A New Phase Arising in Marriage Dynamics
I regularly read books on marriage, divorce, and parenting because I deal with families and relationships in my work every day. So if there is some idea or resource out there that would be helpful to my clients, potential clients, or even just people in general, I want to offer it to them. More and more I am seeing clients who list their top priority in a marriage or other romantic relationship is to find someone who is willing to share the responsibilities for the children, the household and their relationship. Many of them have reached the conclusion that if they cannot have that, they are better off not having a romantic relationship at all.
Stephanie Coontz, in The Way We Never Were, and Eli Fenkel, in The All-Or-Nothing Marriage, actually have encouraging words for those couples who really want to work on their marriages before it’s too late. They both explain that marriage, as an institution throughout history, has gone through many phases, from arranged marriages to marriages for economic survival to marriages for love. But somewhere in the evolution of marriage, they say we got stuck in the roles that grew out of the “Ward and June Cleaver” period, that idealistic period following World War II, where traditional roles in marriage purported to be the highest and best.
We got stuck in the roles that grew out of the “Ward and June Cleaver” period
For many couples that I see, their relationship has ended because their expectations that following in these roles would bring them a lifelong satisfying relationship and well-adjusted children. Coontz and Fenkel give us a history lesson that prior to this post World War II time, everyone, even the children, often had obligations to support the family, but it was largely about financial survival rather than personal growth or happiness. When World War II ended, men were glad to be back and have a job and women were happy to become homemakers, at least for a while. This worked fine (at least on the surface) until those strict roles made men and women feel trapped, which resulted in the high divorce rate beginning in the 1970s.
Now, there appears to be a new phase arising–the understanding that marriage and other romantic relationships will include negotiating and sharing the roles of the partners in marriage and parenthood to enable the couple to have not only a successful and satisfying relationship, but also personal growth, supported and enhanced by their relationship. Coontz and Fenkel say that those people who are willing to work with these goals in mind are actually having some of the best relationships in history. Who’d have thought?