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.

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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.


Stephen J. Coulson. How to Maintain Your Autonomy in a Collaborative Partnership. (

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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.

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…..

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doing gender in marriageYou will be doing gender daily in your marriage without even knowing that you are doing it.  Husbands and wives are actively engaged in reinforcing their own ideas of being masculine and feminine.  Doing gender is our way of being “masculine” and “feminine” and, thereby, carrying out the socially prescribed roles of husband and wife.

Imagine a husband has had a hard day at work and is feeling stressed.  He “acts out” his gender expectations by crumpling into his easy chair to show that he is worn out from work and needs some attention.   His wife sees this, and understands that this display of gender is a bid for her “womanly” display of caring.  How she responds will depend on her own definition of being feminine.   She may respond to her husband’s cues by sitting down with him for a few minutes, or by bringing him something to eat or drink.   She may not ask him about his day because this is not the way he wants to be cared for.  For her to not provide the expected caring would likely result in the husband feeling deprived of what is his due. millennials doing gender in marriage

Both the husband and the wife in this ordinary interaction are defining  themselves as masculine and feminine by confirming each other’s gendered expectations of being wife and husband.  It is also noteworthy that conforming to these gender roles does not necessarily get recognized as praiseworthy—it is what ought to be done.

Let’s see what a de-gendered interaction might look like.  Our husband has had a tough day at work and his wife who is on family leave from her work is home with their newborn.  He guesses that she too may have had a tough day with the colicky baby.  After greeting his wife and confirming that, indeed, she has had a tough day, he suggests they call his mother to come over for a couple of hours so that they can have dinner out.  At dinner both have a chance to share their difficult day, each supporting the other.  They also begin the conversation about how they are going to arrange their work life to accommodate together their new, loved member of the family.

The first scenario is automatically “doing gender” in marriage through our everyday interactions.  These gender rules are both caused by and, at the same time, perpetuate our ideas of what it is to be masculine and feminine.

Your own individual pattern of acting out together these socially prescribed roles will come to be seen as the expression of the “natural” differences between men and woman, between being masculine and feminine.  They begin to be seen as “hard-wired” patterns of behavior of femininity and masculinity, with which we are bombarded daily in conversation, the media, scientific literature, advice columns, and well-meaning friends and family.

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Harvard WomenMillennials, generally described as the generation born between the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s, have very liberal ideas about adult role, including approving of working women, abortion, pre-marital sex, legal marijuana, and gay marriage.  They reject strongly differentiated gender roles in marriage.

However, a new study of Harvard Business School alumni found that the real lives of Harvard women graduates did not match their reported expectations about their work and family lives.  That is, while  women and men have about equal expectations about how their careers and home life will go, the actual lives of the women in the study did not live up to those expectations.

For example, young women in this study expect that their progressive values about caring for children will be reflected in their own live.  However, young men in the study were much more likely to expect a more traditional outcome, women being more responsible for caring for children.

What is interesting about this study is that it asked the survey takes to report on the gender dynamics of their own lives, not about gender equality in the abstract.  These are bright, well-educated women and men who once they marry and have children fall back into traditional roles.  How does this happen?

The practical impact of childbearing and childrearing continues to have greater consequences for women than for men, even for those couples who hold egalitarian ideologies.  Trying to combine work and family leads many women to prefer giving up their career aspirations because of the difficulty of managing both along with traditional ideologies about good mothering.  For the most part, husbands nowadays are typically supportive of their wives decisions, but seldom do husbands offer to sacrifice their own work commitments.  Even if women go to work after the children are in school, their husband’s earning power has so outstripped theirs that they come to think of their salary as “extra” money rather than as being a major contribution to the family.ID-10085433 (2)


  • Male and female graduates have the same goals: meaningful, satisfying work (with opportunities for career growth) and fulfilling personal lives
  • Among full-time workers, men were significantly more likely to be in senior management positions
  • Fewer women than men reported being satisfied with careers
  • Different expectations in marriages leads to diverging career paths
  • 75% of men (ages 32 to 67) expected careers to take precedence over wives’ careers and it turned out to be true
  • Half of corresponding women expected to handle majority of child care, three fourths ended up doing so
  • One female graduate, mother of two and founder and chief exec of a company, reported her career and home life matched her expectations. She was upfront about her career goals, she and her husband “are on the same page”, and they “actively manage” the balancing of jobs and child care.

Click on thumbnails below for more info about the Harvard Study…..

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Ely, R.J., Stone, P. and Ammerman, C. 2014). Re-thinking what you know about high-achieving women.  Harvard Business Review. December. (


One of the most difficult thingsSlide1 to change is old ideas about how to be husbands and wives.  Thank goodness gender is much less important in our public lives in the new millennium.  However, in our private lives, old and rigid ideas of masculinity and femininity get replayed over and over in marriage.

Changing the way marriage pulls for us to “act out” our gender roles is going to be very difficult.  Sociologist, Sara Berk, coined a terrific term, “the gender factory”, to describe how household activities, caring for the children, and even the way we show we care personally about each other as husbands and wives are driven by our implicit desire to feel masculine or feminine.  That is, feelings about femininity and masculinity get tied to specific marital activities, e.g. women take care of the children and men help out.

Millennials, ranging in age from 18 to 33, are providing a bit of good news relating to ideas about gender roles.  An historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles is part of their core belief system.  Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the question of whether or not these millennials ID-10033315will get and stay married.  Millennials feel that they don’t have to be married to have sexual relations.  In the changing generational workforce, millennial women don’t feel they have to be or stay married to survive economically.  If millennials do marry, will they be able to sustain their stance on gender equality?

I  am writing this blog on how to keep things equal in your marriage because of my concern about the difficulty of maintaining equality for men and women in marriage.  I think maintaining equality in marriage is vital for a number of reasons:  (1) women will not achieve equality in society as a whole if they live in a gender-defined relationship in their marriage, (2) because I have been married for a long time to a man who from the earliest days of our marriage was committed to the idea of being equal partners, (3) having both mother and father investing time and effort into raising their children is good for everyone, (4) having a good, intimate relationship in the context of marriage is good for us as individuals and good for our society.

Click on these thumbnails for more about being masculine and feminine and how to co-construct your marriage….

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