Over the last few years I have stumbled across a number of articles from Traditionalists talking about “Egalitarian Marriage”. The most recent one I have encountered discussed a study done in the Netherlands which claims to have proven that Egalitarian Marriage leads to a higher rate of divorce and low marital happiness overall. There does, however, seem to be a unifying trend among these articles… And that is that their authors seem to actually have little idea of what legitimately constitutes an Egalitarian Marriage.
My Husband and I have an Egalitarian Marriage and both of us are happy and fulfilled. And considering the fact that I often judge the happiness and fulfillment of a couple predominantly based on how often they argue or fight with one another, how intense those fights are, and what they are about… I feel it is pertinent to also say that we have also never fought even once in the complete history of our relationship (starting from the moment we began talking, before we were even dating)- something that, when I say it to people, gets me a look as if I’ve just grown a third head and told them I was an alien from Mars who came to steal their baby.
Do not get me wrong, though. My Husband and I have had our own problems. Most of these, however, have been misunderstandings and communication errors- errors which we solve very quickly and easily through the “rewind, and rephrase, and explain” method. We have never fought about finances, household duties, or any number of important topics which appear on lists like “top 10 reasons couples fight” and “top 10 reasons couples get divorced”, though.
My point in saying this is that if my Husband and I can have what we consider an Egalitarian Marriage, never fight or argue about the division of labor (or other important “make or break” marriage topics), and still both feel fulfilled? Then it shows an Egalitarian Marriage is possible… Which leads me to wonder why everyone else seems to be getting it wrong and winding up unhappy; what are they actually talking about when they put two and two together and exclaim that it is “Egalitarianism”? What is the actual source of their unhappiness?
When reading articles like this, I regularly see phrases which closely resemble the phrase “shar[e] equal responsibility for work in the home”. In fact, a large number of articles seem to actually keep score of how many times they or their partner did what household duty- as if it is a major arguing point for or against the validity of Egalitarian Marriage structures. It stands to reason that the one thing these articles and studies truly have in common, then, is a simple thing: Everything is focused on work in terms of small, individual acts of labor; how much of each type of work that every person does, with a specification that every person does exactly 50% of everything.
I see a fundamental problem with this on several levels. Hands down the largest problem with it, though, is that it is unrealistic; eventually you will have days where one partner is outside of the house for longer, and therefore unable to do exactly 50% of each laborious act for that day. Additionally, certain labor requires certain skills for its performance. While that doesn’t mean that both should learn those skills, it does mean that someone is inevitably going to be more suited for it because they have more skill with it. It is incredibly unrealistic to always expect everyone to be able to contribute exactly equally to everything that needs to be done in a household.
And because no one can realistically contribute exactly 50% of every laborious act necessary to upkeep a Household? This sort of division of equal labor in terms of individual acts is detrimental psychologically- which will inevitably have a negative impact on your relationship. After all, marriage is not supposed to be a competition; if you are counting individual jobs and saying things such as “I walked the dog 3 times in a row, now it is your turn to walk the dog 3 times in a row” then of course you are going to wind up unhappy eventually. Stuff like that inevitably leads to feelings of anger or resentment- especially if you have an impossible time effectively communicating with your partner or your partner is not receptive of it.
More than that, however, is the fact that this structure just isn’t Egalitarian. It actually makes a mockery of Egalitarianism, because Egalitarianism isn’t about labor. It’s about human value; the ideology that all people are equal regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, race, sexuality, or any other identifying aspect of human life, interest, or behavior. And as equal persons, on a base and fundamental level, Egalitarianism asserts that we deserve equal opportunity and to share equal social responsibility.
In an Egalitarian Marriage, this does not and should never actually translate to “everyone pulls exactly their equal weight in all things at all times”… But if an Egalitarian Marriage is not a marriage in which everyone does exactly 50% of each individual item, then what is it? Put simply, it has to do with expectation and responsibility.
- Each person does the jobs that suit them best– ignoring things such as societal gender constructs and roles which dictate things like “labor is a man’s work” and “domestic duties are a woman’s work”.
- And more importantly, that Husband and Wife (and any additional partners) approach each other as equally important contributors to the household, and respect each others as such.
As an example, lets look at my own Marriage and my Husband and I.
Neither of us view ourselves as more important to the household or relationship. We are equals, and we respect and approach each other as equals; he is not superior to me because he labors all day and brings home the largest income- and likewise, I am not superior to him because I make the food and keep the household in order. Despite having different duties and responsibilities, we both contribute equally to the household- and both of our contributions are equally as important in its creation and maintenance.
As a result, all decisions to be made about the household and its management, our finances, our future, and our relationship, are discussed openly, together, with equal consideration of the other person’s desires and opinions- and then we make the final decision together, regardless of whose duty it will be to carry that decision to its end result. The only exception to this has ever been those decisions made in emergencies where the other cannot assist in the decision making. And this, throughout the course of our relationship so far, has only occurred once- and we later agreed that it was the best and only decision that genuinely could have been made in that circumstance.
In terms of those duties, though, lets look at that more thoroughly since articles talking about “Egalitarian Marriage” seem to focus on labor division in the house. If you brush past and ignore the fact that we are both Modern Gender Traditionalists and legitimately enjoy participating in the individual Gender roles assigned to us by society- looking at us on an individual level based upon our interests and skill sets- you will see what I am talking about when I say that an Egalitarian Marriage should not focus on the individual laborous acts performed by each person.
I am very much the Housewife type. I enjoy cooking, cleaning, babysitting, taking care of my pets, and quite a few other aspects of domesticity. My Husband, on the other hand, very much gains satisfaction from working with his hands and is decidedly not the domestic type; physically I am much shorter than he is, weigh less, and am not as strong as he is despite both of us lifting weights and being interested in maintaining our physical health; in terms of financial stability he has been at his job for over 2 years, is established there, makes higher wages than most in our area, works for a good company, and has an amazing benefits package through them. I, on the other hand, have worked at a small job making minimum wage for 6 months now in an effort to provide additional “play” income for us while chasing my personal dream of being an author and artist in my free time, while I have been promoted at work I do not have any benefits and my company is not all that wonderful.
Given all of these factors it would make little sense to have me work outside of the home as the primary financial contributor to the household- or for him to be the primary domestic contributor within the house. Nor would it make sense for us both to do equal work within and around the house due to our differences in schedule, and the differences in hours we work outside of the house; while we would both be happy in the fact that we were contributing to the household in some manner if we chose a different structure of labor division, neither of us would feel fulfilled in our duties and contributions. Eventually our mental health would suffer, and our marriage would suffer as a result of it; it simply would not work, nor would it be the most efficient use of our individual time and labor to divide everything up exactly equally.
It makes much more sense, then, for me to be the primary domestic contributor and him the primary financial one… Not because we expect the other to do these things due to our genders or the fact that we are both Modern Gender Traditionalists… But because this division of labor makes much more sense for us than other forms; we are not only both doing what we find enjoyable, but we are also doing things which we are skilled at- therefore contributing to the household in the most efficient and logical ways possible.
For another couple, however, it may make more sense that the Husband stay at home and the Wife work; for others truly sharing in 50% of each individual laborious act may actually be the more reasonable solution- though I don’t doubt that these genuine arrangements are incredibly rare. In other words, a truly Egalitarian Marriage does not look the same for each couple- nor does it always involve the same division of labor. And this is something which is overlooked in the focus on “equal work” (and keeping score based on counting how many times you’ve washed the dishes as opposed to them).
In reality, when you look at the greater picture, we are both equally contributing and carrying equal responsibility concerning our relationship and the household we have agreed to create together. Our priorities and the individual acts of labor that we perform in pursuit of our goal are simply different than one anothers’; so what if someone walks the dog more times a day than the other person does? We are still each contributing 50% on the grander scale when you look beyond the absurdity of keeping count of the individual acts themselves. The fact that one may do 80% of the housework and the other may provide 80% percent of the financial income does not change this in the slightest.
And that is what Egalitarian Marriage is truly supposed to look like.