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Happy Wife, Happy Life?

Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Mateus Campos Felipe

The idea goes that if a man just keeps his wife happy, then the relationship will be amazing and long-lasting.

Well, it’s crap.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I cannot tell you how many couples I have seen in my office on the absolute brink whose male partners are operating under this motto.

This myth, lie, fantasy — whatever you want to call it — sets both men and women in relationships up for failure. It doesn’t work. And this is why:

First of all, men are people too. If you set up a couple to operate under “happy wife, happy life, “you implicitly say that the man’s needs don’t matter. If husband isn’t happy — tough luck. What mama wants, mama gets.

This dynamic sets men up to simply be objects of production supporting a woman’s dreams.

She wants a bigger house? Work harder, buddy.

She wants a fancier car? Better pick up that overtime.

She demands all your time and attention? Sorry about your lack of friends, bro.

Men are not robots who can blindly follow orders. Men are people too and they have needs in relationships just like anyone else. When a person’s needs aren’t met, they suffer. No one is able to operate on a deficit forever, and they shouldn't have to! Why is this what we've set men up to expect?

When I see men who are unwilling to open up emotionally in relationships or unable to connect with their partner, I often hear this at the root: “she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to hear about me not being happy.”

How are we expecting men to be cut off from their own emotions and feelings and then turning around and expecting them NOT to act like unfeeling bastards? It’s a catch-22 where men are being set up to fail.

No one can give what they have not received. If we do not give men the space to express their needs without dismissal, how can we then turn around and expect them to be endless wells of support?

We want men to be warm, nurturing, supportive, and understanding of our needs but these sayings infer that they are to expect none of the same? If I was a man, I would wonder what is the point of being in a relationship then? Just to support someone else’s lifestyle? Tough sell.

Another saying equally dismissive of men’s needs that gets thrown around a lot (and put on T-shirts) is — “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Which, again — where does that leave dad?

These “harmless” quips remind men that no matter how much they show up as dads or husbands, the home is the woman’s purview by default. She is the queen of the house, and what she says goes. Why then, would a man put in the effort to be equal?

If we expect men to be equal partners in the home and parenting, why set up this dynamic that only mama’s needs matter?

This also sets women up for failure because these sayings also implicitly reinforce the idea that women are responsible for the home and the children. She is the boss in that sphere. She is the manager and the one in charge of running the household and organization and planning for the children. The poor husband is just a man following orders, trying not to “make mama mad.”

How many TV shows have you seen where it’s abundantly clear that “mama knows best” and dad is a bumbling idiot who can barely remember his kids’ names? These myths and stereotypes set up the default that women are inherently the better parent and that a man cannot care for his own children without screwing up in some way.

This harms fathers and their children in so many different ways. It contributes to the idea that men “babysit” their kids because — clearly, he wouldn’t be able to make any parenting decisions on his own, right? Don’t wanna step on mama bears’ toes.

Again, we expect men to be equally involved and committed fathers, but also double-bind them with these saying and portrayals that dismiss their input. The message sent to dads is:

Stay in your lane, sir. We need you to be seen, but not heard -if you have an opinion counter to moms. You might derail mama’s picture of perfection parenting.

And women, why do we perpetuate these sayings and ideas that only our happiness matters? You know it doesn’t work; I know it doesn’t work. Living with someone whose “goal is life” is to make you happy sounds way better in principle than in practice. You married a person, not a Roomba.

Regardless of gender -a healthy relationship is not based on one person’s needs taking precedence. An equal relationship takes both partners’ needs into account. A STRONG partnership makes decisions based on collaboration. Everyone’s contribution matters equally, and so do everyone’s needs. A healthy relationship enhances both partners’ experience; it’s not about one person’s happiness at the expense of another.

It’s time to let the myth of happy wife, happy life fade in favor of happy partners, healthy marriage.

Kristal DeSantis, LMFT, CCTP is the author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man (available for pre-order now

Follow my instagram @atxtherapist | Facebook @strongloveatx | TikTok @atx_therapist

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