On “The Doctor Is In,” we look at what men want in a wife. Remember the couple from the ‘50s, when the husband came home from a tough day of work to find a clean house, a home-cooked meal and a doting wife? Well, is that what men still want? An article called “The Good Wife’s Guide,” which has been circulating around recently, sparked this debate. Thought to be from a 1955 publication called Housekeeping Monthly, it offered tips: “Let him talk first”; “remember his topics of conversation are more important than yours”; “catering for his comfort will provide you immense personal satisfaction,” and “don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night.” It turned out that the article was a fake, but it raised some real issues. Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and a ‘Today’ contributor, was invited on the show to help answer that question. Here’s her take on the June Cleaver wife:
With a divorce rate currently of 45 percent many men and women are wondering “How do I choose a partner that will go the distance?” Do men really want subservient “slave-women” who subverts all her personal needs in order to please his? Yes … and no.
Both men and women have fantasies of being taken care of, being nurtured, being babied and being number one. Historically, masculine and feminine roles contributed to the specifics of these fantasies: men imagined the perfect mate as a passive, docile catering nurturer and women envisioned a giving, sacrificing protector. But these are fantasies! And while it may be fun to imagine — or even play out — these roles at times, they are but one of many fantasies men and women may have about their ideal partners. If rigid roles are not a good predicator of relationships’ longevity, what is?
Marriages based on shared morals, values, life goals, and abilities to communicate well contribute to stable relationships. That’s because marriages require work, commitment and self-sacrifice from both partners. Marriage based first and foremost on passion, children, or extremely time-demanding careers, tend to break up.
The institution of marriage began as, and still works as, a vehicle to protect both partners financially, ensure their progeny’s health and well being, and provide companionship and intimacy. Once a couple understands marriage is a choice that requires effort through its ups and downs, then they have a shot at maintaining a healthy relationship. (Research shows that married people are healthier and have better psychological health than singles. In addition, children of married couples are healthier and have better psychological health.)
Marriage is a partnership that requires both partners provide and receive gratification. Most men would say that being pampered occasionally is delightful, but that they don’t want to be only needed, but also needed. And most men would say that having all the pressure to be the sole provider and protector causes immense anxiety. They want — and need — a partner who will help shoulder some of the burden emotionally or even financially. And most women would find the 50’s housewife requirements utterly absurd and miserable. If one partner is utterly unhappy, the end of the marriage is inevitable.
The Housekeeping Monthly article represents an underlying issue in many marriages: Who has control? That’s why there are jokes about women who “wear the real pants” in the family and manipulate their sad sack husbands into making them do all kinds of things that they don’t want to do. So a man may fantasize about a June Cleaver-like wife, because he wants more control in their marriage — or even have the upper hand. Wanting more control occurs when one partner feels insecure and unsure of his, or hers, own worth and power. When both parties feel heard and sure of their own effectiveness, their fantasies of being taken care of diminish.
If you notice that your partner wants more control in your marriage, find out why. If your partner feels insecure, discuss way to make him, or her, feel more comfortable. Discuss what you think your roles are in your marriage. And find out if these roles need to be changed, so both of you are satisfied. Sit down and talk about these issues as members of the same team — not opposing teams. This is the only way to build strength and satisfaction in any relationship.