Wednesday, February 10, 2021

American Marriage on the Rocks

The letter, written to the Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax, paints a picture of a marriage on the rocks. One suspects that it is not the only such picture, but, this time, uncharacteristically, the writer is the husband.

It would seem, from the letter, that both parties in this mess bear some of the responsibility for the marriage breakdown. A stay-at-home mother decided to go back to work. Husband is the family breadwinner and has remained so, largely because wife’s salary mostly covers the cost of her commute and childcare.

But, once she introduced this new dynamic, she also decided that her husband pick up some of the slack in housekeeping and childcare. Since he works full time and supports the family, this has caused dissension, arguments, squabbles and fights. Obviously, she has no sense of what it might cost him if he takes time off to do childcare tasks.

As Claire Cain Miller once wrote in the New York Times, some jobs-- she was thinking about partner in a law firm-- required that a man be on call 24/7. To imagine that he can just stop working to pick up the children from the sitter is unrealistic.

One does not know whether the couple discussed this redistribution of household chores before she went back to work. It seems obvious that the wife took a unilateral decision. She was acting as though she were independent and autonomous. Apparently, she is about to become even more independent and autonomous.

If did not renegotiate before taking the job, she is in breach of an implicit contract. If she took her decision without having her husband on board with the consequences, she is in error.

As you might imagine, Hax puts on her homewrecker hat and sides completely with the wife. Husband is writing to Hax because he imagines that she might prevail upon his wife to reform her behavior. If so, he was being entirely too optimistic. 

We do not know how these extra chores impacted his own business-- the family’s sole support. Apparently, the wife did not care. She had seen all of the television ads where husbands are perfectly domesticated. She might even have taken a course in Women’s Studies, where she would have learned that housekeeping is the ultimate indignity and that her husband must participate. If he refuses, she will make his life hell.

Anyway, things were going so badly around the house that they agreed to go to therapy. 

Here is the beginning of the letter:

Two years ago, my wife went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. The transition caused a lot of tension in our marriage. 

We were constantly fighting over chores, meals, pickups and drop-offs, teacher's conferences and the like. The quality of our sex life suffered, too.

I asked my wife to consider quitting her job. She barely makes enough to clear the costs of commuting and child care. She refused. Things got to the point where we agreed to go to therapy.

Now it becomes interesting, sufficiently interesting to throw Hax into the highest dudgeon. The man thought it over and recalled their friends’ experiences with couples counseling.

Note the point well. Therapy, especially couples counseling has garnered a very bad reputation for itself. The profession is now run by women, and especially by women who have strong feminist leanings. Their goal in many cases seems to be to denounce the bad behavior of toxic husbands, and to defend wife’s feminist life choices. After all, a woman who picks up and abandons her children-- point that no one seems much to care about-- in order to undergo a long commute and a job that barely pays-- is strong and empowered. 

That the couple did not discuss the problem before hand and did not negotiate is the flaw in the argument.

Anyway, husband considered what had happened to his friends in therapy and decided to skip the intermediary step and just get a divorce.

As the appointment neared, I thought of all our friends who went through this process only to get divorced in the end. It made no sense to waste all that time, effort and money, so I told my wife we should separate and start divorce proceedings.

Apparently, he had had enough. Since no one has the least sympathy for his effort to call his wife’s bluff, allow me. Obviously, he was offering her independence and autonomy. Isn’t that what she wants? Now, he has reduced the level of contention in the household, but he has also spared himself the constant grief about not vacuuming the carpet and not dusting the armoire. 

So, he called the bluff. And made clear that he had no interest in sharing household chores. Naturally, his wife exploded. Now she has to do all the chores herself. Obviously, this is bad for children.

The letter continues:

You would have thought I'd suggested sacrificing one of our children. I am now staying at my brother's and my wife refuses to speak to me — we're communicating by text only. My children are distraught and my wife is not doing what's best for them right now.

What do I need to do so my wife will calm down and look at this rationally? I know I should have prepared her better, but what's done is done and we need to move forward.

He made the kind of move a risk-taking executive might make. On the chessboard of their lives he has threatened her king. If she became outraged, one suspects that she was outraged before. She is largely unwilling to reconsider her own behavior and is morally committed to her position. She refuses to budge. He refuses to be berated by a therapist. It sounds like check and mate.

As for what he might hear from a therapist, he gets to hear it from Hax, at considerably less expense. Note her gross disrespect and schoolmarmy tone. I share some of her remarks with you:

You’re the irrational one.

And you’re choosing divorce as a solution to carpool hassles. Wow. Because she wouldn’t make it easy for you.

You do realize how severely it compromises people’s career and financial prospects to leave the workforce to raise children? And therefore how much she’d sacrifice by dropping out again, beyond that income you scoff at?

You do realize you dropped the bomb that’s distressing your kids? YOU are not doing what’s best for them right now.

Maybe your wife isn’t, either, but your job is to fix your mistakes, and you don’t even think you made any. I’m gobsmacked.

As I said, she wants to punish the husband. The issue is not carpool hassles, but being berated on a daily basis over who is going to do which chore. The wife broke the contract, so she is primarily at fault. She imagined that she could turn her husband into Mr. Mom because she had seen it in television dramedies. She was allowing her ideology to run her life and she has managed to blow it all up.

For Hax, the issue is not the children. It’s the wife’s career. Heaven knows where she got the dopey idea that the wife was sacrificing her career. One should not even have to mention, but if the wife is barely earning enough to pay for childcare and commute, she is not a world beater. If she dropped out for ten years, she has already shown that she is not very career oriented.

Somehow or other, Hax has gotten it into her head that this woman’s career prospects might suffer if she drops out again. She might also have noticed that her children are suffering for her feminist tantrum. Hax does not notice and does not seem to care. 

For all we know the husband is trying to dial down the family drama. He might have noticed that wife’s new job is hurting his children.

As for therapy, which everyone suggests, people have caught on. They don’t go. They have seen their friends go and have seen couples counseling fail repeatedly. The reason must be that the couples counselors think like Hax. They defend the woman and blame the man.

As you certainly know, the American marriage is broken. As long as women, under the influence of feminism, have been trying to make their marriages resemble feminist fairy tales, the American marriage will stay broken. The perfectly egalitarian marriage is an illusion. A costly one at that.

As I said the other day, some of these women might do better by marrying a woman. They do not have a clue about how men function.


jmod46 said...

I feel like an anthropologist studying a strange new culture when I read stories like this. We belong to a couples bridge group where the average age is 70+. All of us are retired successful professionals or business owners. None of the couples has ever undergone divorce. We all raised families with the women working as wanted or as needed.

I suspect this represents a generational divide in that divorce may not have been seen as a healthy alternative to temporary problems. Work through it. Respect your spouse. Think of the children. Very quaint.

Did I mention we live in small Midwestern towns? Is that significant?

Peter B said...

What if the wife in Hax's couple had decided to improve her job skills taking online classes and then working or even doing well selected volunteer work part time while the kids were in school? That would have helped her career long term—if she had actually been serious about it.

About 30 years ago I had neighbors who initially planned on putting their (then 3, ultimately 5) kids into private schools. Then they ran the numbers. Once the kids were all in grade school, tuition would have taken a job with a take home pay of over $80K—over $160K in today's money—before taking commute time and expenses and a second car into account.

They decided to homeschool. She got a credential along the way because the district wasn't so friendly to homeschooling when they started out.

Anonymous said...

The husband will likely have to pay a significant percentage of his earnings for child support. They will both suffer economically if they divorce. Assuming that any affection and respect remains between them, a full-time housekeeper is the best option. If that is impossible then lower standards with respect to the housekeeping etc. might also help. A full-time house wife/husband can keep an immaculate house, have a three course dinner on the table etc. (if that is a priority for the family), I do not think a working couple can do this or should try to do this particularly if there are children. One of my employees divorced because her husband would not help her clean the house, I thought it was a mistake. I will admit that I was sometimes embarrassed at the state of my house if I had a drop-in visitor, however, my children were raised in an intact, if messy household, and my husband and I did not fight about housework.

gubkins said...

Soyboys and crazy karens don't make a good pair.

Anonymous said...

Why not hire a nanny and housekeeper?

Ares Olympus said...

Wives deserve wives too, and maybe they can have both. I recall 20 years hearing my friend's uncle got a job offer in California and the aunt didn't want to move, but she asked what she wanted, and she apparently said a maid, and he agreed, and they lived happily ever after, I think.

It is surprising men and women get along at all, but excess income seems a good place, have lots of kids, lots of servant, even living with a widowed mother-in-law is fine, and time for an ambitious wife to be president of a gardening club or run for school board to socialize. Rich people problems are real problems, if only we could all have them. Feminism never seems to harm those marriages.

RNB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.