spouse-mental-illnessThis post is about how to recognize when your spouse seems to be showing actions and behaviors that are detrimental to establishing a successful marriage that are more than the general “insecurities” we all have and are responsible for managing.  I will also talk about what to do when you begin to think that your partner may be suffering from a mental/emotional illness, and how to be married to someone who is mentally ill.   There are links to sites addressing bi-ploar disorder, debilitating anxiety, clinical depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious personality disorders such as narcissism, paranoie, and borderline personality in the context of marriage.  I will provide an introduction to deciding when and how to divorce a mentally ill spouse.

How Do You Know?

An article in the Huffington Post in 2012 written by Sandy Malone, a former journalist turned wedding planner, was right on target when she asked:

“How do you know and what do you do when your wife or husband starts suffering from a psychological condition?  How can you tell the difference between a series of bad days and a real problem.  How is a husband or wife to know when their occasionally moody spouse has gone from having a ‘glass is half-full as attitude’ to actually suffering from clinical depression?”

While Malone says it’s really hard to know, she notes that mental illness may manifest itself in your marriage as big and nasty fights, sustained silent standoffs, and/or withdrawing from sexual contact.  When fights or standoffs persist despite your efforts to look at yourself first, making repeated attempts to identify issues that bother your spouse, and making repeated attempts to negotiate issues.  When nothing works, it may be time to start thinking that something different than just marital conflict is occurring.

Often people are battling depression, anxiety, or other devastating mental disorders without understanding what is happening.  As Malone notes a young mother may fall apart and be labeled “overwhelmID-100277147ed”, under “stress”, or getting the “baby blues” when it is really post-partum depression.  Your husband having a panic attack may look just fine while inside he thinks he is dying.  He may not share this with you because of embarrassment and fear of being seen as “crazy”.  A mother suffering from bi-polar disorder may stay up of all night working on a work-project and then just barely be up to get the kids to school and home on her day to take care of the children.

Malone notes that you may get through specific episodes of mental illness.  You may say nothing to each other or you may have a fight.  Neither of you wants to remember the turmoil and the things you may have said to each other.  Not dealing with the rising fears about what is happening only serves to undermine further your marriage.   As the less impaired, less stressed spouse it is likely you will hold back worries and concerns so as to not overload your spouse.  Holding back like this only increases the difficulties for your spouse even if he/she does not fully understand what is happening.

Taking the First Step

So what can you do if you think your husband or wife may be suffering from mental illness or psychological problems? You can take a page from what we have learned about confronting the problem of alcoholism or alcohol/drug addiction.  Here are several suggested steps.

  1. Do not confront you spouse in the midst of an argument, etc. Choose a good time to initiate a conversation with your spouse about his/her behaviors/actions that you are concerned about and that have a negative impact on you and the marriage.
  2. Express your concerns. Talk about your worries, trying not to lecture.  You may have to work to imagine yourself in his/her shoes in order to be gentle and kind.  Give as clear examples as you can about the problems you are experiencing, e.g. “When you get angry, you are not able/willing to tell me what you are angry about.”  “We no longer have sex; I miss our intimacy.”  “When you drink too much, you get sullen and won’t talk to me.”  These kinds of clear statements directly state the problem and the negative results that happen.
  3. Find you what your spouse thinks in a neutral way. Next, ask him/her if these actions are a problem for him/her too.  Wait for him/her to answer. If he/she agrees that he is having a problem, you may want to ask questions like, “Why do you think you are having a problem with ___________?”  “What do you think you can do about ____________________?”  If your spouse can acknowledge that he/she is having difficulties, you can begin to negotiate the next steps to seeking help.
  4. Chip away at their refusal to address the problem. If you spouse denies that they have a problem, don’t expect to overcome their denial with the “blunt hammer” of rationality.  Instead, continue to try to express your concerns and addressing their excuses from a place of compassion, rather than judgment.
  5. You can put limits on your relationship. If your spouse is continually unwilling to get help and continues to show the problematic behaviors and actions despite your efforts, you may need to set clear boundaries on your relationship. For example, tell him/her that you cannot spend time with her/him when they act in the problematic way you have described.   It may come to telling him/her you need a break until they’re willing to seek help.  Explain that you care and want to help, but that his/her actions are having too big of a negative impact on your life.  In the short term, this will likely lead to resentment, but in the long term it may lead to your spouse beginning to recognize the impact of his/her behavior on those around them.
  6. Consider getting professional help.   If your spouse won’t cooperate, make an appointment with a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist to go to together so that you can discuss the concerns you have about your spouse.  If you spouse will not cooperate, go on your own to get further help and guidance on how to proceed.

Advice on how to live with a mentally ill person 

There is a very good article “Along for the Ride” on the blog BrainPhsics.com written by a woman about a husband with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) describing her excruciating tale of what they both went through before identifying the problem and getting treatment.   Here are several important things this wife has to share about how to manage living with a mentally ill person.

  1. Know your enemy. The more she learned about William’s (her husband) illnesses, the more she was able to understand his behavior.  This allowed her to be more empathetic toward William and to be more positive about his treatment.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts followed by rituals aimed at warding off the anxiety-provoking obsessions. This explained the bizarre sexual thoughts and William’s subsequent, drastic actions.   In her words, “Although much of the time it felt like my husband was the enemy, the illness is the true enemy. If your spouse has a mental illness, arm yourself with as much information as possible. A full psychological evaluation is critical. Read books, talk to the doctors, and even take a class if you have time. The more you know, the easier it will be to sort out the illness from the one you love.”
  2. Get the right kind of treatment It may take a while to find the right treatment for the particular illness your spouse has. You can read the individual stories I have provide in this post that make suggestions about different approaches for different illnesses.  For example, it took several years for William to settle on a combination of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) and the judicious use of the antidepressant Zoloft.
  3. Do not participate in your spouse’s illness.William’s wife thought she was being supportive by offering continued reassurances and listening to William’s confessions, which turned out not to be so helpful.  She heard of cases where spouses enabled an ill spouse with his or her irrational OCD rituals.  Talk to your spouse’s clinician about what your role in the treatment should be. You can affect your spouse’s recovery for better or for worse.  However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can cure your mate. The illness is his responsibility.
  4. Remember, you are the healthy one! When your spouse is not thinking clearly, which can happen in any illness, he or she may try to convince you that you are the one with the problem. You may start to question your own judgment at times. Do not allow your partner’s disordered thinking to affect your self-esteem; trust your own judgment.
  5. Get family counseling/therapy. It is likely that keeping your marriage intact will require couples and/or family therapy.  In addition, this is one of the best ways to learn how to be helpful to your ill spouse.  Make sure you find someone who has a good understanding of your partner’s disorder.
  6. Get support. As William’s wife says, you can’t do it alone.  You impaired spouse cannot be your only source of emotional support.  Maintain as many friendships as possible. Find a support group for yourself and go to meetings for family members with the illness your spouse has.  This is a great source of education and coping strategies.
  7. Keep going with your own work and social activities. It’s important for you to continue with your own life activities; continue the things you do without you spouse.  You need to have a life of your own, which can sustain you if/when the next bout of the illness occurs.
  8. Have realistic expectations. Even when your spouse is being successfully treated, he/she may still act in ways that surprise you.  William’s wife, for example, asked him to take her to the doctor when she began to miscarry a pregnancy.  William suggested she go alone, because he had so much work to do, even though he had taken a leave of absence from work.  After the fact, she realized that his anxiety impaired his ability to respond appropriately.
  9. Help others. William’s wife found that after several months of attending her family support group she had something to offer others who were just beginning on the road to recovery.  This felt good to her and she later joined other relevant associations.  She felt helping others gave some meaning to what was the worst experience she had ever endured.
  10. Expect setbacks.  Remember, a relapse can happen even with excellent treatment.   With most mental disorders there is no cure; there can be effective ongoing management of the condition.  It is important to understand that there will be setbacks; knowing this may make it easier to handle when they occur.
  11. Recognize progress.  During times of difficulties or setbacks, it is important to recall the progress in treatment that your spouse has made.   The more you know about the illness and the better your relationship, the more likely that you can manage this.

William’s wife ends her comments with:                “

 “Though I’m grateful that we’ve made progress and found

some good treatments, I reflect soberly on the losses and

many unknowns. I lost my husband for over a year and still

don’t know who he is much of the time. I’ve lost many of my

‘friends,’ our church, my sanity at times, and even our unborn

child. I realize that life has no guarantees, that my husband

or children might wrestle with the same demon on another day.

I hate the struggle, but I know I’ve come out stronger. Though

I don’t have any satisfying answers yet, I turn to God for strength.”

A list of references

Here is a list of articles by spouses dealing with specific illnesses.  Hearing someone else’s story is a great way to get a handle on what may be happening in your life.

Alcoholism:  Guide to Living with an Alcoholic.  DualDiagnosis.org.  (http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/alcohol-addiction/guide-living-alcoholic/).  The Secrets to Helping an Alcoholic Family Member or Friend.  Discover Place.  (https://www.discoveryplace.info/secrets-helping-alcoholic-family-member-or-friend

Asperger’s.  Dealing with an Asperger’s Husband: Tips for married couples.  (http://www.adultaspergerschat.com/2012/04/dealing-with-aspergers-husband-tips-for.html)

Bi-Polar Disorder.  I lost my husband to bipolar disorder.  Sue Sanders and Francesca Castagnoli.  (http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/24/health/change-mind-real-simple/)

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):  Living with and Loving Someon with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. PsychgCentral.  (http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/15/living-with-loving-someone-with-borderline-personality-disorder/) http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/15/living-with-loving-someone-with-borderline-personality-disorder/psychcentral.com/…/living-with-loving-someone-with-borderline-personality-disorder

Depression:  How to Deal with a Depressed Spouse.  Sari Harrar.  http://www.rd.com/health/wellness/how-to-cope-with-a-depressed-spouse/

Narcissism:  7 Strategies for Dealing with the Narcissist You Love.  Dr. Craig Malkin.  The Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-craig-malkin/7-strategies-for-dealing-_b_5192851.html)

Paranoid.  7 Tips for Coping with a Paranoid Partner.  Carrie Barron, M.D. Psychology Today. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creativity-cure/201601/7-tips-coping-paranoid-partner)

Psychosis:  My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward.  Mark Lukach.  The Pacific Standard, January, 2015.  (https://psmag.com/my-lovely-wife-in-the-psych-ward-2edac99d046e#.rnmiloo9q)

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury):  To the Spouses Who are Enduring Hell.  (http://armyreservistwife.blogspot.com/2010/06/to-spouses-who-are-enduring-hell.html)

When do you consider divorce?

Deciding to divorce a spouse who has a mental illness is painful and complex decision.  There will be enormous social pressure and guilt in deciding to end your marriage to someone who is mentally ill.  After all, you took those wedding vows to be married “in sickness and in health”.  You will need a lot of help to make such a decision.  I strongly recommend that you seek professional support advice in making this decision. As an introduction, I suggest taking a look at a blog by Mandy Walker who is a Divorce Coach and Mediator.  Her blog is called “Since My Divorce, Easing the Pain and Stress of Divorce”.  Take a look at “Deciding to Divorce when your Spouse has a Mental Illness” posted on February 19, 2014.

The post begins with a poignant story about a husband with a bi-polar wife and two young sons.  Here is an excerpt from Jeff.

“I’ve drawn a boundary for myself. No matter what she does,

I have that promise to myself. I’ve had to really try hard to

stick myself to that promise and she’s actually helped me keep

it by being worse. Now, she’s rebounding and going through

the good phase of the cycle, now, she’s medicated, it’s going

to be a lot for me to break that promise to myself and remain

with her.  I don’t feel guilty about wanting to divorce and I’m

not even angry with her.  I know she has a disorder and she’s not

choosing to behave this way, but I have to keep her at arm’s

length. If I was angry with her, it would just create more

opportunities for her mania and episodes.”

Here are a few of Walker’s suggestions as you consider leaving or divorcing a mentally ill spouse, which is a very complex decision to make.

  1. Separate the decision to end your marriage from taking the steps to end your marriage
  2. Deciding how will be easier to figure out once you believe divorce is the best option for you
  3. Learn as much as you can about your spouse’s condition (typical symptoms, treatment, on-going issues, long-term prognosis) so you can formulate a future picture and get a handle on the possibility for change
  4. A legal separation may address concerns you have with breaking your marriage vows
  5. Think in terms of a loving detachment that involves:
    • Recognizing the process will take time
    • Considering how to help you spouse to be self-sufficient
    • Creating a parenting plan that keeps your spouse involved in a way that I safe and feasible
    • Not holding your spouse’s condition against him/her in order to penalize her/him
    • Leaving without anger or resentment




Being in conflict is not the same thing as having differences or disagreements.  Disagreements and differences happen all the time.    Couples can disagree when they want to go to the movies.  They can differ over how to discipline their children.  They can differ on when to have sexual relations.  They can disagree on where to get the car serviced.

Conflict is another matter.  Conflict occurs because of the way in which (how) you go about achieving what you want (e.g. seeing a movie, disciplining children, having sex, career choices).  The content is the what of the interaction between the two of you.   How you go about getting what you want in marriage is called process.   People often refer to process as communication but communication is an overused, imprecise term. The graphic CONTENT AND PROCESS IN MARITAL INTERACTION shows the difference between Content and Process.CONTENT AND PROCESS

The process that occurs between you and your spouse will be affected significantly by your own personal insecurities. We all suffer with feelings of insecurities of various kinds. Feeling insecure is not a sign of some psychological malady or impairment; it is a consequence of the cognitive and emotional limitations of childhood.

These insecurities show up in marriage as defensiveness (I prefer “self-protective strategies”) and overreactions to each other (“taking things personally”) instead of responding to each other. Taking something personally happens when you portray your spouse’s action only in terms of how you experience it.  How you experience your spouse’s actions, while important to you, is not the only way to describe his/her actions.  Accusing  your partner of “ignoring” you  when he/she is inattentive in a given situation is an example of characterizing an action rather than describing it.

The graphic ANATOMY OF A CONFLICT demonstrates a conflict between Jesse and Sarah over how she spent money on a new couch for their apartment.  In this situation, Sarah spent more than she and Jesse had agreed upon.  When she told Jesse about this, he immediately got angry at her, seeing her as acting “irresponsibly”.  He then verbally criticized her, calling her “irresponsible”, likely raising his voice at her.  Jesse may very well “make a case” about Sarah’s “irresponsibility” by highlighting past times she spent over budget, probably on minor things.

ANATOMY OF A CONFLICTSarah, in turn, thinks Jesse’s characterization of her as irresponsible is not justified, feels hurt and angry.  In her mind, she characterizes him as “insensitive” and “domineering”.  She is unwilling to “defend” herself because she does not believe her actions warrant this kind of reaction.  She makes no attempt to explain why she spent more than they had agreed upon.

Jesse and Sarah are now having a conflict, which goes unresolvedThey went their separate ways for the remainder of the day.  Later that evening, Jesse, feeling less angry, approaches Sarah amorously.  She still feels hurt and misunderstood and is not feeling responsive to him.  She still sees him as unkind and unfair.

Jesse’s reaction to Sarah spending more for the couch than they had agreed to is “taking it personally” because:

  • He characterized her action (she is “irresponsible”) rather than describing it (she spent more than agreed to)
  • He did not ask for an explanation for spending more than they had budgeted for the couch
  • His anger is “justified” because she is “irresponsible” not because of what she actually did (what she did is a problem to Jesse)
  • When you characterize someone’s action, you are going after him/her personally, not addressing what they did
  • When you react (because you take something personally) you increase the likelihood that your spouse will react too (as Sarah did in this case, characterizing Jesse’s action as “insensitive”, “domineering”)

Here is how this conflict could have been just a disagreement (even a big disagreement).

  • Jesse is aware that his initial reaction of being angry at Sarah is a personal reaction and he needs to step back for a moment to reflect
  • Once he is feeling less angry, he affirms that he is concerned that Sarah has spent over what they budgeted, he sees this as a problem (rather than a character trait of “irresponsibility”)
  • He asks what her thinking was in spending more than they had agreed upon on the couch (It turns out the couch was an expensive couch that was significantly reduced in price)
  • He talked with Sarah about his concern about spending over their agreed upon budget without “cross checking” (not asking permission) with him
  • Sarah made the case for the couch, letting him know that she had planned to use her discretionary money to pay partly for the extra cost of the couch and was willing to return it if needed
  • From this discussion they both agreed to keep the couch and set a limit on what they could each spend over budget in a given situation without talking to the other
  • Thus, they were able to reach a win-win solution to their disagreement over Sarah spending over budget on a new couch for their apartment

Conflict is not resolved through negotiation because when you are in conflict with each other, you are not capable of being collaborative, a prerequisite to negotiating.  You can only characterize and accuse.  If you don’t stop and reflect, you will end up arguing about the content which is impossible to address when either or both of you are reacting to each other.

To be self-reflective means being willing and able to take a hard look at your own personal motives when you interact with your partner, i.e. when you are “taking things personally“.  You can learn to be more aware of your own part in and more accountable for what goes on in your intimate day-to-day interactions.   As you become more aware of you “personal take” in an interaction, you can learn to manage it more effectively.


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.






How can you ignore me like that, I work so hard at being nice to you.”… “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing the dishes when we wanted to spend time together watching TV!”…” It will only take a second, don’t’ get so upset over such a little thing.”

“My opinion doesn’t count, I feel like a second-class citizen in this relationship”. …“Oh, here we go again, I can’t do anything right.”

“You spend so much money on things that are not important; you’re so selfish”. …“I work hard, and it is my money”.

“You never want to have sex”. …”and you just want it all the time, you’re a sex addict.”

Interactions like these always involve one or both partners “taking things personally”.  In the above brief scenarios, each partner is feeling angry, frustrated, upset, anxious, etc., and accuses, blames, yells, criticizes, calls each other names, etc.  Most marriage counselors know people cannot negotiate a win-win solution to a problem in this state.  Typically, counselors will tell you to step back and cool off.  That’s not good enough.

I think you have to understand what is happening to you psychologically when this kind of interaction happens so that you can proceed with negotiating or problem solving.

In the incident shown in the red box, Jesse probably did not listen attentively to something Sara was saying.  She portrays or characterizes his action as “ignoring” her, followed by her self-serving statement about her niceness.  This, of course, is intended to bolster the way she is experiencing Jesse’s action; after all, she is accusing him of not being nice to her.  While not stated, Sara is likely feeling angry and/or hurt.

Sara is characterizing Jesse’s action, not describing it.  A description of Jesse’s action would be something like, “It seems to me that you are not attending to what I am talking about.”    Or, “I would like to have some time together, I am not sure that is what you want.”  This is a relationship issue, not a Sara-issue.ID-100207338

While Jesse did not respond to Sara in a way that is important to her (listening to her when she wanted him to do so or spending time with her), her characterization of his action as ignoring her is personal.

Jesse, not really thinking that he deliberately tried to ignore Sara and likely caught off guard by the criticism, dismisses what she is saying (“I don’t know what you’re talking about”), probably in self-defense or self-protectively.  Thus, Sara’s concern does not get addressed because both now are defending their positions. They are now in CONFLICT with one another.

Taking something personally happens when you portray your partner’s action only in terms of how you experience it.  How you experience someone else’s actions, while important to you, is not the only way to describe other’s actions. 

When we are taking something someone does personally, i.e. reacting not responding, we are feeling psychologically “threatened”.   What is this about?  It is most often an ill-defined feeling of “not being good enough” in some way, not important enough, not smart enough, not respected enough, not good-looking enough etc., etc., etc.

Your interpretation of your partner’s action (inaction) is what “causes” your feeling of threat, his/her action, while a problem to you, is not the threat. 

This pattern of interaction can occur over and over in a relationship without ever identifying the problems that Sara and Jesse are trying to address because they end up in conflict.  Conflict is not resolvable because you two are not dealing with the issue (not being attended to in a way you like, checking sports scores when having time together, partner not listening, how money is spent, etc.). You both are dealing with your personalized reactions to each other in a defensive or self-protective manner.

There are several definite steps that Jesse and Sara must take to end the conflict and move on to addressing Sara’s concern:

  • Recognize that you are reacting, usually emotionally, to your partner
  • Recognize that you are characterizing your partner’s action(s) not describing them
  • Identify in what way you are feeling threatened (I’m not important enough for him to pay attention to me).
  • Understand that when you are feeling threatened, you will characterize your partner in a negative way that he/she will not see as true of him/her.
  • Reframe in your mind that this is a relationship issue, you are good enough, important enough, etc.
  • Remember: It’s not about you or him, it’s about us and how we get along.
  • Describe what is the issue (not being attended to, checking the sports scores, etc.)

Once you have regained your perspective on the situation, you can better determine if there is a relationship issue.  When you determine this, you can begin the process of negotiating collaboratively about the problem or issue at hand.  (See posts on the pursuit of collaboration and the process of negotiation)

There are 3 thumbnails below that may be helpful to you in understanding and managing taking things personally: (1) understanding where psychological threat comes from, (2) a worksheet to inventory when you are taking things personally and, (3) managing insecurities.

Taking Personally 1 Taking Personally 2 Taking Personally 3


HIP MarriageMillennials are opting for a new model of marriage, one that is liberal about adult roles and conservative about raising children.   They are liberal because college graduates are more likely to approve of working women, abortion, pre-marital sex, legal marijuana, and gay marriage.  They approve of women working even when their husbands can support them!

They are conservative because the HIP (High Investment Parenting) model of marriage (see the great article in The Atlantic by Richard Reeve of the Brookings Institute from which this post is adapted [http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732//])  is built on strong, traditional commitment to raising children together.  These well-educated Americans are delaying childrearing until they are financially stable and their relationship is on sound footing.  HIP wives have a good education, an established career, and high earning potential.  Women’s independence rather than dependence, underpins this new marriage model.

College graduates are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing endeavor because they live in a postfeminist society and knowledge-based econFamily in parkomy.  Such marriages are offering more satisfaction and produce successful children.

High Investment Parenting is about a huge commitment of time, energy, money and attention to all aspects of the 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 money-maker.  This takes lots of juggling, trading, and negotiating.

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

HIP marriage 1 HIP marriage 2 HIP marriage 3



Pull to Trad MarrMillennials, despite their commitment to gender equality, will face difficulties achieving equality in marriage because most couples fall into unequal relationship patterns without their conscious intention or awareness.  Women particularly fall into traps trying to manage careers and family life.

The practical impact of childbearing and childrearing continue 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.  Women are influenced by cultural ideologies about good mothering, i.e. mothers should stay home with their children.  And, women still retain primary responsibility for children even when they work.  While younger fathers are more willing to take childcare responsibilities, they are less likely to take on traditional household chores.

This millennial generation of women is not necessarily committed to the norm of the breadwinner-homemaker (or main provider) arrangement in their marriage, but thID-10088590 (2)ey are still especially implicated in determining the final work-family dynamic.  For the most part, husbands are typically supportive of their wives decisions, but seldom do husbands offer to sacrifice their own work commitments, non-consciously placing the responsibility for work-family outcomes on their wives.

These life-altering “decisions”, often perceived as individual choices are made at transitions times in the course of living.  Transitions are changes in status that commonly include leaving school, starting a first job, forming an independent household, marriage, and parenthood.  If you wish to create a life-plan that includes a commitment to an egalitarian marriage, pay attention to how decisions are made at these time.  Here are some things that have been found to influence a woman’s decision to move toward a more traditional marriage during such transitions:

  • Viewing their work as a job rather than a career
  • Having insufficiently established stable employment, particularly in their chosen career path
  • Delaying their education in context of committed relationship, perhaps as result of family planning (husbands not delaying education)
  • Having a husband with more income potential leads women to view their own income as “extra” money devaluing their contribution
  • Opting for “pink collar” jobs, known to have glass ceilings
  • Seeing marriage and having children as acceptable alternative to less than satisfactory career trajectory (may be related to gender bias in the workplace)
  • The stress of managing career and family life

If you want an egalitarian relationship in your marriage, it will be absolutely necessary to negotiate future work and child-care arrangements before marriage.  And, both the husbands’ and wives’ careers must be part of the negotiation.  It is too easy for you and your spouse to see these decisions about marriage and family arrangements as a consequence of individual choice, even perceiving your individual decision as a negotiation between you and your spouse. Remember, having a husband who is supportive of “your” decision about marriage and family is not the same thing as truly negotiating such arrangements.

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 The Pull Lori

the Pull Rachel

the Pull Sandy