Marriage Transactions

A friend of mine is tying the knot with a man she has known for barely a year. We have had many conversations where I have advised her against it.

Marriage is sacred, it’s about finding your partner in life – somebody who will love and support you. You need more time to properly vet someone. This is a major life decision.

My friend however, feels that she knows this man well enough and they are clear on what the expectations of the marriage are. She wants to have children and be a stay at home mom and he wants a marriage where his career will be the priority. He can financially support the family and has purchased a house in the suburbs.

The way she presented it to me made me cringe – but as I think about this more I wonder if I have placed too much emphasis on the love part of marriage? Can transactional marriages be successful and is it smart for a woman to be frank about what the roles and expectations are?

I have grown up around the concept of arranged marriages. My parents only knew each other for 15 minutes prior to their wedding – they have been happily married for 34 years.

Their marriage was a transaction– both parties were aware of the expectations:

  • My father was to be the breadwinner
  • My mother was to be a housewife and mother

And while this doesn’t sound romantic it is clear. Everyone agreed on what was going to happen.

Modern Marriage:

I am beginning to think that modern women are being swindled into vague marriages under the guise of love, and that perhaps it’s time to take a page from my parent’s book and look at marriages as transactions with clear roles and responsibilities.

In “Even Among Harvard Graduates, Women Fall Short of Their Expectations,” Claire Cain Mill addresses a study of HBS alumni and its findings are not surprising –

Ms. Mill writes,

“…women in business overwhelmingly want high-achieving careers even after they start families. The problem is mismatched expectations between what they hope to achieve in their careers and family lives and what actually happens…Men in general expect their careers will take precedence over their spouses’ career and that their spouses will handle more of the child care, the study found – and for the most part, men’s expectations are exceeded. Women, meanwhile, expect their careers will be as important as their spouses’ and that they will share child care equally – but, in general neither happens…”

So, women in business go into marriages expecting their spouses to handle half of the work while their spouses have other plans.

You see what I am getting at here?

Marriage Contracts:

In Islam marriage is a legal contract between two people. A formal contract that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom and bride is signed by both parties. While I don’t agree 100% with terms listed in an Islamic marriage contract, I do admire the concept of creating a legal document that clearly define rights and responsibilities.

The 2nd Shift:

I’ve been married for 3 years. I love my husband and the life we have built together.

We both work high stress jobs and we both have great ambitions to be successful.

We both wake up at 6 am and leave work around 7 pm (on average). However, when I leave my office I prepare for my 2nd shift.

This is the other job I have – the homemaker. This job requires the following things:

  • Dinner preparation
  • Laundry
  • Walking/Feeding the dog
  • Cleaning
  • Social calendar management
  • Groceries

These things happen from 7 pm – 11pm.

Do I like to do these things? No. Did I think I would be doing these things at the frequency and volume that I must before we got married? No. Did we talk about these things before we got married? No.

I am sure I am not the only woman working the 2nd shift.

Women make up approximately 47% of the workforce in the US – almost half of the total workforce. So why haven’t we updated our gender roles to match this statistic?

Why are women now working and managing the household?

Ms. Mills  writes in the HBS study,

“The highest-earning female executives with small children spend 25 hours on child care a week, on average, while male executives spend 10…”

There is an imbalance between the expectations and reality.

Final Thoughts:

There is a stigma around married women who work – employers often feel that they will prioritize their home life over work. I have seen it happen, mothers pushed out because they simply cannot lean in enough.

But I think that we have it all wrong – It’s not that married women prioritize their home life more than anyone else. It’s just that they didn’t get clarity prior to marriage on who was going to do what. They entered a verbal agreement with no clear definition of roles and responsibilities –cultural norms rule their marriages.

Men are not at fault; they are just behaving the way they have been taught to behave and doing exactly what they have always been doing.

I think to change these outdated gender roles we need to start looking at marriages for what they are – contracts. Love is vague. Love shouldn’t be the basis of marriage.

I know this doesn’t sound romantic and it isn’t but romance is only a 1 part of marriage. Marriage requires hard work and a disproportionate amount of that work falls on women because of antiquated gender roles – this affects everything – from women’s careers to their social lives.  Everything takes a hit because women do not take the time to create rules. Women let society create the norms for their marriages.

Are contracts the solution? Maybe. But we should at least think about these things before tying the knot.

Going back to my friend who is marrying a man she barely knows – I wish them success and I think they are on to something. She knows what she wants in her partner and he agrees. They haven’t created a formal document outlining this- but they are more prepared than most people.

One thought on “Marriage Transactions

  1. hnk059 says:

    I learned this lesson the hard way. As a driven female I found I couldn’t understand why my friends would want to stay home or have certain roles within their relationship. I’d constantly find myself telling my friends they could do better or be treated better. I lost good friends in this process. Because what I found was that no, they couldn’t be treated better because they were getting and giving everything they truly wanted. And that is the exact key to any successful relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

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