Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have evidently bounced back from a much-publicized “strained period” during which she almost filed for divorce. Affleck recently finished rehab in hopes of becoming a better father.
They’re not back together, People reports, but a source described as close to Garner said the actress has backed off from filing for divorce. “She really wants to work things out with Ben,” the source said. “They are giving things another try.”
Bad behavior — aka cheating as well as addictive behaviors — is what drove those two wives to consider divorce, a common theme according to many marital therapists. A lot of women cite their husband’s “bad behavior” as a reason to divorce.
But for many couples, the real marital killer is a more common and insidious, quiet but just as deadly, behavior, one Jancee Dunn details in her new book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids. And it’s the kind of slow-simmering “low-conflict” that leaves men blindsided when their wife says, Enough!
Angry, resentful and bickering
Dunn and hubby Tom, freelance writers who both work from home, had fallen into a familiar rut: Tom wasn’t doing his share of the house and childcare and Dunn got angry and resentful, bringing them almost to the point of no return. They bickered constantly. Just as bad, their 6-year-old daughter watched it all. So they sought the advice of numerous experts to help them.
But as I read Dunn’s book, I just wanted to scream.
Like many couples, they had what she calls “dreamy conversations” about their baby when they were pregnant; nothing about the day-to-day practicalities were discussed. That’s a major problem and such an easily avoidable one.
OK — even couples who do address some of the important issues about bringing a baby into the mix still find themselves lost when the baby is actually born and suddenly life is in utter turmoil. And as they age and there’s school and activities and birthday parties and childcare issues, it just amps up.
What made me want to scream was Dunn’s language: “train the family to lighten Mom’s load,” “they’re not allowed to come complaining to Mom,” “When he started helping me out.” It’s 2017 — why are women framing things in terms of husbands and kids lightening mom’s load or husbands helping out? The assumption is that it’s the woman’s job. Still.
Yet, I understand it. I didn’t have kids with my first husband, but I was the cook and the house cleaner, even when I was the breadwinner. Why was that OK? It wasn’t, but I was young and stupid. When I married the second time and popped out two boys a few years later, I, too, dealt with that “helping out” thing. But since I worked part time — a plan we agreed to so one of us could be at home with the boys — and he worked full time, it made sense that I would take on more of the child and house chores. But I didn’t take much time to care for myself, and I just felt depleted. And, like Dunn, I didn’t say a peep; I just felt frustrated.
Still ‘Mad at Dad’
This is a familiar scenario, played out in families across the country, sadly even today. As Laurie Penny says in a discussion with Moira Weigel about her book, Labor of Love, “Romantic love can be work, and so can domestic work, childcare, all of it — the fact that we call so much of it ‘love’ makes that work invisible.”
I was hopeful that today’s moms were experiencing more equal marriages when it comes to sharing chores and childcare; I was hopeful we’d moved past the disturbing study Parents magazine reported in 2011, Mad at Dad, with the subhead, “We love our husbands — so why are we so angry at them, so often.”
But if reading the comments on Jezebel’s review of Dunn’s book is any indication then, no, we have not progressed much. As Jezebel author, Kathryn Jezer-Morton, says:
How Not to Hate Your Husband is a book for messy reality, but I can’t shake my frustration that its twin, written for men, isn’t out there somewhere: How to Keep Your Wife From Hating You After Kids. I’m disappointed that on top of doing far more housework and childcare than men, it also falls on women to patiently and strategically negotiate the terms of our liberation. … men are now more frequently socialized to pay lip-service to household equality. Our culture rewards them for sharing housework and childcare. Yet still we have to ask nicely even when we’ve already asked twice, we have to be strategic in the way we frame our requests so as not to spook them, we have to modulate our tones so as not to seem angry even when we are angry. This is absolutely how reality works in most heterosexual domestic arrangements, and it’s getting fucking old. tweet
Don’t ask, don’t tell
Yes, it is getting old, and it’s ridiculous to talk in terms of “asking.” Why do we women think we have to “ask” for something that is basic maintenance of the house, the kids, the relationships? We shouldn’t have to tell, either. It should something more akin to, “I’ll pick up the dry cleaning and drop the kids off; what’s your plan?”
Which is why I’m a big fan of having a marital plan, or at least a parenting plan. I was surprised and delighted to learn that it’s not a new concept. The debut issue of Ms. magazine, in 1971, included an article on How to Write Your Own Marriage Contract, which featured interviews with two progressive couples. The wives insisted on the contracts to deal with what they saw as marital inequities (and there were many in those days) when it came to chores, cooking and finances and, when kids came along, childcare issues.
I contacted one of the women profiled in the Ms. article not too long ago. I was disappointed when she told me that she didn’t think today’s moms needed contracts anymore.
Because they do. Just ask Dunn.
What same-sex couples can teach heteros
This is, of course, mostly a hetero issue; according to a recent study on how same-sex couples divvy up the child care, it’s more equally shared by about 74 percent of gay couples versus 38 percent of straight couples. They also more equally shared the responsibility of caring for a sick child, 62 percent versus 32 percent for straight couples.
Yes, hetero women deal with some gendered expectations that get internalized. We still are suspect if our homes are dirty or our kids are inappropriately dressed.
Let’s stop that — now. We don’t have to ask a partner to do his share. We don’t have to tell him or nag him. We don’t have to take on more because we are afraid to speak up. And we don’t have to accept shoddy housekeeping either. (And yes, I know there are more men than ever who actually do the bulk of the childcare and household chores; this is not about them.) But we women do have to have the conversation (actually ongoing conversations), agree to compromise on an acceptable level of cleanliness and an acceptable time frame for having things done, kids fed, bathed and etc., and then we just need to … let it go.
No more asking. No more nagging. No more telling. No more frustrations or resentments. Just discussion, agreement, compromise and holding each other accountable.
And men, yes, you do need to be held accountable. You need to be fully aware of the day-to-day minutiae in your home and with your kids, and you can’t assume that your wife will take care of that for you. It’s not your wife’s job to ask you or tell you (unless that’s your spoken — not assumed — agreement). If you don’t understand that, then please don’t get upset when your wife serves you with divorce papers one day. Because she probably will.
Want to learn how to create a marital plan? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.