Regardless of whether we’re being told to act more like a man in order to be successful or not, we have to take responsibility for our actions, desires, and communication. Especially when it comes to romance and relationships.
Marriage and Successful Women
If you’re lucky enough to find someone you’re madly in love with, who also loves you back and still believes in marriage, it won’t just be a honeymoon and a fairy tale ending. You will have to work together to grow and change and brave all the obstacles with each other. But what if the main obstacle is society itself, or how you were raised? How can a woman be a good wife when she’s been trained to do things for herself and scoff at men who take the lead or offer tips on how to do certain things?
I ran into this myself. And it’s visible everywhere. Professionally successful women struggle through marriage and often face divorce. Why?
Is it really because men can’t handle a little competition? Are men really that full of themselves that they can’t pat their wife on the back when she gets a promotion, or…say…a book deal?
A lot of feminists will put their hands on their hips and nod. Some might say something about that good old-fashioned “patriarchy.” Some men honestly don’t get it. My ex-husband’s reaction to most of my book deals was saying, “Nice,” and then walking away, but he was also not very masculine.
Now, being happily married to a man who doesn’t hesitate to lead, fix things (after a little procrastination), or even argue with me when I’m wrong, I really explored this issue and found that marriage issues – in regards to women’s success – has very little to do with the man’s reaction, and more to do with a woman’s inability to trust, listen, and accept their husband’s influence. Hard-working, driven women don’t like to have anyone correct or criticize them, no matter how much they need it. The thing is, the right man doesn’t care if you’re leaping hurdles or “breaking glass ceilings,” he needs to be respected and heard. He wants to be the man at home. That means if you get off work, let down your hair, and start venting about issues at the office, he’s going to offer solutions. He longs to help. He craves the fulfillment that comes with problem solving, especially for his wife.
Men crave the fulfillment that comes with problem solving, especially for their wives.
He’s not your mom, your sister, or your best gal pal. He’s not just going to hug you, grab some ice cream, and hand you a spoon (well, at least not most guys). Husbands are men. Men are biologically made to protect. They have a long successful history of leadership through famine, war, and disease. No matter what modern movements chant or scream, men have been heroes, and allowing your husband to be your champion isn’t a bad thing. Your husband will likely offer solutions to your problems, and if you argue with him, or get frustrated at him for trying to help – the best way he knows how – you may feel justified, but you’re edging him out, cutting him off, and possibly just being mean.
A woman who acts like she knows everything isn’t a partner; she’s bossy and condescending. When stomping around the house, parading around the “strong independent woman” role, a woman is really telling a man that his point of view doesn’t matter to her, that she doesn’t value him or his ideas.
The Little Woman
Understanding and accepting a man’s need to lead doesn’t mean women should have to become a doormat, or just agree with everything her husband says. Love and trust are often built through conflict. When disagreements arise, two people who wish to remain together work through the issue and come out on top.
Women who are too easily persuaded by their husbands start to feel erased. They don’t know how to speak up, or question themselves so much that they can’t even ask their boss for a raise, much less demand one.
My mother was like this for half of my childhood. She was quiet and shy. She married the wrong man (my father) and did everything he ever asked of her. He was rude, inconsiderate, always yelling, putting her down, cheating on her, and the only time she ever found the courage to stand up for herself, he knocked her across the room. He wasn’t a leader, he was a tyrant. But because he was charming and fun in public, so many people had no idea. They would defend him when my mom tried to go to them for help. They assumed she was blowing things out of proportion, when she was actually toning them down out of embarrassment. One of my aunts still loves him and hangs out with him because she’s never had to go home with him and see who he really is behind closed doors. She doesn’t want to believe my mother, my sister, or me, so she pretends our accounts don’t exist.
Women who are too easily persuaded by their husbands start to feel erased.
That kind of tyranny and isolation is why women’s rights is an issue. Because for ages there were men out there who thought that should be normal and allowed, and there are still some men who believe this even now. Most of them do not live in the first world, and those who do are highly outnumbered by men who understand the balance of protecting and honoring women for their roles instead of ruling them like a secondary father.
Thankfully, also, women now have more options than we have ever had, at least in the Western world. We can divorce abusers, get a job without a man’s approval, have our own bank accounts, and seek safety in women’s-only shelters. We can choose to find the right man, and even learn from him with grace and dignity. We have the option to remember our femininity even when climbing business ladders. It truly is up to us.
Valuing the Give and Take
Marriage is a give and take. This isn’t news. It’s not modernism or post-modernism. People have been saying it for ages. But how does that really manifest?
Here’s a fun little example, just from my own personal arrogance. My husband was driving me to work one morning, and I told him about a new book idea I was hashing out. He offered some suggestions that he thought would make it more universal, and instead of stopping to really give his words full consideration, I automatically got defensive. I started explaining why I mapped it out the way I did and how my way would be successful. He got annoyed, of course. Then his frustration further frustrated me, and, bam, we were arguing.
After a divorce, remarriage, and 10 years of professional writing, I’ve really started to take a step back and examine myself. I want my work to keep improving no matter how far I get and accepting feedback is part of that. I also know that I always need a day before responding to negative writing feedback. In the past when I got detailed rejections or hard red-line edits, it took me a full 24-hours to brood, then question myself, and then realize that whoever was criticizing me was right and I needed to accept that there’s always more work to be done.
Lately, I’ve been recognizing that how I respond to my husband needs a better approach. He’s not my boss, he’s not my editor, he’s the man I love. When he disagrees with me, he’s trying to help and make me a better person. And 9 times out of 10, when I take a few minutes to shut my mouth and actually ponder his ideas, I realize that he’s right.
We need each other because we’re counterparts. We fill in each other’s blanks. That is marriage.
It’s not always easy to admit. But even knowing that makes me laugh because I’ve started asking myself, “Why should it bother me that my husband is right? Shouldn’t he be? Didn’t I marry a funny, intelligent man who makes everything better?”
I did. And I’m not always right. Just like he always thinks someone stole his wallet when he loses it. And no matter how much he frantically searches, he won’t find it. But I can calmly walk to the car, open the door, reach between the seats, and pull it out safe and secure.
We need each other because we’re counterparts. We fill in each other’s blanks. That is marriage. I need someone to tell me when my ideas are rotten, and he needs someone to help him find his keys, his glasses, or the butter when he’s staring in the fridge and it’s hidden behind the cheese. (It’s not all that silly. Sometimes he’ll get back to his old artwork, and I’ll suggest a detail that helps pull the picture together.)
That give and take is what makes everything fun. It keeps us from getting bored and always leads to new adventures. Even if I really have to fight myself from fighting him when he suggests I try something different.
The Gottman Institute, founded by marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, has this down. Their simple steps to accepting influence are exactly what I have to do in order to stop being so combative and let my husband be my partner, not just some guy who claps from the sidelines.
Their strategy is exactly what I’ve been working into my behavior. First, you have to stop. Just stop. Don’t keep running your mouth. Just sit back and breathe for a minute. Let the oxygen get to your brain and help you think on what he said.
Then listen. Really hear what he’s saying and think about it. Calmly find a way to open yourself up to discussion. Be curious and appreciative that the man you love has taken an interest in what you’re doing or thinking.
Be appreciative that the man you love has taken an interest in what you’re doing or thinking.
You can disagree, but be respectful and think about different angles. If you’re an expert in baking cookies and he burns everything, then maybe he just can’t fathom that adding marshmallows into chocolate chip cookies will cause them to harden like a rock. But he’s trying. He’s being attentive and caring, and that matters.
The last step is looking for ways to agree or compromise. It’s actually fun to say, “You know, I never thought of that.” Or to smile at yourself when you realize just how brilliant your husband truly is. Saying “yes” is what got you married in the first place. It’s a good thing to keep doing, even if sometimes you have to mush your ideas together like a sloppy meatball.
This is a fun concept that has also been explored in the Small Things Often podcast. We don’t always have time for big annoying discussions, and honestly, not everything needs to be drawn out. Guys like simple verbal communications. You don’t need to go on a tirade just because he doesn’t agree with you, you’re two different people. You don’t have to agree on everything to love each other, but you do need to let him have his say too.
You married your husband for a reason. He’s likely someone you trust and value, so don’t be angry if he wants to help you. That’s mainly how men show affection.
The modern-day damsel in distress isn’t a woman in a dress who can’t change a tire, it’s usually a working woman who’s frustrated and just needs a day off. Let your husband relieve some of the pressure with his ideas. Let him help you find solutions to your problems and lead you with his skills.
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