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Marriage and the Professional Woman

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Recent studies suggest professional women are less happy in their marriage and more likely to divorce. Don't take the wrong lesson.

I read and reread the recent forum on careers and marriage on Editor Michael Noer cites many studies suggesting that professional women are less happy in their marriages and more likely to get divorced. He then goes on to list some of the typical issues that arise: women are unhappy if they make more money than their spouses, men are unhappy if their wives earn more than they do, without labor specialization, the house is a mess and the kids aren't bathed. And so on. Needless to say, this news was not greeted with joy by the legions of career women. One of his colleagues, Elizabeth Corcoran, a happily married career woman, wrote an impassioned response.

The problem with most statistics (including those cited in the phenomenally popular ‘Freakonomics') is that they usually suggest correlation and are mistakenly read to suggest causation.

So while there is definitely some connection between successful career women and divorce, the causes of this lack of marital success are only speculation.

In paradoxical fashion, although a more traditional view of marriage (i.e. a division of labor that gives the female primary responsibility for the home but certainly does not preclude her from having a career) is a Jewish value, it is Ms. Corcoran who makes the argument most consistent with Torah.

She seems to advocate two important components to a successful marriage.

It's not the income; it's the lack of growth and action.

One is constant growth. If a woman earns more than her husband but her husband is engaged in a meaningful occupation or he's involved in learning and grappling with new ideas and stimulating hobbies, then the actual financial difference will probably be irrelevant. But if, in the most extreme case, the woman is supporting the family while her mate is a house husband and she comes home to find the house a mess and her beloved spouse asleep in from of the blaring TV, a large pile of empty beer bottles beside him, their marriage may be threatened.

It's not the income; it's the lack of growth and action.

And it works both ways. If a stay-at-home mom is involved in activities with the children, cooking for the family and projects for the community -- great. But if her husband comes home to find her curled up in from of the tube watching soaps and eating chocolates (does anyone really do that?!), he is also likely to feel frustrated.

Our obligation to ourselves and to our spouses is to be constantly thinking and growing. If we stagnate we are doing ourselves and our marriages a disservice.

The other element is compromise. Of course you need some division of labor. It's practical and efficient. In general, this is best done along skill set lines. Everyone should lead with their strengths. The organized spouse pays the bills. The adventurer plans the vacations. They both cook dinners. As marriage counselors repeat constantly, "It's not a competition. It's not about keeping score."

The key is in the language and perspective. Is it my marriage or is it our marriage? If it's my marriage, then I'm resentful that I'm earning the money and you're spending it. If it's our marriage, then it's for the two of us.

If it's my marriage, then I'm resentful that I have to make dinner. If it's our marriage, I'm happy to do a kindness for you that actually benefits both of us.

If it's my marriage, I may even feel frustrated to spend all my time watching your children. But our children? We're happy to provide for their needs together.

A healthy marriage requires that the success of the marital relationship be of primary importance, that 'we' supersede the "I". And it requires growth and stimulation and action to keep the marriage alive. While the commitment may be forever, making the joy also forever requires you to work at it. That includes keeping our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual selves attractive. A tall order? We're battling the statistics, the pundits, the trends, human nature. But we have the tools to do it. (And it doesn't hurt to ask the Almighty for help --you want to pull out all the big guns.)

So go ahead -- earn more money than your spouse. Then use it to do something wonderful for the two of you.

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