Image for post
Image for post

Dear Men: Here’s Why Your Wife Will Probably Divorce You

For many couples, the real marital killer is a more common, insidious behavior than infidelity, abuse or addiction

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have bounced back from a much-publicized “strained period” during which she almost filed for divorce and Affleck in hopes of becoming a better father.

They’re not back together, reports, but Garner has evidently backed off from filing for divorce. “She really wants to work things out with Ben,” a source said. “They are giving things another try.”

So, evidently, are who separated this past August after yet another sexting scandal. Abedin is also reportedly .

Bad behavior — aka cheating as well as addictive behaviors — is what drove those two wives to consider divorce. As it turns out, a lot of women cite their husband’s “bad behavior” as a

But for many couples, the real marital killer is a more common and insidious behavior, one Jancee Dunn details in her new book, And it’s the kind of slow-simmering “low-conflict” situation that when their wife finally declares, Enough!

Angry, resentful and bickering

Dunn and her 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.

Still ‘Mad at Dad’

This is a familiar scenario, played out in families across the country, sadly even today. As 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, , with the subhead, “We love our husbands — so why are we so angry at them, so often.”

But if reading the comments on is any indication then, no, we have not progressed much. As Jezebel author, Kathryn Jezer-Morton, says, there’s no similar book for men — How to Keep Your Wife From Hating You After Kids (although it really should be How Not to Hate Your Wife 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.

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 , or at least a . 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 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 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!) Learn how by reading (Seal Press)

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store