Has Feminism Ruined Marriage?

I had no intention ever of writing a post about feminism and marriage, but last week, while visiting my local library, I came across a book called The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage by syndicated radio host and marriage counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

I’d heard things about Dr. Laura, things that didn’t align with the liberal, somewhat feminist working mother and wife I believed I was. Yet I found myself taking the book off the shelf, flipping it open to the jacket cover description.

“Dr. Laura asserts that in order to produce and sustain a wonderfully satisfying marriage, spouses must recognize and appreciate the polarity between the masculine and feminine.”

Not what I’d expected. It sounded almost new age, like worship of a feminine and masculine divine. I turned to the introduction.

“This is not your typical marriage manual. I’m not going to present the usual psychobabble nonsense that has been dominating the marital therapy field since the sixties which condemns masculinity and disdains femininity.” (1)

Thank God for that. I hated psychobabble nonsense. I’d experienced enough of it to know that I was usually better off working out my issues on a yoga mat or in a journal.

I believe that the single most horrible problem for marriages today is a lack of understanding, not only of what is needed by a man in a woman but also what is needed by a woman in a man.” (1)

How simple; me Tarzan, you Jane. Not that such a backward concept had any place in today’s modern society.

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I kept reading.

“Chivalry is largely dead, and feminism is the murder. It soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity…Spouses are more likely to suffer from behavior that resembles sibling rivalry where there is competition for resources and power.” (3)

OMG, I had to read this book. I whisked it off the shelf. At home, in my favorite chair, I read.

“Women today do not think of themselves in the context of helping “their man.” Women have been brainwashed into thinking that efforts in that direction are in the category of oppression, subservience, and catering to frail male egos…feminism demoted that singularly magical ability of women to transform deflated men into heroes and warriors into a notion of massaging the frail, pathetic ego of a weak man…” (14)

Dr. Laura’s traditional views on marriage were resonating with me, though they went against the conditioning my generation was raised on. The traitor-to-feminism feelings they invoked reminded me of the time, about two years ago, when I saw feminist Gloria Steinem speak.

At first, I was in awe to be in the presence of this women’s rights pioneer, whose efforts had made it possible for my sex to have choices. Then, about midway through her speech, I had a startling thought: What did this woman — who wasn’t a mother and hadn’t become a wife until late in life — know about the struggles moms and wives face? What qualified her to tell us how to live our lives?

She had never had to place her infant in the hands of another woman 10 hours a day in order to go to work. She had never had to wake in the night multiple times to nurse a baby, and then drag her exhausted butt to a job the next morning. What did she know about the toll this kind of lifestyle took on a marriage and a woman’s soul?

She knew nothing, at least not first-hand. Yet here she was, giving advice, saying that men needed to step it up, as if they were the sole culprits of these struggles, as if women weren’t making choices for their lives that left them feeling exhausted, guilty, and resentful.

Suddenly, I resented her, and have wrestled with conflicting feelings about feminism ever since.

Chasing career and personal goals with little regard to the impact it is having on your spouse and family is a map where all roads dead-end. Men who do this usually end up with heart attacks; women who do this end up with out-of-control families and Valium drips.” (113)

I never want America to go back to the way things used to be for women, when husbands took over their property, when they couldn’t vote, when they were forced to bear too many children, when they felt trapped in abusive marriages because they couldn’t earn a living and would lose their children if they left. Feminism freed women from all that.

I also recognize that there are couples who are making their marriages work, despite both working full-time and/or taking on non-traditional roles.

But what of the slightly over 50% of couples that aren’t making it? Divorce is taking a toll on our children, health, finances, and societal well-being. Men alone aren’t to blame. Women must acknowledge their role and responsibility in the demise.

Don’t use discussions about how bad your spouse is as entertainment with your friends. Do take every opportunity you can to build up your spouse in your mind by relating wonderful, positive stories.” (121)

I’ve been guilty of the former, of picking on my husband rather than finding things to appreciate and praise. Now I see that this says more about my state of mind than his character. Seriously, I could burn an entire meal and the man would eat it without complaining, yet God forbid he leaves his socks on the bedroom floor.

Dr. Laura claims that feminism “soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity.” (3)

Is she right? Or are other factors contributing, such as the economy, fast-paced lifestyles, materialism?  Have we become a nation of whining, selfish adult brats who expect our spouses to resolve our childhood pains, meet all our needs, and mend our broken parts?

I don’t have the answers, but I suspect that helping one’s husband feel like a warrior goes much farther toward creating marital bliss than getting him to clean the toilets.

When Slipping Into Something More Comfortable Means Flannel Pajamas

Each Christmas for the past 20 years, my husband has given me a gift from Victoria’s Secret. Typically, it’s an assortment of practical underclothes, plus something a little sexy. I always look forward to this gift. To me, it affirms that in his eyes, I’ve still got it.

That’s why I was surprised, and a little dismayed, when this year instead of a lacy bra or negligee, I pulled a pair of flannel pajamas out of the VS bag.

“Is this what it’s come to?” I asked my husband.

“I thought they were kinda cute,” he said.

He meant it. He was truly tickled that the pajamas had tiny champagne glasses scattered all over them.

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I thanked him, but inwardly I was concerned. It seemed we were crossing a new threshold in our marriage, one in which comfort and coziness and cuteness was superseding passion. I envisioned hot nights ahead in our bedroom; as in me sweating under the covers in my flannel pajamas while he snored beside me.

If only this were the worst of the story.

The next day, while balancing our checkbook, I saw the carbon copy of the check he used to pay for the flannels. Written on the memo line was Mom.

Mom! This was how he thought of me?

For a moment, I considered that maybe he’d intended to buy the pajamas for his mother, but decided at the last minute to give them to me. She and I were roughly the same size. Then I remembered he’d also gotten me the usual practical items, so the “mom” in the memo had to be me.

I reasoned that perhaps because he’d been shopping with our teenaged son that day, he was too embarrassed to buy something racy. That could also explain why he was thinking of me as “mom”.

That night, emboldened by a glass of wine, I asked, “Did you mean to buy the pajamas you gave me for your mother?”

He looked confused. I explained about the memo.

“No,” he said. “It was crazy in the store that day. I don’t even remember writing that.”

This I could accept. Once I had referred to him as “daddy” to my mother instead of by his name. Probably it was because I was so used to referring to him as “daddy” to the kids. At the time, I was horrified by the slip. Now I’m glad for it because it’s helping me understand the memo.

But there was still the matter of the flannels.

“I wanted you to be warm,” he said. “You’re always complaining how cold you are.”

Not wanting to sound like a complete ingrate, I didn’t point out that I’ve been complaining about being cold in winter for 20 years, yet only now is he buying me flannels. Perhaps he was growing more thoughtful with age. That or he’s tired of me cranking up the heat at night.

I found a quote that’s helping me see this episode in a more positive light:

“The most romantic story isn’t Romeo and Juliet who died together, but Grandma and Grandpa who grew old together.” ~Unknown

Probably it was a man who came up with this quote. Some Nicholas Sparks type who buys his wife flannel pajamas for Christmas.

Happily Ever After?

 

Last month I did something that I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined doing: I officiated my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding ceremony. I didn’t realize doing this was even possible for an average person like me, but thanks to the Universal Life Church, I became an ordained minister simply by filling out an online form. Go figure.

I was both honored and scared by the request. I mean, holy crap, I was going to marry them! This was not something I could screw up.

Thanks to much preparation and collaboration with my sister-in-law, the ceremony went off without a hitch (no pun intended), if you don’t count the fact that the guests remained standing the whole time because I forgot to tell them to sit after the bride joined the groom.  Fortunately for them, the ceremony was short and sweet.

As I guided my brother and sister-in-law through their marriage vows, and saw the love shining in their young eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder what the next 20 years would be like for them. Would their marriage mostly be smooth and problem free? Or would it hit some major bumps along the way?

This past summer, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We’ve encountered more bumps than I care to remember. Like most couples, we started off madly in love and full of hope for our future. Then the grind of daily life, amongst other things, slowly took its toll.

I wish I could say that I’m a good wife, but that’s not always true. When I feel stressed, over-burdened, or plain burned out (which is too often), I am known to whine, complain, and yell. I’ve never learned how to effectively handle stress, with the exception of engaging in regular, vigorous exercise and yoga, which I don’t always have time for.

I’m too easily influenced by my emotions; take the time I was so mad at my husband that I smashed my wedding ring with a hammer. This kind of crazy doesn’t always make for a good marriage, and sometimes I feel like it negates all of the good I do bring to the union.  I’d blame it on my Sicilian blood, but that would be lame.

My husband is hardly perfect himself. On the surface he appears to be a quiet, easy-going guy. In reality, he’s not. He also doesn’t think twice about making large purchases behind my back and then leaving me to figure out how to pay for them or replace the money. He has trouble with keeping his emotions bottled up for so long that he ultimately explodes, which leads him to do crazy things, like tell a boss to f#*% off.

Still, here we are, 20 years into it. We have created a home and a family and a life together. We love each other, in spite of the bumps. Things aren’t always crazy; we aren’t always crazy. Mostly our life together is routine, with spurts of excitement and special moments sprinkled in.

That is what the romance novels don’t tell you – what happens after you say “I do”. If they did, no one would read them because they’d be too boring. But you can’t tell that to a newlywed couple, and why would you anyway? They need to have their fairy tale beginning. It’s what will carry them through the inevitable hard times, and the monotony of daily routines.

Marriages are stories that are constantly unfolding. If you’re lucky enough (meaning with lots and lots of hard work and sacrifice and compromising that no one on the outside ever sees) to make it to the final chapter (meaning the “til death do us part” ending) and still love each other, that, in my book, is the true meaning of “happily ever after”.

Dealing With Your Partner’s Job Loss

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So your partner just informed you that he lost his job. Regardless of whether he was laid off, fired or quit, there will be no paycheck coming in next week. Life is about to change, possibly big time.

While losing a major source of income can be a scary prospect for anyone, a mid-life job loss comes with its own unique set of  challenges. Suddenly everything you’ve spent the past 20 years working hard for may be in jeopardy – your lifestyle, savings, home, children’s educations, and the hope of a comfortable retirement.

Then there’s the matter of working on your bucket list. How does one do that when she’s worried about paying the mortgage and buying groceries?

During my 20 years of marriage, I’ve dealt with job loss on more than one occasion. I have not always handled the stress with the grace and dignity I would have liked. When your family’s survival is at stake, it’s easy to let negative emotions get the best of you.

Try not to lose faith.  Remember: This, too, shall pass. In the meantime, take a cue from some lessons about job loss I’ve learned the hard way.

  1. To the extent possible, remain calm. This is not always easy. Fear naturally kicks in when one’s survival is threatened. While fear has a place in our lives, it can cause us to overreact, behave irrationally, or become paralyzed. Stressful situations require reasonable, rational thought and action.
  2. Fight fairly, and not in front of the children. No matter how tempted you might be to lay into your partner, restrain yourself. Once spoken aloud, harsh words cannot be taken back, nor are they easily forgotten. Especially don’t let your children hear you speak to their parent in a negative way. And don’t argue loudly in front of them, especially about money; it scares them.
  3. Focus your energy on solutions. It is an absolute fact that every problem has at least one solution. Direct your energy here instead of on blaming your spouse or feeling hopeless. You’ll feel more empowered, less emotional, and you might even be able to turn this nightmare into a blessing.
  4. Take care of your health. In stressful situations, we may eat more junk food, drink too much alcohol, cut back on exercise, or watch too much T.V. – all in an effort to numb ourselves from the reality of our situation. Now more than ever you need to take care of yourself, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Effectively dealing with stress requires strength and stamina.
  5. Be willing to take action. When my husband was fired from a six-figure job a week before I gave birth to our youngest son, I thought I might die from the stress. Though he was able to find another job quickly, it was at about half of his former salary. As much as I didn’t want to, I put my son in daycare full-time to take on more hours at work. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and do what’s necessary for your family’s survival. Try to do it without complaining.