Monday, January 24, 2005

‘Good wife’ fantasies

‘Good wife’ fantasies

By Bob Garon
TODAY Newspaper
Sunday, January 23, 2005 11:01 PM

First of 4 parts

A major reason for unhappiness in marriage is unfulfilled expectations. Because of the good feelings generated in courtship, there is an unrealistic expectation that the wedding will bring on even more happiness and thrills. The problem is that courtship isn’t marriage. Marriage is a whole lot more complicated. It’s supposed to last a lifetime. The children, careers, in-laws, health problems, etc., the list of potential problems is as long as your arm. Things that courting couples rarely have to deal with seriously.

Another problem related to unfulfilled expectations is fantasy. Couples have a lot of fantasy notions about marriage. Take the “good wife” fantasy. We have some packaged ideas about what it means to be a good wife that so many couples accept hook, line and sinker.

The first is that the good wife should not think of herself. She must be totally unselfish and put her husband and family ahead of all else. It doesn’t matter if the husband is a drunkard and a womanizer. She must be the strong one. Even if he beats her and makes life miserable, she is expected to remain strong (even if wounded and full of scars) while the guy is totally irresponsible. She has to remain attractive even if he lets himself go.

Another fantasy is that the good wife should try to please her husband even if it means she herself is miserable. She must be subservient to her husband. Of course the wife should try to please her husband, but she cannot be responsible for his happiness. It isn’t fair that the woman is treated as a second-class citizen in the home. Some women feel that things have become one-sided in the home, with her carrying a disproportionate part of the load.

A third fantasy is the expectation that the wife should do nothing to threaten her husband’s leadership position in the family. Let’s face it, when men marry, they expect to call the shots. My brother who is still single said it well. “When I want to do something or go somewhere, I don’t have to consult a woman.” Many men who marry feel the same way. They cannot handle a more successful, a more intelligent woman who gets more attention. The woman is expected to play second fiddle to her husband. The idea that the man shines less goes against conventional thinking. The result is often misery, conflict and separation.

A fourth fantasy is that the wife should take care of the house and be the one responsible for the children. The husband is the one who goes off to work and provides for the material needs of the family. Meanwhile, the wife takes full responsibility. The husband, for his part, is mostly freed from having to care for the children because that is “woman’s work.”

Another fantasy is that the wife should tolerate anything and everything to keep the family together for the sake of the children. The holding together of the family is her primary concern and the weight of the responsibility for doing so rests mostly on her shoulder. In our society, this is such a very strong fantasy that the idea of the husband holding the family together is foreign, and when it does happen, the man is seen as an extraordinary hero.


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