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Demanding too much from our men

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July 21, 2006

By BETSY HART 

In last week’s column I sort of picked on the guys in college. This week I’m going after the women in marriage.

A recent study from University of Virginia researchers found that whatever our political views, women who are in long-term committed marriages with husbands who are emotionally involved, make most of the money, and help with the household chores in a way that’s "fair" report the "highest levels of marital happiness."

Um gee, do ya think? I mean, what else is there?


These days men are supposed to "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan … "  and get up in the middle of the night to chase down some unknown "noise" from somewhere in the house. And that’s all while listening to and understanding our deepest feelings and emotions. But is it ever enough for us?

Here’s the answer: A dear guy friend of mine told me years ago that his philosophy was, "you can never satisfy a woman — you can only distract her for a short while."

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because of what one of my favorite writers, John Tierney, calls "the complaint gap." Women just … complain more than men do. (And boy is THAT gutsy for a guy to point out.)

Here’s the thing: There was lots of great information in the study, published in the March issue of Social Forces, a top sociology publication. Sociologists Steven Nock and W. Bradford Wilcox found, for instance, that while women want to their husbands help around the house in a way that’s "fair," if he’s working hard outside the home too, they don’t expect him to pitch in 50-50, whatever the feminists might say.

My concern is that the researchers found that the number one predictor of marital happiness in the study was the level of emotional engagement of the husband, and so this is interpreted to be a "good" that he should provide.

Sure, emotional involvement means different things to different people. But another friend of mine (I have wise friends, what can I say?), an older woman, once observed to me that historically, women found that their deepest emotional connections came primarily from other women. That’s why women can spend four hours with a group of friends doing almost anything or absolutely nothing and yet at the end of it know EVERYTHING about each other’s lives. But men spend four hours, say, playing golf with their best friends, and yet they know nothing more about the other fellows at the end of it all other than what they each shot.

Of course women loved their husbands, but the need for deep emotional understanding and sharing was often met by women friends who are similarly "built" for connection.

Ahh, then the feminists came along, and said "oh no, understanding her deepest feelings and needs was for a woman’s mate to do, and if he doesn’t _ he’s a jerk!" And that’s when a lot of trouble started.

But what if he’s not a jerk, what if he is our best friend and companion but still we recognize that he’s just built differently than us? Why isn’t that OK?

Imagine a study that said that the number one predictor of marital happiness for men _ besides lots of sex (duh) and a wife who tells him he’s great even if he doesn’t always pick up after the kids _ is having a wife who is not too needy emotionally. Would that start a trend toward suggesting that women perhaps should not demand too much, emotionally speaking, from their husbands, or would that preference on the part of the guys just be considered an unacceptable "throwback?"

We know the answer.

I think one of the great things about marriage is that we can learn to appreciate someone so different from ourselves, and learn from the different kinds of strengths we men and women bring to that union. We can and should call the best out of our mates, and sometimes this might include encouraging from them a bit more _ or yes, less _ response on an emotional level.

I just observe that more and more there seems to be only one direction in our culture _ women asking, demanding, that men be more, well, like us.

I see that causing problems large and small, in the home and in our society, and so, yes, I guess I’m being a "girl" _ and complaining about it.

(Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It." She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)