We’ve been told for so long that married people live longer, happier lives. Still, when recent research shows that husbands create seven extra hours of housework for their wives per week, it seems like women get more of the longer part than the happy. Marriages might be work, but an extra day of literal labor per week seems like a bit much.
If this was an actual job you loved you wouldn’t cut and run, and marriage is so much more than that. Instead, you’d renegotiate the terms. “In an ideal world, couples would have yearly check-ins—‘How are we doing? What’s working for you? What’s not? What can we do better this year?’” says Vicki Larson, co-author of The New ‘I Do.' The book, which Larson wrote with therapist Susan Pease Gadoua, challenges traditional models of marriage—you now, the ones that arguably contribute to 53 percent of women fantasizing about splitting up with their significant others.
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Larson and Gadoua agree that it’s never too late to reclaim the aspects of autonomy associated with being single, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of your relationship. You can absolutely have your cake and eat it without seven additional hours of chores.
Be Open to Difficult Conversations
If a dialogue about reclaiming some of your single self seems overwhelming, Larson recommends practicing by having an honest conversation with yourself first. “It’s helpful to be clear about what exactly isn’t working and what part you may have played in creating the bad dynamic. Then you can have a conversation with your spouse.”
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But altering the dynamic of a relationship is a delicate process, even when it’s for a greater good. “Most people resist change, especially when that change means they won’t get their laundry done anymore,” Gadoua warns. Difficult conversations are usually that way for a reason, because they’re designed to get something done. Though a slow and steady pace may be best for some, a full overhaul may work better for others. “Making changes in small increments can feel more palatable, while in other situations, changing all the rules will be less confusing,” she advises. Just as with anything else in a relationship, it’s best to collaborate and figure out what works best for the both of you.
"Most people resist change, especially when that change means they won’t get their laundry done any more."
Fight the Power, Not Your Partner
Likewise, Larson suggests approaching these discussions with as much empathy as possible. If your partner is happy with the way things are, the fact that you are not might be hard to hear. Their reaction in the moment may not make you feel great, either, but it’s important to remember you’re battling deep-rooted societal expectations, and not each other. With the rise of stay-at-home dads and new studies showing that heterosexual men and women want more egalitarian marriages (same-sex couples have greater success with this), men are still expected to be the breadwinners. “That makes it hard for men to have untraditional roles, too,” Larson says.
Spend Time on the Relationship—but Also on Yourself
“In any given day, if you ask a [married] woman to tell you her list of priorities, her own self-care is not likely to be on the list,” Gadoua points out. In marriages (especially ones with children), women often put everyone else’s needs above their own. “Single women have an easier time putting their own self-care high on the priority list,"Gadoua explains. "This tends to get lost when they marry.” While men’s priorities shift when they get married as well, self-care is rarely cut from the list.
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Maintaining some level of self-care in your marriage is not synonymous with acting like a single person who is only responsible for themselves. “Relationships, by definition, mean your behavior has to change. It entails compromise and give and take,” Gadoua clarifies, noting that most relationships would not survive if one or both partners truly acted single. Instead, women can reclaim such status by giving their needs as much precedence as they had before.
"If you ask a [married] woman to tell you her list of priorities, her own self-care is not likely to be on the list."
Create Your Own Concept of Marriage
“Traditionally, marriage has not been all that great for women; they were a man’s property after all,” Larson points out. That’s no longer the expectation because people have the capacity take traditions that benefit themselves and their relationships and leave the rest. “What influences more traditional patterns in marriages to a much larger extent is not realizing that you are free to create the marriage you want, which may look very different than anyone else’s marriage.” Larson and Gadoua have found that shared expectations between partners lead to the most satisfying marriages—so don’t be afraid to be clear about yours. “It’s brave to forge a different marital path,” adds Larson.