Good News Bad News

According to the British Psychological Society, there is a widespread belief in every human culture that children bring happiness.  When they think about parenting, parents tend to conjure up idealized images of perfect children.  As noted by this psychological group, “…even when the prospective parents understand that raising a child will be painstakingly difficult, they tend to think quite happily about parenthood, which is why most of them eventually leap into it.”

From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly understandable why people have children.  From the perspective of the individual, however, it may seem more of a mystery.  Most people assume having children will make them happier.  However, research often seems to suggest otherwise:

  • Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist, found child care ranked 16th in list of pleasurable activities (even housework was ranked higher)
  • British economist Andrew Oswald found among tens of thousands of Brits with children compared to those without that it isn’t that children make you less happy; they just don’t make you more happy
  • Sociologist Robin Simon from Wake Forest University found that parents are more depressed than non-parents.
  • Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology and best-selling author of “Stumbling on Happiness”, notes that while we refer to children as “bundles of joy”, they are not a source of happiness. “Once people have kids, there’s a downturn in happiness,” Gilbert says, which isn’t reversed until the kids move out.  “Of course we love our kids,” said Gilbert. “I never said don’t have kids,” but the scientific data is tough to refute.

Choosing to have children

It used to be that you just had children; you didn’t stop to think about it.  It’s different now.  We have choices, and most of us choose to have children.  Christine Overall, in her book “Why Have Children: The Ethical Debate” proposes that the choice to have children calls for more careful reasoning than the choice not to. Overall explores how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life.  She talks about several perspectives on the this choice including issues of reproductive rights, religious values, family values, and political values.   She also talks about the anticipated consequences of the decision for both individuals and society.

Overall also points out the gendered nature of the decision.  While both you and your spouse have to think about the choice, the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women thaID-100107216n it has for men.

In the end, she offers a novel argument. She proposes that the best reason to have children is to establish the biological parent-child relationship–which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral.  For Overall, the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child.

Traditional Parenting

We used to view children differently

While historically children were viewed as economic assets to their parents, in modern times childhood has increasingly become a protected privileged time.  Once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became subjects to be stimulated, instructed, and groomed for success.  As one writer notes, “Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”

Middle- and upper-income families tend to see their children as projects to be perfected.  These families spend much time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution.  All of this is very tiring work; yet parents feel they are putting their child at risk if they do not give them every advantage.

Parents of all incomes are spending more time with their children now, including working mothers.   While today’s married mothers have less leisure time and want more, they still think they don’t spend enough time with their children.

The bad news

A 2003 meta study (a study of studies) found the usual result the couple’s overall marital satisfaction went down when they had kids.   People start out marriage with high marital satisfaction as you can guess.  It goes down when the couple has children, and rises when the children leave home.  This result shows up regularly in relationship research.

In addition, the research also shows that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy than married parents, that babies and toddlers are the hardest to parent, and that each successive child produces increasing unhappiness.

Surprisingly, research has also found happiness with life decreases even if parents are well enough off to buy more child care.   Couples that become parents later in life may experience a greater loss of freedom and a loss of autonomy as they have children. It may also be that the longer they wait to have children, the greater their expectations about what kids will bring to them.

The good newsID-100124369 (1)

The good news is that there is newer research that expands on the impact children have on us.  Matthew White and Paul Dolan, two British academics, demonstrate why having kids may be a good idea after all.  They figured out that measuring happiness and satisfaction can be improved upon if you measure thoughts and not just feelings.

What they found, reported in the Research Digest ( is based on a study of 625 participants who completed an on-line questionnaire about their previous day, which generated an average of ten episodes per person.  These episodes included; eating, reading, time with children, watching TV, and commuting.

Their findings confirmed other research measuring pleasure from these kinds of activities, i.e., that we spend a lot of time doing things we don’t find pleasurable, including “work” and “shopping”.  “Time with children” and “sex” ranked about mid-way on the pleasure scale, far below “outdoor activities” and “watching TV”.

However, when they had the participants rate the reward from engaging in these same activities, “work” was the top scorer with “time with children” not far behind.

White and Dolan conclude that if you look only at the pleasure of an activity, like spending time with your children, you will conclude that this is having a “bad time”.   But, when you consider how rewarding spending time with your children is, you will conclude that you are having a good time. So, spending time with children may not always be pleasurable, but it may by quite rewarding.

Here is a schematic which shows the more complex understanding about how we experience our time with our children and other life activities.



Daniel Gilbert thinks that children actually offer “moments of transcendence” like when your child says “I lub you” after spending 5 difficult hours with your 5 year-old.ID-100238653

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute has coined a clever acronym for a current trend in millennial marriages, the HIP marriage, which stands for a High Investment Parenting marriage.  The HIP marriage is built on a strong, traditional commitment to raising children together that is grounded in an egalitarian approach to marriage.

High Investment Parenting is about 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 couples sharing the roles of both child-raiser and bread-winner, a must in order to create and maintain and equal marriage


“Maybe having kids is a good idea after all.” Research Digest, Blogging on brain and behavior.  The British Psychological Society. 2007 (

Overall, Christine.  (2012).  Why Have Children?  The Ethical Debate.  MA: MIT Press.

Reeves, Richard.  “How to Save Marriage in America.” The Atlantic. February 13, 2014. (

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

“Think having children will make you happy?  The Psychologist. (



BIOLOGICAL CLOCKTHE FOUL REIGN OF THE BIOLOGICAL CLOCK.  Moira Weigel.  The Guardian, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

I wasted years with x!” I have never heard a straight man say this. But when a woman does, after a breakup, everyone immediately understands what she means. We are raised to believe that female bodies are time bombs. Any relationship that does not “work out” – which is to say, does not get a woman pregnant by a man committed to helping her raise their offspring – brings her closer to her expiration date. At the stroke of midnight, our eggs turn into dust.

Women in many times and places have felt pressure to bear children. But the idea of the biological clock is a recent invention. It first appeared in the late 1970s. “The Clock Is Ticking for the Career Woman,” the Washington Post declared, on the front page of its Metro Section, on 16 March 1978. The author, Richard Cohen, could not have realised just how inescapable his theme would become.

His article opened on a lunch date with a “Composite Woman” who is supposed to represent all women between the ages of 27 and 35. “There she is, entering the restaurant,” Cohen began. “She’s the pretty one. Dark hair. Medium height. Nicely dressed. Now she is taking off her coat. Nice figure.” Composite Woman has a good attitude, too: “The job is just wonderful. She is feeling just wonderful.” But, then her eyes fall.

“Is there something wrong?” her date asks.

“I want to have a baby,” she replies.

Cohen insisted that virtually all of the women he knew wanted to have babies, regardless of the kinds of romantic relationships they found themselves in.

“I’ve gone around, a busy bee of a reporter, from woman to woman,” he wrote. “Most of them said that they could hear the clock ticking … Sometimes the Composite Woman is married and sometimes she is not. Sometimes, horribly, there is no man in the horizon. What there is always, though, is a feeling that the clock is ticking … You hear it wherever you go.”

Within months, the clock was stalking career women everywhere. Ann Kirchheimer, a staff writer for the Boston Globe, reported that “the beneficiaries of the women’s movement, a first generation of liberated young ladies … who opted for careers, travel, independence rather than husband, home, and baby are older now and suddenly the ticking of the biological clock is getting louder and louder.” One woman Kirchheimer interviewed, a psychiatrist, jokingly diagnosed the affliction from which she and her other single friends were suffering as “withering womb syndrome”.Withering Womb

Americans were, at this point, primed to pay attention to stories about waning fertility. The birth rate had dropped precipitously over the previous two decades. In 1957, the average American woman had 3.5 children; by 1976, that number had fallen to 1.5. In the wake of the feminist movement, the development of effective oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices, and the legalisation of abortion, more and more women were delaying marriage and motherhood in order to pursue education and careers.

Even women who would eventually become mothers were waiting longer to do so. By 1977, 36% of mothers did not have their first child until age 30 or older. It was starting to look as if many women might put off motherhood indefinitely. Would this be the way the world ended? Not with the bomb but the pill?

The spate of stories about the biological clock sometimes alluded to these broad demographic trends and anxieties. But mostly, they focused on individuals. The media glamourised professional women who decided to have children while pursuing demanding careers, and warned women who put off having children that they would regret their diffidence later. (The idea that a woman might not want to become a mother at any point rarely came up.)

In February 1982, the actress Jaclyn Smith, one of the stars of the TV series Charlie’s Angels, appeared on the cover of Time magazine. She was wearing a loose blue dress, but clutched her rounded belly firmly. “The New Baby Bloom” the cover read. “Career women are opting for pregnancy, and they are doing it in style.” Inside, the author John Reed reiterated a warning that was becoming increasingly familiar.

“For many women, the biological clock of fertility is running near its end,” Reed wrote. “The ancient Pleistocene call of the moon, of salt in the blood, and genetic encoding buried deep in the chromosomes back there beneath the layers of culture – and counterculture – are making successful businesswomen, professionals and even the mothers of grown children stop and reconsider.”

The metaphor of the biological clock sounded less florid than the metaphors that followed, but it evinced the same determinism. Reed invoked the existence of a biological clock as proof that women could not venture too far from their traditional roles. He defined female life in terms of motherhood, or the failure to become a mother.

Even if women could now compete with men for high-paying jobs, and sleep around outside marriage, these articles implied, free love and the feminist movement had not changed the fundamentals of what they were. Women could dress up in trouser suits all they liked. In the end, their bodies would yearn for children.

This may have sounded like a description. It was an order.

The story of the biological clock is a story about science and sexism. It illustrates the ways that assumptions about gender can shape the priorities for scientific research, and scientific discoveries can be deployed to serve sexist ends. We are used to thinking about metaphors like “the biological clock” as if they were not metaphors at all, but simply neutral descriptions of facts about the human body. Yet, if we examine where the term came from, and how it came to be used, it becomes clear that the idea of the biological clock has as much to do with culture as with nature. And its cultural role was to counteract the effects of women’s liberation.

First, conversations about the “biological clock” pushed women towards motherhood, suggesting that even if some of the gendered double standards about sex were eroding, there would always be this difference: women had to plan their love lives with an eye to having children before it was “too late”. Second, the metaphor suggested that it was only natural that women who tried to compete with men professionally, and to become mothers as well, would do so at a disadvantage.

The idea that being female is a weakness is embedded in the origin of the phrase “biological clock”. The term was originally coined by scientists to describe circadian rhythms, the processes that tell our bodies when we should rise, eat, and sleep. In the 1950s, the US air force began sponsoring research into how the biological clock worked. Soon researchers were racing to develop drugs that could eliminate the need for rest. The idea was that if we understood the body well enough, we could overcome its limitations. In the 1970s and 1980s the meaning of the term shifted to the way we use it now: a description of female fertility. But is being female a weakness that we believe professional women should want to cure?

At a time of dramatic social and economic change, the ways the biological clock was talked about reinforced old ideas about gender difference. Indeed, it exaggerated them, creating a sense that male and female partners were even more different than traditionalists of the 1950s had imagined. More and more women were breaking into the previously male world of well paid work. Nonetheless, conversations about the biological clock suggested that reproduction was an exclusively female concern.


Commentators such as Cohen and Kirchheimer warned female readers that they would feel increasingly panicked if they put off getting pregnant for too long. At the same time, they presented a set of supposedly timeless “truths” about masculinity that were rather new. They said that men’s bodies programmed them not to want long relationships or offspring. Free of the time pressures that dictated the love lives of women, men had evolved to want no-strings sex. (In universities, at around the same time, the new field of evolutionary psychology was explaining that heterosexual human mating rituals were a compromise between males who wanted sex and females who wanted protection – and had to rely on their nubility to get it.)

Never mind that surveys showed that, as recently as the 1950s, most Americans considered marriage and family the cornerstones of personal happiness. Experts of the 1980s agreed that men and women were destined to approach dating with directly opposing goals and very different privileges. The perpetual bachelor was ageless. But if the career woman hoped to catch a worthy partner, she had to plan her life meticulously.

By the mid-1980s, baby boomer women had become an army of “clock-watchers”, as the journalist Molly McKaughan called them. Her 1987 bestseller,Biological Clock, reported that women who otherwise held widely diverging attitudes were all “consumed by the subject” of having children. A few expressed remorse for having waited too long to begin their hunt for a father. However, most women had recognised early that they had to date strategically. “Time can literally pass a woman by,” McKaughan reflected, “if she waits too long.” There is no literature saying comparable things about these women’s boyfriends.

To this day, evidence of exactly how much female fertility declines with age remains hazy. As the psychologist Jean Twenge has pointed out, many frequently cited statistics concerning female fertility are misleading. In a 2013 article in the Atlantic, Twenge exposed the shaky bases of many of the facts often handed down to women as gospel. After scouring medical research databases she discovered that, for instance, the often-quoted statistic that one in three women between the ages of 35 to 39 will not be able to get pregnant after a year of trying came from a 2004 study that was itself based on French birth records kept from 1670 to 1830. “In other words,” Twenge wrote, “millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.”

Another problematic element of data on fertility is that, in general, the information we have comes from patients who visit doctors because they are experiencing fertility problems. As a result, it is difficult to assess what is going on with the population as a whole. How many couples are not conceiving because they do not want to? How many are using contraception? It is nearly impossible to control for all these variables.

Despite these gaps in our knowledge, strong scientific evidence has demonstrated that the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs do diminish over time. Countless women, who delayed child-bearing for whatever reason, have experienced anguish upon discovering that they cannot conceive. To this extent, the anxieties of the clock watchers were well-founded. But most of the vast body of writing about them fails to mention another, crucial fact: male fertility declines with age too.

There are, of course, famous exceptions – men like Charlie Chaplin and Pablo Picasso, who fathered children as septuagenarians. But the widespread belief thatmale fertility is invulnerable to time is simply false. Since the 1980s, a large and growing body of research has shown that sperm counts, and quality, diminish over the years. The children of older fathers have much higher risk of autism and other complications than those of younger ones do. Often “old sperm” simply flail and perish around an egg they are trying to fertilise.

These facts have been reported occasionally – almost always as news of a “malebiological clock”. The need to append the adjective “male” to the phrase “biological clock” hints at why this data has mostly gone ignored: society speaks as if only women had bodies.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, of couples seeking treatment for subfertility in the United States, 40% discover that the problem is being caused by the “female factor”, 40% of the time it is the “male factor”, and 20% of the time they cannot tell. Women and men are found to experience fertility problems at roughly equal rates, but you would never know it from reading most press coverage of the subject. Our assumption seems to be that reproduction is a female responsibility first and foremost. Anything going wrong with it must be a woman’s fault.

Female reproductive systems are not, in fact, much like clocks. Our bodies move by the month, rather than the hour or day; hormonal cycles rarely proceed as smoothly as a second hand. And male, as well as female, fertility declines with age. So why was the idea that women, and only women, had to race against time, so compelling? Why did talk about the biological clock catch on as widely as it did?

The answer may be more prosaic than some Pleistocene temporality particular to female bodies. At the moment when the idea of the biological clock was taking off, changes in the economy were altering how work and time were organised. And the reason that women began to feel that they were racing against time had less to do with some mysterious biological force than the fact that they were beginning to enter the professional workplace, while continuing to do most of the unpaid domestic labour. In other words, they were busier – they literally had less time – than ever before.

The kinds of nine-to-five jobs that had been common for most of the 20th century divided life into two kinds of time: on the clock, and off the clock. In the 1950s and 1960s, work performed on the clock was thought of primarily as male. Women worked in the home – a space that society defined as “off the clock” and external to the economy. What they did there looked less like labour than like love.

The “family wage” that a man earned was supposed to be sufficient to subsidise his wife’s unpaid efforts. In the 1970s, however, wage stagnation meant that fewer and fewer families could afford to have only one working partner. The dismantling of social services put further pressure on families. White educated feminists celebrated the new opportunities for women to break into the male workforce. But the exodus of housewives from suburban homes was driven by economic necessity, as well as the desire for liberation.

Workplaces did not change their protocols to make it easier for women to succeed. The result was that women had to constantly play catch-up, if they wanted the combination of career and family that their male colleagues enjoyed. They had to find a way to manage the very different demands of family life and corporate schedules, and any jetlag they might feel as a result of living between them. Tick, tock.

In 1989, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined an expression for the phenomenon of working women continuing to do the majority of housework. She called it “the second shift”. Around a decade later, she observed that many women took on an additional “third shift” as well. This involved managing the emotions that getting through your first and second shift inspired – the intense feelings of guilt and resentment that women began to feel as they realised that “having it all” often just meant “doing everything”.

The endless discussion about the biological clock helped make the difficulties of balancing work and life sound like a pathology that afflicted individual women, rather than a large-scale social problem. (Recall the psychiatrist and friends with “withering womb syndrome”.)

This obscured the truth that the real conflict concerned social priorities. A country such as the US, which mandates almost no parental leave and provides no support for childcare, makes it impossible for women who elect to become mothers to participate equally in the economy. The biological clock hysteria, with its image of a time bomb lodged in each and every woman’s ovaries, made each woman personally responsible for dealing with that handicap.

Many career women bought it. At least, they did not organise to demand better maternity leave or state subsidised childcare. Instead, they listened to experts who told them what experts always tell women: There is something terribly wrong with you! But luckily, there is also something new and expensive that you can buy to fix it.

Doctors mastered the first procedure for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) just months before journalists started clamouring about the biological clock. On 25 July 1978, the world’s first “test-tube baby”, Louise Brown, was born in Oldham general hospital in England. Baby Louise briefly became a global celebrity. But if a marketing team had been trying to come up with an advertising campaign to sell a broader population of women on IVF, they could hardly have done better than the flood of stories about the biological clock that the Washington Post article by Richard Cohen started.

IVF had been designed to solve a specific medical problem. The mother of Louise Brown had been unable to conceive because of a blockage in her fallopian tubes. By 1981, however, researchers figured out how to use hormones to stimulate the ovaries of any woman to release many eggs at once. Rather than relying on the natural menstrual cycle, doctors began extracting as much genetic material as they could from their patients. Soon, they were selling IVF to women who had no fallopian tube problems at all.

In 1983, the doctors Sevgi Aral and Willard Cates, both at the Center for Disease Control in Washington DC, published an article announcing the beginning of an “infertility epidemic”. It was widely read and cited. As concern spread, the assisted reproductive technology industry grew in response to the new demand. By the mid 1980s, clinics offering IVF treatments were opening across the US. By the 1990s, agencies offering egg donation and gestational surrogacy followed, as did ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection, a method of injecting sperm directly into an egg to fertilise it).

IVF helped many women to conceive but it was not an easy fix. It is an expensive procedure. In the US, as of 2015, the average cost of a “fresh” IVF cycle (a cycle using newly harvested eggs) is $12,400, plus $3-5,000 for medications. Many patients undergo more than one cycle while trying to get pregnant, and few health insurance plans cover all of it. In the UK, the average cost ranges from £4,000 to £8,000 per cycle – and not all women can get it on the NHS. IVF is also an invasive procedure. It comes with significant physical and emotional risks. There are countless studies that detail how disruptive and debilitating many women find it.

There have been few studies of how IVF hormone treatments affect women’s bodies in the long term. In October 2015, researchers at UCL released a study tracking more than 255,000 British women who had received IVF treatment from 1991 to 2010. They found that these women were 37% more likely than members of a control group to develop ovarian cancer. Whether this is because the IVFcaused the cancer, or their fertility problems were the result of an underlying condition that went undiagnosed, is impossible to know. Neither possibility is good.

And yet, our culture so takes for granted that women will suffer in order to become pregnant, and these methods are so profitable that few researchers are invested in exploring alternatives. Even if a couple is having trouble conceiving because of “male factor” problems, the female partner still has to undergo IVF.

Reproductive technologies are often described as means to circumvent the body’s biology. But there is a significant risk that after the expense and anguish of IVF, the procedure just won’t work. The most recent report by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, published in 2012, shows that the success rates of any given IVF cycle are low. For women over 42, the likelihood that a cycle will result in their carrying a baby to term is 3.9%.

If a woman has been counting on these procedures to start a family, discovering that she cannot do so can be devastating. The notion that miracle technologies exist may well increase her sense that the failure is her own.IVF Warning

Like any industry, the assisted reproductive technology industry seeks to expand and to capture new markets. Studies have shown that since the turn of the millennium, women are growing concerned about their fertility at younger and younger ages. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth reported that in the US the number of 22 to 29-year-olds who had received fertility treatment had doubled over the previous seven years, to 23%. In 2006, Conceive, a magazine based in Orlando, Florida, whose slogan is “We’re the experts at getting pregnant”, found that 46% of its readers were younger than 30.

Over the past decade, the assisted reproductive technology industry has begun marketing expensive interventions to growing numbers of people who may not need them. Egg freezing in particular has been marketed to career women as a chance to be proactive. In 2014, the company FertilityAuthority launched a startup called Eggbanxx, which provides access to a network of doctors who perform egg-freezing procedures. It aims to expand the market to appeal to women who are not yet having any fertility problems. “We will be like Uber, but for egg freezing,” Gina Bartasi, the company’s CEO told the Washington Post in the spring of 2015.

In contrast to the language of “stocks” and of “gifts” that we use to talk about sperm and egg donation, insurance is the metaphor that dominates discussions of egg freezing. Clinics that offer the treatment often use the language of high finance in their advertisements. They joke about “frozen assets” and speak earnestly about the wisdom of “hedging against” risk. Egg freezing is not only a choice but an “option”, in the sense that Wall Street traders use that term. When she freezes her eggs, a woman pays a certain amount of money – in the US this starts at around $15,000, plus annual storage costs – in order to be able to get her eggs back later.

Like IVF, egg freezing was initially developed for a specific purpose: young female cancer patients who had to undergo chemotherapy elected to freeze their eggs before doing so. But in recent years, clinics have started offering the experimental treatment as an option for healthy women, too. Indeed, they encourage women to freeze their eggs as early as possible.

Asking women to pay for an expensive elective procedure, which is still classified as experimental, years before they ever need it, does not sound like the most solid business proposition. And yet, the logic of egg freezing has convinced some of America’s most successful corporations. In 2012, when Google, Facebook, and Citibank announced that they were considering covering up to $20,000 of the cost of egg freezing as a health benefit for female employees, many people touted this move as a miracle fix for the gender inequality that continues to plague corporate workplaces. A Time magazine cover story on the subject declared that “Egg Freezing Will Be the Great Equalizer”.

In the media, women who freeze their eggs tend to say that doing so has made them feel “empowered”. Yet the sources in these stories often seem to be less worried about climbing the career ladder than about the difficulties of finding love as their biological clock ticks louder and louder in the background.

In 2011, Vogue profiled “a 35-year-old, willowy media company executive”, who had just frozen her eggs. She stressed the benefits that doing so would bring her while dating. “Leah knew she was coming dangerously close to the age when eligible men might search her eyes for desperation, that unseemly my-clock-is-ticking vibe. ‘Freezing my eggs is my little secret,’ she says. ‘I want to feel there’s a backup plan.’”

In 2013, the journalist Sarah Elizabeth Richards published Motherhood: Rescheduled. This book follows five women through the egg-freezing process. The author says that she herself is overjoyed at the pressure that having done so takes off her love life. “Egg freezing … soothed my pangs of regret for frittering away my 20s with a man I didn’t want to have children with, and for wasting more years in my 30s with a man who wasn’t sure he even wanted children. It took away the punishing pressure to seek a new mate and helped me find love again at age 42.” This makes egg freezing sound less like a tool for workplace equality than an expensive means to prolong the search for Prince Charming.

The go-getting women who are cited as advertisements for egg freezing often use the language of choice and self-empowerment. In practice, however, egg freezingpushes women to accept gendered expectations about romance and reproduction. The more the procedure becomes normalised, the more the idea is reinforced that women should take on the work and financial burden of managing reproduction. It is easy to imagine opportunities becoming obligations: that in a company that offers egg freezing as a benefit, a woman who does not elect to freeze her eggs will be perceived as unserious about her career. This seems like a strange form of empowerment: spending tens of thousands of dollars in order to make your date feel more comfortable. Or, so that you can climb a career ladder that will not bend, even slightly, to meet female workers in their reproductive years.

This seems a strange form of empowerment: spending tens of thousands of dollars to make your date feel more comfortable

The American workforce is now more than half female. In the UK, more than 67% of women hold full-time jobs outside their homes. Given a choice between policy changes – say, better healthcare and maternity leave policies – and a “time freezing” technology, do we really think that freezing time is the more realistic fix for the problems that workplace conventions cause women?

It is easy to understand why individual women might want to freeze their eggs. But freezing rarely solves a problem. On the contrary, it prolongs the existence of a problem.

The role of the biological clock has been to make it seem only natural – indeed inevitable – that the burdens of reproducing the world fall almost entirely on women. There are moral as well as practical implications to this idea: if you do not plan your life just right, you deserve to end up desperate and alone.

This fiction that it is female nature to take full responsibility for reproduction places a tremendous burden on women. And it strains romantic relationships between women and men. The idea that men and women who desire sexual and romantic relations with one another are hardwired to want opposing things is not good for anyone. Would it not be more straightforward simply to admit that both men and women have bodies that age – and that most humans share basic desires for affection, intimacy, and respect?

Geeta Narglund.   “The doctor warning 15-year-olds about their declining fertility.  The Guardian.  May 17, 2016.   (



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.



Noah Berlatsky.  “Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.” The Atlantic.  March 19. 2013. (

Stephen Marche.  “The Case for Filth.”  New York Times.  December 7, 2013.  (

Richard Reeves.  “How to Save Marriage in America.” the Atlantic.” February 13, 2014.  (

Llana Sayer.  “The Complexities of Interpreting Changing Household Patterns.” (

Brigid Schulte.  “After the Baby: Dads Do Less at Home.” (








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 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 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 ( 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.  (

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!.



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).


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.


Gottlieb, Lori.  (Feb. 6, 2014) “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? “ (

Libby Anne (January 31, 2013) “More chores for Men=Less Sex?”(

Smith, Jesse.  (June 16, 2015) “10 Sexual Myths Millennials Need to Know About.” (



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.







BALANCE FAM WORKHere are ten strategies used by real dual-earner couples in their effort to maintain family and work balance.  These strategies are not rules, rather they are guides couples use in meeting their various responsibilities in carrying out their life plans together.

Valuing Family.   Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority.   They proactively create opportunities for family time such as “pizza night” on Friday or bedtime stories every night.  It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours, sacrifice career advancement, make career changes, or accept less-prestigious positions to keep family as the number one priority.

…H*: Every night, one or both of us read with our son for about 20 min.

…W*: David was going to go to medical school…..creating 8-plus years of being an absentee father…..we said no….we needed to pursue something

Striving for Partnership.   Striving for equality in their marital relationship is critical to the success of these couples.

…H My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.

…W: If I win and she loses, then we both lose.

…W: We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?

Deriving Meaning from Work.   Successful couples experience enjoyment and purpose from their careers and jobs.

…W: We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.

…W: I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.

Maintaining Work Boundaries.  Successful couples make a commitment to maintain control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.ID-100259529

…W: We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.

…W: When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.

…H: We’ve always said, “No,” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.                

Focusing and Producing at Work.  Being productive at work is important to successful couples.  Setting limits on their careers, has not adversely affected their productivity.

…H We’re both pulling our weight at [our] jobs.  [No one] has ever felt that we’re slacking off or we’re getting off easy because we’ve got kids.

…W: I don’t mess around.  When I’m there, I’m working.

Prioritizing Family Fun.  Successful couples use play and family fun as a way of relaxing, enjoying life, staying emotionally connected, and creating balance in their lives.

…H: I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike trips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.

…W Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in our living room with the fireplace.

Taking Pride in Dual Earning.  These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.

…W:Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.

…H: One of the nicest gifts that Patty has every given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.

Living Simply.  These couples consciously simplify their lives.

…W: He doesn’t go out to eat.  We don’t need cable.  We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.

…W: We don’t use credit cards.  We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.

Making Decisions Proactively.  Being proactive in decision making is most important.  Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.

…W: If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do….if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.

…H: We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the Volvo to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.

Valuing Time.  Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.

…W: I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by nature of the fact that you work.

…H: We try to do a lot of our [house] work…during the week, so that the weekends are free.

*H=husband; W=wife


Reference: Haddock, S.A., Zimmerman, T.S., Ziemba, S.J., Current, L.R.  (2001). Ten adaptive strategies for family and work balance: Advice from successful families.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.  Vol. 27(4), 445-458.

Click on thumbnails for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about balance in family and work.

Balance Fam Work 1 Balance Fam Work 2 balance Fam Work 3



Millennial Wives Too Nice

A wife can fall into the marital trap of being “nice” to her husband.   Being “nice” is a way of acting out our society’s instruction that women should be “nurturing” and “caring” to others.  Being “nice” gets translated into making unsolicited accommodations to your husband.  This “nice girl” approach is implicitly saying:

“I will make sure you get what you want, even without your having to ask me for it. However, you owe me to be accommodating and/or nice to me in return.”

This kind of “niceness” or “accommodation” is based on a mistaken or dated understanding of how marriage works.  Marriage is not rooted in the idea of “tit for tat”, particularly when the “tit for tat” arrangement is covert, i.e. not ever openly stated.

Accommodating to your husband without first negotiating your individual wants and desires, is misleading to him.  He does not know that you are being “nice” in exchange for him being nice in return.  He may come to think, “This is great!  I have a wife who loves everything I do!”   As a result, overtime, your husband may come to expect you to accommodate to the things he wants without having to take into account what is important to you.  You are likely to become increasingly unhappy, thinking he is very selfish, overbearing, self-centered, etc. 

Your partner may very well be selfish, overbearing, self-centered, etc. but, you cannot make that judgment based on your being “nice”, i.e. he should be nice because you are nice.  Once you learn to be more respectful of your own wishes and wants, and are capable of putting these “on the table” for discussion, you are in a better position to make an accurate judgment about the acceptability of your husband’s actions to you.

For a marriage to work, you have to invest yourself in it.  To be invested in the relationships is not about being “nice.”  It is about “being” something.  Being something means you have wishes and wants, things you desire to flourish in the world.

A 21st century marriage is about negotiating the individual things you and your husband desire to flourish.  Negotiating is not about being nice.  Accommodating to what you “know” your husband wants without negotiation undermines the very idea of a collaborative relationship.

Millennial couples have the opportunity to have a collaborative partnership in which each of you is able to identify and put out “on the table” the things that are important to you.  Each of you specifies why these things are important to you as individuals.  The two of you together jointly devise a way for both to flourish together. This process is called collaborative negotiation.

Negotiating collaboratively is the ultimate form of working together in marriage.  True collaborators are always equals.  Both wife and husband accept full responsibility for her and his part in the process of negotiation.  It is in the context of this negotiation process that you and your husband come to see what each wants and desires in order to flourish.  You are both willing to make accommodations to each other in finding a win-win outcome.

Check out the two posts on negotiation (COLLABORATION and NEGOTIATION) for a more detailed description of how to negotiate collaboratively.

Click on the thumbnails below for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about a millennial marriage.

Millennial Wives 1  Millennial Wives 2 Millennial Wives 3




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 reID-10082436sist 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.

Click on the three thumbnails below for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about a millennial marriage.

Resisstant Husbands 1 Resisstant Husbands 2 Resisstant Husbands 3


NEEDS VERSUS WANTSOne of the most common ideas about how marriage should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea that “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” is what we bring to our relationships promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  The concept of need became popular in psychology during the middle of the 20th century as an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.  The view that human beings act from self-interest and only from self-interest is not new.  It has been the dominant view in psychology and in much of Western thought in general.

The view that human nature is motivated ultimately by self-interest applied to intimate relationships translates into the idea that we must fulfill our partner’s self-identified individual needs. 

The toxic effects of this position are:

  • Needs are demands that must be fulfilled. A need is something we are entitled to have fulfilled. ID-100277147
  • They can be exchanged (tit for tat, quid pro quo) but not truly negotiated because they are entitlements.
  • To not have a need fulfilled is an injustice that will breed resentment.
  • The value of my partner gets defined by the degree to which he “fulfills” my “needs”, satisfies my self-interest. In other words, he has no intrinsic value or worth to me independent of the degree to which he fulfills my self-identified needs, and vice versa, my value to him is  based on how well I fulfill his needs.
  • There is no end to the list of things I need. All wants, preferences, and desires can be identified as needs.
  • I do not have to be concerned about the impact on my partner of fulfilling my self-identified needs.
  • People who promote this view tend to adopt the idea that men and women have biologically-determined, inherent and enduring different needs (men are from Mars and women are from Venus). In this view, husbands and wives must fulfill each other’s biologically-based gender needs.

If marriage is to work in the 21st century, it cannot be built around the idea that if we fulfill each other’s self-identified, gendered needs we will live happily ever after.

The idea of partners as having things they want, and the related notion of “preference”, in order to flourish in life is a better way to promote good intimate relationships.   A want (or preference) is something that can be negotiated in your relationships; a need demands fulfillment.

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself; it is an expression of what one believes important to living well, to having a good life.  As an expression of oneself, one’s wants and preferences must be acknowledged as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to.  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of oneself but they are no less than the expression of oneself. In fact, from my perspective wants (and associated preferences) are the best expression of who I am.  My wants derive from my values, my desire to flourish, my gender, and my experience in life.  And wants and desires can be negotiated.

The way to create a committed relationship in which each of your wants and preferences are respected and honored in your relationship is through collaborative negotiation. Collaboration is the ultimate form of working together; a synergistic process of shared creationCollaborating partners operate as a team to achieve a common purpose, which is larger than anything than either could achieve on his/her own.  Negotiation collaboratively is the ultimate form of jointly weighing how things are to work out between the two of you. True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation.

Differences between the sexes, to the degree that we actually know what these are, may be important in determining the individual wants of men and women.  As wants or preferences, they can be negotiated, avoiding the risk of having gender differences create the opportunity for an unequal relationship by “privileging” male over female “needs” or vice versa.

Note:  To read more about the theoretical and philosophical bases for the concept  of “need” as a motivational concept in psychology, I recommend two books by Drs. Mike and Lisa Wallach, both profs of mine at Duke University: (1) Psychology’s Sanction for Selfishness: The Error of Egoism in Theory and Therapy and (2) Rethinking Goodness.  Both are brilliant thinkers.

Click on the thumbnails below for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about millennial marriages…

Needs versus wants 1 Needs versus wants 2 Needs versus wants 3