Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy is the Man


As I approach the final pages of my new novel, it's gotten me to thinking about marriage and how, here in the U.S. anyway, the marriages we generally view as "happy" are the ones where the man publicly claims to be henpecked. He indulges and caters to his wife, and mock-complains (or claims to be too terrified to protest) his fate.

In the world outside his home, he may command dozens of people, but inside he's not even allowed to pick out wallpaper.

On the other hand, if the situation is reversed, if the wife complains how the man wears the pants and makes all the decisions, we view it as a less happy marriage.

I wonder why that is?

I think it has to do with power. Because men typically have both the financial power and the physical power in a relationship, there's a gentle majesty in allowing the smaller, weaker party to make binding decisions, kind of like those trainers who lead huge bears around on little chains. We know the bear could, with one swipe of his paw, end the tyranny, and we view it as a measure of the strength of the connection between the two that he doesn't do that.

I wonder if there's any correlation between the longevity of a marriage (which, of course, doesn't actually measure marital happiness, but it's the closest measure I can think of) and who makes the domestic decisions?

What do you think?

And, for those of you who come from other cultures, how do things work in your world?

16 comments:

Rachel Cotterill said...

As a woman who has devoted her married life (all 2 1/2 years of it) to the underrated art of not-nagging, I get very cross with men who pander to this stereotype. Particularly when I know that the couple are happily married and enjoy an equitable relationship.

Chef E said...

I am with Rachel, equality rules, but you have to back off from nagging, and if you do not like his choices, or vise versa- chose the arguments, you may want to chose the sofa one day...lots of endearments along with a goodbye and hello kiss help keep the spark thriving...and I have been together fourteen years, plus two as friends before hand...

SherilinR said...

i've been married for almost 13 years & far more happily than most of the people my age seem to be. and my man is not at all one of that sterotype, nor am i a meek little mouse. there's almost always one of us who has a stronger opinion about any given topic, so that's who gets to decide about things where we disagree. it works & there's rarely any fighting.

Eva Gallant said...

I don't know if there's a stereo typical happy marriage; I think it's more of an attitude thing. It requires a totally committed attitude on the part of both parties to making it work!

Tom said...

That's a great question. I've been married for 20 years and have come to realize that with each anniversary, I really know less than I did the year before. I guess it's a complicated balance of humility, service, forgiveness, and trust. It's also luck for me to have gotten such a good wife.

Dedene said...

We've been married for 14 years and our opinions often collide. There are often loud fights. As for French/American cultural differences, I'm not sure as I've never been married to an American man. However, French men will put up with a certain amount of nice nagging, as long as they can nag back.

Maelstrom said...

On issues where I actually care enough to have an opinion there is equality in decisions made. But most of the time things regarding details of house and home don't matter to me, so I waive my voice, just as I would expect her to do for things that I want but are of little importance to her.

SkylersDad said...

My wife and I have been married for 27 years now. Raising a child with significant special needs has made us more companions in the fight than a married couple. It is unfortunate, but that is what it is.

Dave King said...

I hadn't realised... I don't think it's like that over here!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Well..almost 41 years now (in 14 days) and we still love each other, we still discuss things together. I think communication is the key..and if it is a true partnership you will walk alongside each other instead of leading or blindly following. We got married young I was barely 18..but it seems to have worked well for us..we are still best friends:)

Steven G said...

Out of ten, Far Side Of Fifty said the word "love". From there on, the rest is a moot point. Love is something that exists between two people even after they have died and their remains disperse. The greatest legacy would be for the living to casually say, "I know for a fact they loved each other very very much."

madtexter (corey james) said...

In my 'marriage', Hubz has the financial prowess and commands that people at work. Although I do work and make my own money, it doesn't compare remotely to what he earns.

But at home, he always consults me on my opinion for major purchases and all things domestic. Although there are times, when he takes it upon himself to make a major purchase, and if I don't like the item in question, I still let my opinion be known.

Sometimes, he's a control freak, but my calm demeanor can usually defuse that angst. I always tell my friends that he is the 'hair trigger, short tempered fuse' and I'm the 'comic relief'.

Our personalities seem to be polar opposites, but for whatever reason it works - and after 7 years, I've stopped questioning it.

I love the big lug.

SuziCate said...

Interesting concept. I've witnessed the men who were truly henpecked were the ones who ended up having (driven to?) affairs, and the ones who jest about being henpecked are really the ones who are catered to...but the jesting I am speaking of is in couples married like fourty years or more. I think marriages of like 20 or 30 years are based on not just love but good communication, shared responsibity, equality, and each exerting an effort to wanting the marriage to work. As my hubby says (married for 28 yrs.)it is not a 50-50 relationship, but a 100-100. Let me know when you finish your novel...and past one is? I'd love to read it!

Georgina Dollface said...

Very astute observation - it kind of reminded me of Ibsen'd "A Doll's House" Torvald was happy as long as his wife stuck to domecile issues. The minute she entered the business realm, for his benefit no less, he unleashed his rage.
I say, do what you do best for the benefit of the household and marriage. If you are good at managing money, then manage the money - who cares if you are a woman? If you are good at cleaning, then clean, even if you bring home a big 'manly' paycheque too. - G

Steven G said...

So interesting to hear you women speak up. Love this post! Men, slathering in the mucky mucky like black slave ghosts. Ha ha!

F, yeah, you should all be equal...equal in pay, fly jets, and fight back when your spouse ( male or female) spews the bully gene. Life is too short! However this reminds me of when we were in our twenties. If a hot babe walked into the room, K would nudge me and say, "did you catch that sexy young thang?"

Today if a nice looking lady walks into the room, she is mad at me all weekend.

Aishah said...

This is a great post Jeanne.

To me, a happy marriage is when the husband is pleased with the wife and she knows it.

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