sexual encounter.  Her research has been widely covered in the media.  One good review of the work can be found in the blog Yes Means YES!.

SEX IN MARRIAGE #1: DOES EQUALITY MEAN LESS SEX?

EQUALITY SEXUAL SCRIPTS

As someone invested in gender equality and how this plays out in marriage, I was dismayed by a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?”.   An excerpt from the abstract of the American Sociological Review (2013) on which the article is based follows:

Although research and theory support the expectation that egalitarian marriages are higher quality, other  studies underscore the ongoing importance of traditional gender behavior and gender display in marriage……this study investigates the links between men’s participation in core (traditionally female) and non-core (traditionally male) household tasks and sexual frequency.  Results show that both husbands and wives in couples with more traditional housework arrangements report higher sexual frequency, suggesting the importance of gender display1………for sex between heterosexual partners.

The authors note that they did not study either sexual satisfaction or marital satisfaction in this research. Thus, these findings do not mean following traditional gender roles in managing household tasks is associated with more satisfying sex or more fulfilled marriages.

An important limitation to this study is that they used data collected from 1992 to 1994 with the average age of the males being 46 while the average age of females was 44.  This is a significant flaw in trying to apply this research to young people today, i.e. millennials, who are less committed to such traditional sexual scripts (e.g. a woman finds a man fixing the car sexy but not a man doing dishes).

Reading further, the researchers do not suggest that couples should reject egalitarianism in marriage.  Instead, they suggest that increased egalitarianism in one area of marriage (household tasks) must be paired with comparable shifts away from traditional gender behaviors, attitudes and scripts in other areas of areas.  For example, if increasing husband’s participation in core housework increases their stress levels making them less likely to initiate sex, then supporting women’s view that it is legitimate for them to initiate sex could have an impact on the frequency of sexual relation.ID-100157089

In sum the study may not be showing that egalitarianism in household labor is incompatible with sexual activity itself, but rather that egalitarianism is incompatible with traditional sexual scripts.

Nowhere do scientific findings get more mangled by the popular media than when they’re about differences between men and women.

The next several posts on this blog will talk about sex in marriage taking off from a  list of myths about sex and relationships summarized from the findings of a 2011 book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying” by Mark Regnerus (Department of Sociology, University of Texas) and Jeremy Uecker (Department of Sociology, Baylor University).

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Here is a list of the upcoming posts:

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #2: About Sex in Marriage.   This post will talk about myths about the sexual double standard between men and women; about establishing your own decisions about sex rather than following sexual scripts; and how to maintain satisfying sex in long-term marriages.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #3: “I’ll Have What She is Having.” This post will talk about myths about women’s sexuality, i.e. that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection, but not necessarily sex itself.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #4: Pornography and Sex in Marriage. This post will challenge the myth that porn won’t affect your relationship and some idea about a new kind of porn.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #5: More on A Millennial Marriage.   This post will discuss additional myths about millennial ideas of marriage such as marriage can always wait, moving in together is a step toward marriage, and there is no hope for long-term marriage.

1Gender display refers to husbands and wives adhering to and demonstrating traditionally defined norms, e.g. women do the dishes and men cut the grass.

References:

Gottlieb, Lori.  (Feb. 6, 2014) “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? “ (http://nyti.ms/1kdOzQR)

Libby Anne (January 31, 2013) “More chores for Men=Less Sex?”(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/more-chores-for-men-less-sex.html)

Smith, Jesse.  (June 16, 2015) “10 Sexual Myths Millennials Need to Know About.” (http://thoughtcatalog.com/jesse-smith/2015/06/10-sexual-myths-millennials-need-to-know-about/)

 

INDIVIDUAL PREFERENCES IN MARRIAGE

Simultanous Perspective in MarriageYou bring to your marital relationship the things you want or prefer to happen that allow you to flourish in life.  Much of marital advice, in contrast, is based on a view that we bring our needs to our relationship. This idea is captured very well in this quote.

Your have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship.  In fact you have a responsibility to yourself and your partner to be clear about your needs (emphasis added). (www.theartofmanliness.com)

One of the most common ideas about how intimate relationships should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea of “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  This view, widely accepted in our current culture, is an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.

A better way to begin a relationship is to know that you and your spouse are capable of being concerned about one another.   The schematic at the top left of the post represents the way in which you can be interested in yourself and your spouse simultaneously in marriage.

This schematic demonstrates the idea that you can each simultaneously see yourself as an individual with individual wants and desires and see your spouse as having individual wants and desires.  If either person sees him/herself only (primarily) as an individual (self-centered), the marital interaction will be distorted.  At the same, if either spouse is only (primarily) concerned and interested in the other (dependency), the marital interaction will be distorted.

Maintaining this simultaneous perspective in your marriage is basic to being willing and able to negotiate with each other the things that are important to both of you in order to flourish in life.  The schematic below on the right depicts the process of negotiation of individual wants and desires from the perspective of you both.SCHEMATIC NEGOTIATING COLLAB

  • Negotiating in marriage is first and foremost based on the ability to be interested in your spouse’s wants and desires in the same way that you are interested in your own desires.
  • Each of you describes your wants and desires and can provide a reason for why you prefer this or that (i.e. explore and understand the why’s of each other’s preferences)
  • Neither of you wants the other to do something that is too unattractive or violates some strongly held principle
  • Try out different ideas that reflect both your preferences so you can find a win-win solution
  • Or, if you choose one partner’s preference over the other’s, it is because you have decided it together thereby enhancing the relationship even if one partner does not get what he/she wants.
  • See how Jesse and Sara negotiated where she was to park the car

The ability to negotiate collaboratively in this manner assumes the following:

  • You have the capacity (including the courage) to identify and describe what you want
  • You can self-reflectively understand and describe the reasons and motives for you wants and preferences
  • You have the capacity to be empathic, i.e. you can understand that you spouse has wants and desires in the same way that you do
  • You can understand and value your spouse’s wants, even if they are different from your own

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself, an expression of what you believe is important to living well.  As an expression of self, your wants and preferences must be acknowledge as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to (they are not “needs”).  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of self but they are no less than the expression of self.

 

 

 

MY VIEWS ON MARRIAGE

MY VIEW MARRIAGEHow you interact with your spouse will determine the felt quality of your relationship.  That is, how you go about achieving the things you both want in life is more important to the felt quality of your relationship than having the specific things you want.

Marital Interaction is about the process going on interpersonally between you and your spouse as you talk about the everyday events, happenings, and activities in your life together.  For example, a wife approaches her husband to ask him to go to the movies with her one evening.  Interaction or process refers to how she approaches him (insecurely, demandingly, asserting a preference, etc.) and how he responds to the request (dismissively, with hostility, saying he prefers another night, etc.).

Here is the “short version” of how to achieve a good marital interaction or process:

  • You will bring all your “insecurities” into your marriage.
  • Your “insecurities” show up as defensiveness and overreactions to each other.
  • It is up to each of you to know and manage these insecurities through self-awareness and self-reflection.
  • Marriage will be affected by “doing gender”, i.e. carrying out socially prescribed roles of husband and wife because they are associated with feeling “masculine” and “feminine”.
  • How you manage these gender prescriptions will significantly affect whether or not and how you accomplish the “things” in life that you want.
  • Successful marital interaction between self-aware, self-reflective people is based on negotiating collaborative the ins and outs of the relationship.
  • Negotiating collaborative in marriage is an art that can be learned.MARITAL INTERACTION NEGOTIATION

The “long version” of my views is described in the posts in this blog, “a millennial marriage”.   I focus on the interpersonal interactions, which are the day-to-day encounters between you and your spouse.  I look at these interactions from both the perspective of you and your spouse as individuals and from the perspective of you as a pair.

Individually you both have to be aware of your own personal motives when you are interacting with each other.  This will require some effort on both your parts.  In addition, you will have to pay attention to how old ideas about gender can shape your interactions, often without your being aware of this influence.

My approach to marital interaction in marriage is different from what I often see in blogs offering marital advice.  Here are a few of my thoughts about these approaches.

  • Too often they are based the idea that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women (e.g. men are from Mars, women are from Venus).
    • This is too general an approach, we are each individuals, not categories of people.
    • This approach often assumes that we each have biologically-based “needs” which your partner must provide (e.g. men “need” sex).
    • You can’t negotiate needs, you can only bargain over them, i.e. do a “tit for tat”.
    • These ideas keep the status quo.
  • Marital advice that is religiously based often relies on establishing the husband as the head of the household and leader, to whom his wife must defer.
  • Marital interaction is primarily seen as a quid-pro-quo,  i.e., you provide what I “need” and I will in turn give you what you “need.” Historically in marital therapy that has come down to exchanging sex (male biological need) for conversation (female biological need for connection)

What all these approaches try to do is “prescribe” how you two should interact with each other according to some theorized principle.

The basic principles of my approach that are described in this blog are:

  • You wish to be together because of a strong felt love and affiliation toward each other.
  • You are both individual people with your own views on how to flourish in life.
  • You can learn to negotiate (rather than have prescribed) the activities, events, wishes, wants, etc. in your relationship in a collaborative manner.
  • It takes willingness to be self-aware and self-reflective to learn how to do this.
  • You will want to examine your old ideas about gender roles in marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

WORKING AT IT: NEGOTIATING

HOW IT WORKS NegotiationNegotiation is figuring out the how, when, where, and with whom each of your  and your spouse’s wants, desires or preferences can be achieved.   Collaboration is how you jointly weigh together the things that are important to you as individuals in your relationship.  True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation (see post on collaboration).  Negotiating collaboratively, then, is the ultimate form of jointly and equally weighing how things are to work out between the two of you.

You can think of your marital relationship as being organized around the collaborative negotiation of both your “vetted” *wants, desires, preferences.  Your individual wants can include wanting the best for your spouse.  It is the ongoing process of negotiating individual wants that enhances the felt quality of the relationship and allows for changes in what you want over time while maintaining the quality of the relationship.  I believe that the process of negotiating collaboratively is what makes a marriage both sustainable and satisfying.

To negotiate collaboratively in a relationship is to be able to identify what is important to you, to know why it is important to yoID-100172996u, and to be able to “put it on the table”, even if it means you don’t always get what you want.  You also have to be able to listen to what you partner wants and why it is important to him/her.  Imagine a couple with a free evening and a wish to spend it together.  They begin with a number of different ideas, each explaining to the other his/her preferences.  Through this “collaborative negotiation” process, each partner may learn something new about his/her partner and may even learn something new about the various options offered.  Neither person wants to do anything that the other finds too unattractive, so they end up with a plan that reflects both their preferences.  Or, if you choose one partner’s preference over the other’s, it is because you have decided it together thereby enhancing the relationship even if one partner does not get what he/she wants.

BE A RISK TAKER…..there is individual risk in negotiating collaboratively.  You may not get what you want at a given time.  Not getting what you want is manageable if the relationship is enhanced and someone you love gets what he/she wants.

 

*To vet our wants and preferences is to check it carefully to make sure it is free of hidden personal agendas

Click on these thumbnails for links to more info, fun, and provocative ideas about contemporary marriage.

Negotiation 1 Negotiation 2Negotiation 3

WORKING AT IT: THE PURSUIT OF COLLABORATION

HOW IT WORKS COLLABORATIONIn committed marriages, what you want, what is important to you shows up in the day-to-day encounters around big and small issues occurring between husbands and wives. It is deciding who is going to go to the grocery store today, talking about how the children are doing at school, deciding if you are going to move so that one of you can take an exciting new job, who will get the children to soccer practice, how to achieve a satisfactory sexual life, will you go to church, do you go to the movies this weekend, etc., etc.

The way to create a committed relationship in which each of your wants and preferences are respected and honored in your relationship is through collaboration, the ultimate form of working together. Collaborating partners operate as a team to achieve a common purpose, which cannot be achieved by either partner on his/her own.

Here are a few basic ideas about what being collaborative means:

Collaborators are Equal.  True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation.  Collaboration requires the sharing of authority and an acceptance of personal responsibility for the outcome.

Collaboration is not Capitulation.   Collaboration protects individual autonomy.  Most of us have a (possibly non-conscious) fear of being overwhelmed by someone and are reluctant to surrender any part of our autonomy in a relationship. Collaboration involves each partner explaining what he/she wants, why it is important, and how strongly he/she feels about the idea.  Each partner learns new things about what is proposed and new things about his/her partner’s wishes and wants.  Neither wants to do anything that the other regards as too unattractive.  The idea is to end up with a plan that shows that each partner’s wishes are respected, a plan that reflects the process of collaboration.  ID-100233726

Collaboration is not Cooperation.   Collaboration is about the process of working together, while cooperation is about the result of working together.  For example, I can cooperate with you by stepping aside while you do what you want to do.  Collaboration means we talk about what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how important is it to you.  In collaboration, I am involved from the outset.

Collaboration and Gender.  Gender may be one factor that influences our wants and preferences.  Gender attributes may shape wants and preferences, but the fact that something we want might be gender-related can neither preclude nor precede collaboration with each other as equals.

 A committed marriage is a life-long partnership, which links two people around their most fundamental wishes and wants in order to flourish as individuals and as a couple.  This requires great attention to the maintenance of a collaborative environment of negotiation.

Reference

Stephen J. Coulson. How to Maintain Your Autonomy in a Collaborative Partnership. (http://www.thegiftedway.com/dynamic-living-archive/how-to-maintain-your-autonomy-in-a-collaborative-partnership/)

Click on these thumbnails for links to more info, fun and provocative ideas about contemporary marriage.

Collaboration 3  Collaboration 2  Collaboration 1

SUCCESSFUL MILLENNIALS WORK AT IT

Millenial Couples Need HelpAchieving and maintaining gender equality in your relationship is not going to be easy.  Most couples fall into unequal marital patterns without their conscious intention or awareness.  Successful egalitarian couples are vigilant about being proactive in decision making.  Here are several fundamental issues that will facilitate achieving and maintain gender equality in your marriage.

Be aware of gender issues.  Being aware of the strong pull toward traditional masculine and feminine roles is the first step in moving beyond gender.

Challenging gender entitlement is often instigated by women.  A new husband may think he gets to make the decisions about money; gets to go play golf on Saturday because he has worked hard all week; only has to “help” out with the children.  Husbands who are committed to an equal relationship have to remind themselves, “This is my house, these are my dishes, and this is my baby just as much as hers.”

Develop new competencies.  Couples who are committed to gender equality in their marriage have to develop new competencies for which they have not been socialized.  Men will have to learn how to be fully involved parents; they will have to be willing to express themselves; will have to attend to the things that make them an equal partner.  Women often have to learn to be comfortable knowing what they want; be willing to express directly what they want; and be committed to productive work outside the home.couple in crowd

Dual commitments to family and work.  Equality is promoted when both partners express a strong commitment to both family and work participation.  This makes family commitment a high priority for men and a commitment to paid work a high priority for women.   If commitment to paid work is not equal, gender is likely to become a prime force in family life as women vest their identity in family responsibilities, and men invest theirs in work.

Active negotiation about family life.  Maintaining gender equality means facing issues and working to resolve them, rather than letting them fester.  Both husbands and wives can learn to get input from both sides of an issue and improve their negotiation of their perspectives.
Reference:

Knudson-Martin, C.  (2005).  “Moving beyond gender: Processes that Create Relationship Equality.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Volume 31, Issue 2, pages 235-258, April 2005.

Click on thumbnails to see “postgender” “gender legacy”, and “traditional” couples’ stories…..

 Successful couples 1 Successful couples 2 Successful couples 3