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Marital Roles (First Of Five Parts)


Neuman-Rabbi-M-Gary

Decisions And The Gender Factor

Dear Mordechai,

With Pesach almost here, my husband and I have been fighting more than ever. We’re having big sedarim and are fighting over everything, from which Haggadas to use to what to expect from our differently-aged children. This frustration has caused me to finally write to you what I’ve wanted to write for months. I don’t want to be told what to do because I’m the woman or mother. My family is coming and the Haggadas we use make a difference. Should I not be able to be a part of that decision? Should I not be able to say that my four-year-old not be forced to memorize the en tire Mah Nishtanah? My husband and I can never get to a decision without fighting, so we just end up making decisions without the other. Unfortunately our kids suffer the most, because decisions for them change on a daily basis, depending on which parent is “in charge” at the moment. How do we learn to work out these small, daily decisions, much less the big ones?

Answer:

Marital partners have more to argue about today than ever before. Spouses have been made to believe that they must share every decision, from the stocks in which to invest to how to decorate the bathroom. Because it seems politically incorrect to put anyone into a “role,” many spouses feel it isn’t right to be in charge of a particular area, even though they may be “better at it,” or their time is best served that way. This “management system” based on roles once fell into place naturally. In the past, men were seen as more capable of managing the financial well being of the family, so they were expected to make unilateral decisions about finances. Since women were seen as better nurturers, they were expected to make unilateral decisions about the children’s upbringing. Each spouse felt a certain amount of power to make decisions in “his/ her” area. Usually; there wasn’t a great deal of discussion unless a huge issue was to be decided. Disagreement, and fighting were reserved for the “big” items.

Of course I just glamorized a system that worked so poorly that much of American society has abolished it. The system failed first and foremost, because it made assumptions about people based solely on gender. Partners began to resent being placed into a management role, which they never requested or felt qualified to fill. There were many times that each spouse might have cheated at the largely unspoken rules conduct. Father decided to plunge all of the family’s savings, which were earmarked for Grandma’s operation, into an investment without talking it over with his wife. Mother decided to change little Timmy’s school without consulting her husband. In many cases, Mother had no control over any major decisions, even ones that affected the children. Perhaps Father wasn’t very involved in the kids’ education, but if he had a strong opinion, it trumped Mother’s judgment. Women felt that they were far from equal partners in this marital venture.

We now recognize that a woman can be as capable as, or even more so, than her husband in the area of finance and investment. A man can be as capable as, or even more so, than his wife in the area of raising the children. The problem is that the presumed antidote to the old stereotypes is a marital relationship in which couples are equal partners in everything. We now live in an enlightened world that recognizes that people have varied talents, regardless of gender. But with this enlightenment comes tremendous confusion. Who should make a financial or child-related decision if each of us is equally qualified to do so? How can we make these decisions together, and what happens when we don’t have the time to make a joint decision? In the last decade alone, the number of full-time working mothers has tripled. The reality is that in any given partnership, one partner really is better than the other in many specific areas. It’s absurd and unnecessary to try to make all decisions jointly.

What’s critical is that we understand that differences are not necessarily determined by gender, and thus we must challenge and discover where each of our strengths and weaknesses lie. Couples must arrive at a logical division of labor according to each partner’s ability so they can spend their limited time and energy wisely.

RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail changingfamilies@mgaryneuman.com.

About the Author: Check out Gary’s web program where he interviews couples who share their struggles and innermost thoughts and feelings at mgaryneuman.com. Facebook or Twitter Gary at mgaryneuman. M. Gary Neuman is a NY Times best selling author and a frequent guest on the Oprah show. He lives in Miami with his wife and five children.


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