Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Roles and Conflict

I've been reading a lot of Anthony Trollope lately, and thus found myself thinking a fair amount about what the 19th century thought to make a good, or a bad, marriage.

One of the major sources of marital strife in Trollope novels is when the husband or wife is in the habit of interfering in the other's business. After watching this play out between several of his troubled couples, it began to strike me to what an extent Trollope's idea of a happy marriage is rooted in the assumption that the husband and wife have separate spheres. The wife manages the children and the household affairs. The husband manages his profession and the estate. So long as each is happy to leave the other in charge of their domain, there is harmony regardless of how affectionate the couple actually are. And when they do attempt to manage each other's domains, conflict results even among the more affectionate couples.

I don't advocate a strict separation of spheres in marriage. MrsDarwin and I are one of those couples that prefer doing most things together. But it does strike me that having the goal of "50/50 split" in various areas of duty is often problematic, since one so often ends up feeling like one is the one struck doing 55% while the other does only 45%.

To what extent does the modern ideal of men and woman having interchangeable roles in a marriage actually create more conflict by setting the husband and wife up in competition to one another?


Banshee said...

Well, it certainly seems like it would be more fun to have each member of the couple have free rein over certain things, just like it's probably more relaxing for each member to have some fun activities in which the other doesn't participate.

I know my parents both regard certain things as Dad's or Mom's, even though in general they work together and play together.

bearing said...

It's not just competition -- in my experience we see this far more:

"Didn't you do that really important part of our joint project?"

"No, YOU were supposed to do it!"

"No, we decided YOU were going to... don't you remember?"

... etc.

Mark and I have a trip-packing algorithm. I am in charge of my clothes, the children's clothes, stuff for the baby, and bedding. He is in charge of his own clothing, outdoor gear, getting the house ready for our absence, and getting the car ready for the trip.

We have, in the past, forgotten a baby carrier because I thought of it as "gear" and he thought of it as "stuff for the baby," and on one camping trip didn't pack sleeping bags, because... well, you see, probably.

I don't know if there is an extended metaphor for marriage there or not.

Clare said...

I can only tell from my own parents, but for the most part they share each other's spheres, broadly and traditionally defined. She makes money, he takes initiative on housework. This seems to keep them in constant communication rather than competition.

Of course, each has their own particular strengths--much is much better at working through conflicts with outsiders, and Dad is much better at making detailed plans. They've learned to mostly leave these things to each other.