Workers Together
Husbands may have to adjust attitudes when wives work outside the home.

                                         Elaine J. Roark

The greatest change in American family life in the last 50 years has been the working wife. Adjustments increase when the working wife is also a mother.

Statistics show that in 55.8 percent of U.S. families, the wife is working outside the home. Whether she works from economic necessity or from choice, the adjustments are much the same.

Some see wives working outside the home as the ruin of family life in the US. Society has always had those who view any change as negative. History has proved the American family is not only capable of enduring the stresses of changing economic and social pressures, but can be creative in adjusting to these changes.

The biggest problem with the wife working outside the home is not that she is too tired to fulfill her family responsibilities, nor that she is shortchanging the children in the quality or length of time spent with them. The real problem is the husband who refuses to adjust his role to the realities of the new demands placed on the wife in today's society.

For the past 30 years, as a couple, we have counseled with young and not so young married couples. We have found that in most cases where both spouses work outside the home, difficulties in the marriage can often be traced to several attitudes on the part of the husband.

The Macho Man Image

First, is the macho man image. Even when it is necessary for the wife to work, some men refuse to work in the home. They are tired when they come home from work and don't want to have to work at home too.

Somehow, it never occurs to this husband that his wife has also worked all day. She is just as tired as he is. In spite of how tired both may be, the meal must be prepared, the clean-up done afterward, sometimes lunches must be prepared, young children readied for bed, and older children may need help with homework.

If the husband sees all of this as "women's work" and refuses to take any of the responsibility for these things, then it follows that a job outside the home to support the family is "men's work." Somehow, Mr. Macho thinks that his wife ought to be willing to do "men's work," but he will not do "women's work." He is locked into an out-dated view of family life, and also of what it means to be a man.

Successful marriages, whether the wife works outside the home or not, are marriages where the husband and wife work together to do whatever needs to be done. They work as a unit, without artificial distinctions of gender attached to family responsibility. When a man and woman are married, the Scripture says, they become "one." It is this new "compound one" that has the responsibility of caring for the family.

The Insensitive Lover

Secondly, the threat to the marriage is increased by the insensitive lover, that is, the husband who confuses sex with love. If both work outside the home, the scenario will run something like this. He comes home from work. He is tired and stretches out in front of the TV. He doesn't want the children to bother him. She has also worked all day, but now it falls on her to do all the chores mentioned above. After all, this is what a good wife does. She is also the victim of an outdated view of her role. At this point, they both have failed to make a good adjustment to her changing role.

By bedtime he is relaxed and rested after a good dinner. She is exhausted. He gets amorous. She's truly too tired to be anything but sleepy. He makes her feel guilty. Sometimes he will accuse her of not loving him because she is refusing to show affection. To her, love and affection mean being close, being tender, doing things together, sharing intimate thoughts and feelings, sharing hopes and even fears.

When she complains that there is no romance in their life, he becomes angry and says something like, "I'm always wanting to make love, and you're always too tired." At this point she may try to get through to him that sex and romance are not the same thing. Or if she is still clinging to an out-dated social role, while still trying desperately to fulfill all the demands of her new social role, she may feel guilty and endure his passion, feeling used, abused, and resentful. The more often this occurs, the more resentment she will feel, until she grows to dread, and then to hate, his nightly advances.

If the wife continues to give in, even though she feels neglected, unfulfilled, and used, her husband is often not aware of the bitter resentment building within her. His needs are being met, but hers are not. He probably feels happy and fulfilled. Why not? After all, his wife takes care of him, the house, the kids, and contributes substantially to the family income. He is shocked when she says their marriage is falling apart. What's wrong with their marriage? He's perfectly happy, and why shouldn't he be?

The Man's Man

A third frequent male attitude that threatens a happy marriage is the man's man. This is the husband who loves to be"out with the guys." When both husband and wife are working all week, the weekends are the only free time for both of them.

A young wife I talked to recently said that before they were married, her husband told her he liked to hunt. She did not like to hunt, but saw nothing threatening in his going hunting with the guys.

"What I didn't realize," she said, "was that first comes deer season, then comes pheasant season, then comes quail season, and on it goes all year! He goes hunting almost every weekend, and I'm left alone with the kids. Once when I complained, he invited his mother down for the weekend to keep me company!

"I could put up with that, if he made time to do things with me and the children. I want to be alone with him sometimes, no children, no friends, just the two of us. Before we were married, he wanted to be with me all the time. He took me out to dinner. We did all sorts of things together. Now if I want to go out to dinner or to a movie, just the two of us, he tells me we can't afford a baby-sitter. I tell him that's why I'm working, so we can afford to do these things.

"If I suggest that I'd like to go along on his bowling night, he tells me that's his night out with the guys. I feel like I'm in competition with the guys, and I'm losing. Who needs it? The only attention I get is when he wants sex. Well, I want more than that."

Happily Married Couples Work and Play as a Couple

In a happy marriage both spouses treasure time for just the two of them. They enjoy doing things together. They work and play as a couple and as a family. On occasion he goes out with the guys, or she goes out with the gals. Both are sensitive to each other's needs. Both work at keeping romance alive in their relationship. Both are willing to change their attitudes and work together to adjust to the demands of a changing society.

If the husband does not adjust his attitudes to meet the needs of his working wife, as well as his own, the marriage will die. It may not end in divorce. The couple may remain together until their dying day, but their relationship will no longer be worthy of the name marriage.

Marriage is a loving relationship, but there are far too many cases in which romantic love left years ago. Now even caring love is absent. Each does his or her own thing. They are like strangers living in the same house. Sometimes, if the wife's resentment has grown too far, they may even exist as enemies in the same house.

Attitudes and habits are difficult to change, but many things are difficult in life. Good goals are often hard to attain, but they are worth all the effort we can give. A happy, loving marriage and family is one of the greatest treasures on earth.

This article appeared in the 1991 July issue of Home Life Magazine