The Family: 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 is yes.
Benefits of Equal Partnership
An equal partnership benefits marriages as a whole and benefits husbands and wives individually.
Happier marriages. 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 partnership.
- 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 more fun.
- 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.
- Allen, S. M., & Hawkins, A. J. (1999). Maternal gatekeeping: Mother’s beliefs and behaviors that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 199-212.
- Coltrane, S. (2000). Research on household labor: Modeling and measuring the social embeddedness of routine family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1208-1233.
- Hawkins, A. J., et al. (2000). Equal partnership and the sacred responsibilities of mothers and fathers. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 63-82). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
- Rosenbluth, S. C., Steil, J. M., J. H. Whitcomb (1998). Marital equality: What does it mean? Journal of Family Issues, 19(3), 227-244.
- Steil, J. M. (1997). Marital equality: Its relationship to the well-being of husbands and wives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Equal Partnership is Necessary for Exaltation
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that man is not complete without woman or woman without man. Neither can fill the measure of his or her creation without the other (see 1 Corinthians 11:11; Moses 3:18). Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God (see D&C 49:15-17). Only through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage can men and women realize the full eternal blessings of exaltation (see D&C 131:1-4; D&C 132:15-19).
United in Purpose
Adam and Eve are our first example of righteous marriage and parenthood. They were equally united in their purpose of supporting and nurturing one another as they reared their children in the paths of righteousness. They acted in interdependence and equality.
Eve was given stewardship over nurturing mortal life by providing physical bodies and guiding children from a state of innocence to accountability. Adam was given stewardship over bestowing ordinances through the priesthood, allowing God's children to return to His presence. In most activities, they worked together. Sister Sheri Dew explained: "The Lord's pattern for couples and in large measure men and women serving together in His kingdom was established by our first parents. Together Adam and Eve labored, mourned, were obedient, had children, taught their posterity the gospel, called upon the name of the Lord, 'heard the voice of the Lord,' blessed the name of God, and dedicated themselves to God. Repeatedly the scriptures about Adam and Eve refer to the pronoun they".1
Each stewardship is vital, creating "an intentional interdependence and equality in the responsibilities given to mothers and fathers... Adam and Eve served each other as equals with each performing acts of leadership and service for the other".2
Equal Partnership in Family Leadership and Decision Making
Church leaders have made it clear that husbands and wives should make all important decisions together. President Marion G. Romney stated that:
[N]either [husband or wife] should plan or follow an independent course of action. They should consult, pray, and decide together. In the management of their homes and families, husbands and wives should counsel with each other in kindness, love, patience, and understanding.8
President Boyd K. Packer made an important distinction between a man's role in the Church versus his role the home. He said that while
in the Church, there is a distinct line of authority... in the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together. While the husband, the father, has responsibility to provide worthy and inspired leadership, his wife is neither behind him nor ahead of him but at his side.7
Elder Richard G. Scott has emphasized to men principles of righteous leadership and decision making:
As a husband and worthy priesthood bearer, you will want to emulate the example of the Savior, whose priesthood you hold. You will make giving of self to wife and children a primary focus of your life. Occasionally a man attempts to control the destiny of each family member. He makes all the decisions. His wife is subjected to his personal whims. Whether that is the custom or not is immaterial. It is not the way of the Lord. It is not the way a Latter-day Saint husband treats his wife and family.9
President Howard W. Hunter taught:
A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto. Of necessity there must be in the Church and in the home a presiding officer (see D&C 107:21). By divine appointment, the responsibility to preside in the home rests upon the priesthood holder (see Moses 4:22). The Lord intended that the wife be a helpmeet for man (meet means equal)—that is, a companion equal and necessary in full partnership. Presiding in righteousness necessitates a shared responsibility between husband and wife; together you act with knowledge and participation in all family matters. For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion.5
Equal Division of Domestic Tasks
Sometimes inappropriate attitudes and traditions keep spouses from fully supporting one another as equal partners. For example, some couples believe domestic tasks are the sole responsibility of wives and mothers. However, Elder Boyd K. Packer explained:
It was not meant that the woman alone accommodate herself to the priesthood duties of her husband or her sons. She is of course to sustain and support and encourage them.
Holders of the priesthood, in turn, must accommodate themselves to the needs and responsibilities of the wife and mother. Her physical and emotional and intellectual and cultural well-being and her spiritual development must stand first among his priesthood duties.
There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not [a husband's] equal obligation.6
The Meaning of Helpmeet
The term "helpmeet" used in Genesis 2:18 and Moses 3:18 to describe Eve has confused some because in the word "help" usually implies a subordinate position. But President Howard W. Hunter taught that "meet means equal."5
Translating "help" and "meet" from the original Hebrew provides additional insight. "Help" combines the meanings "to rescue or save" with the idea of "strength." The word "meet" in Hebrew means "equal." The two words together, "helpmeet," means one who has equal strength to rescue or save. Thus Eve had equal capacity to help Adam as he had capacity to help her. "Family stewardships should be understood in terms of their responsibilities and obligations to one's spouse, not power over one's spouse" (Hawkins, 2000, p. 65).
Similarly, the phrase "rule over" in Genesis 3:16, referring to Adam's relationship to Eve, has a different meaning than we expect. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that the word "rule" means "the husband shall have a governing responsibility to provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield the wife".3
President Hinckley further taught that "marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but, rather, with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have".4
Written by Adrian Selle, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Dew, S. L. (2001, November). It is not good for man or woman to be alone. Ensign, 12.
- Hawkins, A. J. et al., (2000). Equal partnership and the sacred responsibilities of mothers and fathers. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 63-82). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
- Hinckley, G. B. (1991, November). Daughters of God. Ensign, 99.
- Hinckley, G. B. (1992, August). I believe. Ensign, 6.
- Hunter, H. W. (1994, November). Being a righteous husband and father. Ensign, 51.
- Packer, B. K. (1989, July). A tribute to women. Ensign, 75.
- Packer, B. K. (1998, May). The relief society. Ensign, 72.
- Romney, M. G. (1978, March). In the image of God. Ensign, 2.
- Scott, R. G. (1999, May). Receive the temple blessings. Ensign, 26.