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Equal Partnership in Marriage
A Proclamation to the World
teaches that fathers and mothers have
specific, God-ordained responsibilities within an equal partnership, with
neither husband nor wife seeking to dominate the other.
When partners in a marriage value equality, they see each other as equals,
treat each other with respect, consider each other’s needs, and support one
another. Equal partners agree on goals together and work as a team to achieve
these goals. They show equal commitment to the relationship and provide mutual
support and nurturing. Each values the other’s work life as highly as his or
her own, even if that work life doesn’t include employment outside the home.
Most couples say they prefer an equal partnership, but studies show that few
couples live up to their rhetoric. In most marriages, women do an unfair share
of household tasks and the majority of child care, regardless of whether they
work outside the home or not. Specifically, women do two or three times as much
housework as men. Mothers spend 3 to 5 hours actively involved with their
children for every hour that fathers spend. Men, on the other hand, have
traditionally had more power in decision making.
Is it worth working toward an equal partnership? Research suggests the answer
Benefits of Equal Partnership
An equal partnership benefits marriages as a whole and benefits husbands and
Equal partnership fosters closeness between husband and wife, resulting in a stronger and happier marriage. Spouses feel better about themselves and each other, which makes them more likely to share their thoughts and feelings. This greater emotional intimacy leads to greater physical intimacy, an important element of a happy marriage. Couples with an equal partnership also report more stability in their marriage, less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment. Researcher John Gottman found that husbands who accept their wives' influence are four times less likely to divorce or have an unhappy marriage.
Benefits to men. Men benefit emotionally from equal partnership because
there is greater openness and they feel better about their marriage. They also
benefit from the greater physical intimacy that comes with equal partnership.
Physical intimacy improves physical health and reduces stress. Men in happy
marriages also are more productive at work because they are less distracted by
concerns at home.
Benefits to women. The closer communication and emotional intimacy in an
equal partnership greatly benefit women. Research shows that having an equal
say in decision making is the most important contributor to wives’ perception
of their marriages as happy and satisfying. Wives are happier when their
husbands appreciate them for the work they do in the home and when their
husbands are copartners in home matters. They feel better about themselves, are
less angry or depressed, feel their relationship is more fair, and are more
happy with their marriage.
Ideas for Creating an Equal Partnership
All couples can do more to work toward creating an equal partnership. The
following suggestions center on housekeeping, child care, and decision making.
Share more routine household tasks. There are two different kinds of
housework, "occasional" and "routine." Occasional jobs, like household repairs,
yard work, and paying bills, don’t have to be done every day and can be done
just about anytime. Routine housework, on the other hand, like cooking,
cleaning, doing laundry, and washing dishes, is more time consuming and must be
done regularly and repeatedly. Most people, male or female, find these routine
jobs dull and tedious. In general, women do more than their share of routine
housework. When men are willing to pick up more of these routine tasks rather
than relegating most of them to women, they help create a more equal
Work as a team. Wives who are dissatisfied with the division of labor in
the home often say they feel lonely and lack companionship. When wives and
husbands work together as a team, without hierarchy or a "me helping you do
your work" attitude, marital happiness increases. Do dishes together. Attack
the front room together with one person dusting while the other vacuums. Wash
the car together and throw in a sudsy water fight. Set aside time once a month
to do a special job as a family, such as planting a garden, cleaning out the
garage, or washing windows. Working as a team makes the job go faster, and it’s
Avoid "gatekeeping." Researchers have coined the term "gatekeeping" for
behavior that prevents men and women from working as team on household tasks
and child care. For example, some husbands insist that only they know how to
mow and trim the lawn properly, closing the gate on wives or children who might
enjoy that chore. For women, gatekeeping can be especially complex because
management of the home is so central to their identity. A woman who believes
housekeeping is primarily "women’s work," for example, might be hesitant to
share that role. She bases her identity largely on how she thinks others view
her housekeeping and mothering, so if her husband tries to contribute she might
feel a threat to her self-respect and identity. A woman with these beliefs who
then shares the housekeeping role equally with her husband may feel she is
neglecting her family role and may experience guilt, regret and ambivalence.
She might not voice her feelings but instead will close the gate in subtle
ways, such as holding to rigid housekeeping standards. If her husband tries to
do his share of household chores, she may redo what he’s done or criticize and
demean his efforts. He then gives up, giving her back her exclusive domain.
To reduce gatekeeping, meet together as a couple (include children where
appropriate), make a detailed list of all the household chores, and decide on
an arrangement for sharing housework that works for everyone. Make assignments,
demonstrate and train as necessary, and set up a time to review how things are
going. Have reasonable standards and give every family member the freedom to
live up to those standards in his or her own way.
Talk about how you divide up housework. Take the time to talk about how
chores are divided up and how each feels about the equality of the division.
Express appreciation, listen sympathetically, and make decisions together.
These actions will build a sense of fairness in your marriage, which in turn
will make your marriage stronger and happier.
Typically wives are much more personally invested in care of home and family.
They also are more affected if the arrangement is not equal. Research suggests
men are relatively unaffected by the division of household labor. Thus it’s
usually up to wives to initiate discussion about rearrangement of housework if
they feel it’s unfairly divided. A husband committed to an equal partnership
will look for signals of increased stress in his wife that could be a result of
her taking on more than her share of home and family management.
Express appreciation. Everyone needs to feel appreciated for the things
they do. Family scholars note that when couples argue about domestic work, it
is seldom over who does what. More often it is over feeling unappreciated for
one’s efforts. Most spouses disagree about who does what and how much.
Typically wives think they do more than their husbands say they do, and
husbands think they do more than their wives give them credit for. To help ease
these differences, express appreciation for what your spouse does do.
Avoid making important decisions independently. Marriages are happier
for both husbands and wives when each has an equal say in important decisions,
such as where the family lives, how to rear the children, and how money is
spent. Don’t make these important decisions without fully discussing them with
your spouse. In the financial area, some couples set an amount of money above
which they won’t spend without first consulting the other.
Share child care responsibilities. Children benefit when both fathers
and mothers are actively involved in their lives. Research shows that mothers
and fathers have independent effects on their children, so when only one parent
is actively involved the child misses out. For instance, mothers are more
likely than fathers to act as a child’s social coach, helping them learn how to
distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Fathers more than
mothers tend to play rough-and-tumble with their children. Children need both
of their parents—let them have you.
Written by Adrian Selle, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan,
Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
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