This originally appeared on The Daily Life. Republished here with permission.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in marriage,” my 96-year-old great aunt confided. “It’s just that my life got a lot better after my husband died.”
Marriage, for my great aunt, was simply too much work. And based on the endless lists of marriage advice flooding the Internet and self-help bookshelves, things haven’t changed much in the last 70 years.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the genre, here’s a quick, yet surprisingly exhaustive summary to these articles and books:
1. Don’t try to change him
2. Work at it
3. Have sex even when you don’t want to
4. Work hard
5. Accept his flaws
6. Work harder
7. Don’t bitch and moan—even if he deserves it
8. Work even harder
9. Have low expectations
10. Keep working at it
There is an 11th piece of advice, although the authors of these articles rarely come right out and say it. The final piece of advice is that maintaining a marriage falls squarely and solely on the shoulders of women. In fact, from these lists, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the men are, at best, guests or, at worst, passive props that need to be manipulated.
How do we know that it’s women’s work to keep the marriage alive? Because these dumb lists are almost always addressed to women. The times marriage advice is addressed to men, it usually takes the form of a Men’s Health cover-line which goes something like “48 Positions For Keeping the Flame Alive!” or “Get More Sex Tonight…Guaranteed!”
We’re so used to marriage management being women’s work that when a man does offer advice that goes beyond bonking—as divorced motivational speaker Gerald Rogers did when he wrote a list of 20 things he’s learned about marriage—it goes viral and lands him international media attention.
Reading Rogers’ list, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out to be just as predictable and unremarkable as every other piece of marriage advice you’ve ever heard, with suggestions such as not taking your partner for granted and that old chestnut, to work at it.
I’m willing to bet my right ovary, though, that it was women who shared his article and turned it into a social media sensation.
But maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, Rogers’ advice seems positively enlightened compared with the men’s rights activist of Reddit who are dishing out advice on how to “train” their women.
Admittedly this is relationship advice rather than marriage advice but with tips like, “I won’t allow her to be a dead starfish in bed,” it would be a tad optimistic to assume anyone would marry them, let alone have sex with them.
Other pearls of wisdom include, “My girlfriend likes to bring things up and drop them, it annoys me to no end and I let her know by ignoring her,” and “Reward behavior you approve of with eye contact, smiles, and other positive reinforcement. Punish behavior you disapprove of with physical, social, or emotional withdrawal. It doesn’t take many instances to establish a pattern.”
But you don’t have to go to the dregs of mankind on Reddit to find examples of the belief that “happy” relationships are determined by the degree of women’s compliance and sacrifice. I’m constantly amazed at how tolerant some intelligent and empowered women can be of the appalling behavior of their husbands. In my own friendship circle, verbal abuse, porn addictions, deception and lies, laziness and entitlement, and utter disrespect and meanness, are all overlooked in the name of “not sweating the small stuff” and “making marriage work.”
And their marriages are working—just not for them. The shittier their marriages get, the harder they “work” at disregarding their own needs and tolerating the shittiness.
What makes these misplaced efforts all the more puzzling is that, as Hannah Rosin writes in The End of Men, “Men need marriage more than women do. In fact, they need it to survive.”
Married men report being healthier and living longer. They tend to report being happier and more sexually satisfied. And they’re also less likely to develop a host of physical ailments, ranging from heart or lung disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Women tend to benefit from marriage too, although often not as much as men. In other words, men benefit disproportionately from marriage than women.
I’m not suggesting that all men are crappy husbands. Nor am I suggesting that all wives are perfect and blameless. In many cases there are two sides to the story.
But other than very rare exceptions, establishing and maintaining marital harmony is a one-sided job. It’s women’s work to keep her man happy. If he’s not happy, and if he doesn’t make her happy then she just needs to try harder with more love and more self-sacrifice.
With this in mind, my great aunt is probably right. Marriage can be too much work if women are the only ones doing it.
Kasey Edwards is a writer based in Australia and author of 30-Something And Over It. You can follow her on Twitter here.