Over the last few years I have stumbled across a number of articles from Traditionalists and Feminists alike talking about “Egalitarian Marriage”; the most recent one 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”.
As much as I enjoy having a more traditionally divided relationship with my husband? I have a confession- from one Homemaker to… Well, who knows who you are reading my blog (but welcome! and thank you!). And that’s that my Husband and I have an Egalitarian Marriage.
There, I said it.
We do! And both of us are happy and fulfilled by it.
And because I often judge the happiness and fulfillment of a couple predominantly based on how often they argue or fight with one another- to say nothing of how intense those fights are, and what they’re about… Here’s another shocker for you, maybe: We’ve also never fought even once in the complete history of our relationship- starting from the moment we began talking on OKCupid, well before we were even dating.
We’ve certainly had our own problems from time to time like any other relationship, don’t get me wrong. But nearly all of those problems, rare as they are, have been misunderstandings and communication errors easily solved using the “rewind, and rephrase, and explain” method; not a single actual fight or legitimate argument has ever occurred in our house- which, when I tell people, gets me a look like I’ve just grown a third head and told them I was an alien from Mars who came to steal their baby.
No matter how great our relationship is, though, I love looking for ways my Husband and I can continue improving it so we make sure we remain happy as the years progress. Which usually means I wind up reading a lot of studies and think pieces on marriage, from a lot of different people. And boy, let me tell you… It doesn’t matter what side of the tracks these articles come from. Some of them get truly weird– especially when Egalitarianism gets brought up.
There does, however, seem to be a unifying trend among these articles that I’ve noticed over the years… And that is the assertion that egalitarian marriages don’t work (even for most Feminists).
“But wait! My Husband and I have an Egalitarian marriage!”
I cry into my bowl of icecream at 4am while rage reading onward.
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, right?
Which inevitably 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 claim this mythical Egalitarianism? What is the actual source of their unhappiness?
I think I’ve figured it out finally- but I don’t think it has anything to do with Egalitarianism itself… I think it has more to do with the fact that none of their authors ever actually seem to have any idea what legitimately constitutes an Egalitarian Marriage.
When reading articles like this, I regularly see phrases like “shar[e] equal responsibility for work in the home” tossed around. Hell, an absurd amount of articles seem to actually keep score of how many times they or their partner did what household duty- as if it’s a major arguing point for (or against) the validity of Egalitarian Marriage structures; everything is focused on work in terms of small, individual acts of labor- or how much of each type of work that every person does… With a specification that every person does exactly 50% of everything.
I don’t know about you, but this baffles the hell out of me; I see a fundamental problem with this- most notably in the fact that it’s unrealistic and nearly impossible… There’s always some outlier that can make it work, sure. But the vast majority of people aren’t going to be able to obtain- let alone maintain- a 50% / 50% split in labor.
Eventually you’ll have days where one partner’s gone for longer, and can’t do exactly 50% for that day… But more than that, certain labor actually does require certain skills. And while that doesn’t mean that both (or all) people in a relationship shouldn’t learn those skills? It does mean someone’s inevitably going to be more suited for it because they have more skill with it; it’s incredibly unrealistic to always expect everyone to be able to contribute exactly equally to everything that needs to be done in a household.
But 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… In terms of counting how often your husband loads the dishwasher compared to you… Is incredibly detrimental- and it will inevitably have a negative impact on your relationship regardless of whether or not you want it to.
And why wouldn’t it?
After all, marriage isn’t supposed to be a competition.
More importantly than that, however, is the fact that this structure isn’t even Egalitarian. It actually makes a mockery of Egalitarianism, because Egalitarianism isn’t about labor. It’s about human value.
Egalitarianism itself is the ideology that all people are equal in stature and worth regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, race, sexuality, or any other identifying aspect of human life, interest, or behavior. And that- as equal persons- on a base and fundamental level we deserve equal opportunity and to share equal social responsibility.
This does not- and should never- actually translate into the idea that everyone must pull exactly 50% of the weight in all things at all times.
But if an Egalitarian Marriage isn’t a marriage in which everyone does exactly 50% of each individual item, then what is it? Put simply, it has to do with two things called expectation and responsibility (which you probably could have guessed by now).
- 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. We look traditional on the surface to pretty much everyone, but you’d probably be surprised what’s under the surface here. So let’s lift the hood, shall we? Give you a little peak of why and how we operate- starting with what both of us look like, enjoy doing, and already bring to the table before the labor division even happens:
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 enjoys hard physical labor.
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. I also have health problems that prevent me from doing a lot of hard, continuous labor. He does not, save for high blood pressure and a couple creaks here and there.
My husband’s 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- and while I have been promoted at work I don’t have any benefits, and my company’s not all that wonderful.
Given all these factors it makes 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 it.
Don’t get me wrong. If we chose a different structure of labor division, we’d still be happy we were contributing to the household in some manner… But it simply wouldn’t 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 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. But because this division of labor makes much more sense for us than other forms and allows us to contribute to the household in the most efficient and logical ways possible.
And this is the point I’m making: So what if someone walks the dog more times a day than the other person does? Does it really matter? The answer is no.
It doesn’t, and it doesn’t need to.
The fact of the matter is that contributing to a household isn’t a zero sum game of “I walk the dog twice, you walk the dog twice; rinse, wash, and repeat”. There’s more to it than that. There’s more to Egalitarianism than that– and this is something too often overlooked in the focus on micromanaging labor division.
And when you look at the greater picture- beyond the absurdity of micromanaging who’s doing what, how many times, and when? My Husband and I both carry (and recognize that we carry) equal responsibility to our household.
Not labor… Responsibility.
“Equal responsibility” is another beast than “equal labor” entirely.
And that matters. Why? Because households aren’t built with just labor, or just finances, or just anything… They require both; both of our contributions are equally as important in our household’s creation and maintenance- and we are both performing work that is integral to its function and existence.
And that’s the real key to Egalitarianism, folks.
Neither of us view ourselves as more important than the other despite having different duties and responsibilities… Neither of us views ourselves (or the other) as the more important contributor; he’s not superior to me because he labors all day and brings home the largest income- and I’m not superior to him because I make the food and keep the household in order.
The fact that one may do 80% of the housework and the other may provide 80% percent of the financial income doesn’t change anything in the slightest… It just means our priorities, and the individual acts of labor we perform in pursuit of creating a household together, are simply different than one anothers.
We are equals, and we respect and approach each other as equals because the shared responsibility of maintaining a household falls on both of us.
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