How Do Modern Men Contribute in Marriage?

Recently, I shared some news on how men are now apt to receive an economic boost from marriage, as more men are marrying women who have either higher education or income levels. Most of you probably agree that whether husbands or wives have higher educational levels or higher incomes, other factors are more important to marital happiness. Still, experts are commenting on this gender shift, particularly in light of the stress of the recession and the large number of people still out of work.

“Shifts in gender norms come with pain and conflict. But they can also be a win-win recipe for marriage,” says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

Coontz says there are certainly struggles, particularly with working-class men attaining rewarding, stable jobs. Some men compensate for the lack of respect they are getting in the workplace by becoming “hypermasculine” or aggressive. We hear about these abusive men in the news, unfortunately.

However, many husbands are making positive strides by making greater contributions to their homes, both in childcare and housework. College-educated men led the way with become more actively involved at home during the 80s and 90s. Since then, husbands with less education have caught up and are now contributing just as much as more educated men.

In fact, so many husbands and fathers are now active participants in the home that they are reporting the same work-family conflicts as women have for decades. Coontz says this suggests they are internalizing the importance of their role to nurture, not just to earn. “Most women now say that having a husband who is capable of intimacy and who shares housework and childcare is more important than having a partner who earns more money,” she adds.

It boils down to what you value and what makes each of you feel loved and appreciated, don’t you think? So what do men and women value?

Coontz cites the best predictors of a man’s marital satisfaction are how much sex he gets and how little criticism he gets. (How many men would like to disagree?) She adds that numerous studies report women react very positively to men who participate in childcare and housework—feeling greater intimacy and more sexual attraction.

“There’s nothing sexier than a man doing dishes,” I’ve heard more than one friend say.  Do you agree?

Children clearly benefit from more active fathers, and according to experts, guys who help out at home get more action at home. Is this a win-win situation?

In your marriage, does the wife handle more housework and childcare? How important is it to share this load, and does it depend on how much each person is working outside the home?

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10 responses to “How Do Modern Men Contribute in Marriage?

  1. Lori,

    I love this post and completely agree – with all of it.

    This is my favourite line:

    “Coontz cites the best predictors of a man’s marital satisfaction are how much sex he gets and how little criticism he gets.”

    So true, and you know what?

    The best predictor of how much a man is interested in doing things around the house and having sex is ALSO probably directly related to how little criticism he gets.

    I am a strong believer in the more you appreciate what he does, the more he’ll do.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I find this quote interesting:

    “Most women now say that having a husband who is capable of intimacy and who shares housework and childcare is more important than having a partner who earns more money,”

    I am very surprised that it is not something like “a husband who spends time with his wife and pays attention to her” at the top of the list.

    • Thanks for commenting, Tim. I think some women are just so overwhelmed with their to-do list that they aren’t thinking about together time. Helping her with that list shows you are paying attention to her needs. Hopefully she will have some energy and appreciation for you.

  3. I think it has to do with how much work is done outside the house so that there is a kind of balance in the household. I’m bent towards being a control freak so letting my husband wash the dishes is a no-no, unless I’m sick or something. Most of the time we agree that it’s better I do them. However I’m big on fairness so if I do something I make him do something in return. If he works long hours I clean up, if I work/attend school for long hours and he’s at home? He better do something while I’m gone.

    The problem lies in whether or not it occurs to him to pull his weight. I think for new generation men it all has to do with upbringing. If a mother instructed her son to help out (versus nagging and doing all the work herself) then he’ll do more housework when living on his own and own up to more as a husband. If not, then it takes training…? I don’t know yet.

    • Good point about the upbringing. Two generations ago women taught their sons not to do housework, younger men are much better at helping out. I make it a goal to train my son and daughter to know how to do chores and help out.

  4. Great post, Lori.

    I think for many women it all comes down to wanting to feel taken care of by their husbands. (I don’t mean that to sound sexist.) I think money/income used to be a key measuring stick of that, but any more, with the shift toward two-earner families, they would rather that need be met in the form of a helping hand with household and family responsibilities. But is has to be done in a way that shows concern and care for the wife – begruding, whining help doesn’t satisfy her need to feel cared for.

  5. “Coontz cites the best predictors of a man’s marital satisfaction are how much sex he gets and how little criticism he gets.”

    At first, that really struck me as a kind of adolescent attitude. Isn’t this a teenage boy’s priorities?

    My second thought was that for some deal of men, the amount of criticism correlates directly to how much they listen and validate their wife’s requests. Personally, I find that when my husband is watching TV for hours while leaving chores that he promised to do weeks ago, my desire for sex plummets, and I have to bite my tongue not to criticize out loud (although I find myself doing it in my head.) If he does the chores, I go overboard with praise and gratitude (as all the experts advise) that feels somewhat disingenuous to me but normal to him. It bothers me to feel that I’m training my 50 year old husband like a pet and further deteriorates my view of him as an equal.

    “I think for many women it all comes down to wanting to feel taken care of by their husbands.” I’m not comfortable with the term “want to feel taken care of” as it relates to wanting a spouse who is an equal partner in chores and family responsibilities.

    I do understand that this is a generational shift that will take more time to settle. But I do hope that couples can see beyond their differences and work together as a team rather than a “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

    • Lisa,

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Why should the wife have to “praise our husbands and be greatful” for them doing their part in the marriage? If my husband completed one of my work projects then I’d be greatful, otherwise his “help” around the house and with the childrent is his responsibility as much as the wifes. I honestly believe that if my husband had to handle the banking/bills, children, work and home life as I do, nothing would get done and the clean-up would fall back on the wife, so we just handle it all to ensure all the balls remain in the air.

      Deborah

  6. Lisa, my comment was not meant to be condescending toward women. My point is that when a husband takes more notice of and acts to meet the unmet needs and desires of his wife, whatever they may be, she will naturally feel more “cared for.” I mean this in the sense that he is showing that he cares about what is important to her, that he is taking care of her needs. I hope that clarifies my meaning.

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