If you are a woman in a heterosexual marriage, chances are higher that you will initiate ending your relationship because you aren’t satisfied with how things are going.
I know, I know. You may be thinking “ahem, excuuuuse me?”
Even in my therapy room, I often talk to women who are desperately trying to get their partner to see that things aren’t working; how they aren’t happy; how the relationship has lost it’s spark. To no avail, it often seems.
But, the research speaks for itself.
Over the decades, women have generally become more empowered and confident in leaving an unsatisfying relationship and saying “enough is enough” when they feel their partner isn’t owning, or doing, their part…and experience little to no logistical consequences because of it. Divorce and separation are not as difficult to come by as it used to be.
Of course, the emotional toll a women experiences is still heightened and difficult, no doubt.
The truth is, women complain about relationship dissatisfaction more.
Is this because women as a whole have cultivated more of a voice? That because women are encouraged to have more of an opinion, they have also become more rigid in their expectations or views of what a fulfilling relationship should look like?
Is it because men haven’t kept up with the fast pace of personal development and emotional literacy, remaining emotionally-averse and afraid to show their more vulnerable side (which is a huge need for women in order to feel an intimate connection and bond)?
According to one study, women initiate divorce 69% of the time.
An interesting stat- no doubt- coming from my end of the couch where, most of the time, it is actually the male counterpart who makes the first phone call my way.
So, what’s going on?
Are women simply giving up, throwing in the towel too soon?
Are men being too complacent and not emotional enough to fit the bill?
As progressive as the millennial generation is about relationship goals [a few years back, a study identified that 56% of millennials eventually want to get married], many young couples still walk into the institute of marriage attributing specific gender roles and scripts into their idea of happily ever after.
I expect that you will prioritize my needs because I prioritize yours.
I expect that you will share and acknowledge emotions, because it’s 2017 and, let’s be real, we do this now.
I expect that our partnership will be fair, that we will both contribute to the health of our connection and set boundaries to make this #1.
None of the above statements are BAD by any means (in fact, many would see those as healthy goals). The issue arises when those are default expectations a person holds because we are in the 21st century and should be doing relationships this way by now. That's not always the case, and in today's world, it's certainly still not the example many people grew up seeing in their families. This can lead to a range of clashing expectations, confusing feelings like resentment, guilt, or relational entitlement, and an uncertainty about the future of the relationship.
Isn’t it kind of interesting that non-married, committed couples actually report a more equal level of relationship satisfaction between partners?
So, what are they doing right that married couples seem to be doing wrong?
Is it because “marriage” holds too many old-school- or simply outdated- expectations, roles, and scripts?
It is incredibly important to look objectively at all couples’ unique dynamics. We cannot simply generalize men and women (or people, for that matter) into specific roles and positions because of what we see on a grander social scale.
But - we must agree that the influence of society and gender scripts DO greatly impact certain aspects about being a woman; being a man. And they have for generations.
What’s important to understand is that, in today’s world, not all relationships are going to be completely traditional, and not all relationships are going to be completely egalitarian. What matters most is what one specific couple values, and whether or not they work together to cultivate a relationship that reflects that.
And, while we are taking strides toward a movement of mutually-respectful, emotionally-literate relationships, it is still going to take time to learn these things. I hope that in my lifetime I get to see relationship skills being prioritized in schools and communities (which has already begun now!), unlike what many of us (even millennials) were able to experience growing up.
I don’t know about you, but when I said “I do” to my husband, I meant it.
At least, I wanted to mean it.
But did I really, truly, completely know what I was signing up for? Probably not.
As David Schnarch says, “nothing can prepare you for marriage. Marriage prepares you for marriage.”
For me, I wanted to know what I could do to ensure that my relationship was successful.
I also wanted to be fulfilled and experience true partnership while doing it.
I don’t want to get to the point where I feel my only option is “out” because a) I feel like I’m the only one between us who cares to see it any differently and b) I’m the only one who speaks out about the problems.
This is where the ability to have authentic, “real talk” moments with your spouse/partner will come in handy. Knowing how to effectively approach each other with sensitive feelings and thoughts versus attacking from a defensive state can often make all the difference in being able to remain connected through difficult communication.
The important thing to note here, ladies, is that we are at a greater risk of getting fed up too fast and calling it quits. With that fact, consider the options you have to speak up and maybe even seek help (individually or with your partner) before feeling like you have no way but out of your dissatisfying relationship.
Yes, it takes two to tango, but it only takes one to instigate change in a new, healthier direction.