HUSBAND AS MAIN BREADWINNER
In your estimation, what do wives really want? What statistics do you have to back up your claim?
Well, I would never presume to say what all wives want, but I can comfortably assert that what most wives want, among other things, is for their husbands to take the lead in breadwinning. This doesn’t mean that many women don’t want to work or bring in an income as well, but they want to feel that their husband is providing for them.
Sociological studies show us that women are happiest when their husbands earn 68 percent or more of the family income. Polling shows us that when they become mothers, 80 percent of women prefer to work part-time or fewer hours so they have more time to care for their children. Divorce statistics reveal that marriages in which both spouses earn about the same are more likely to break-up, as are marriages in which the wife is the major breadwinner. Marriages in which the husband earns the majority of the household income are more stable and both spouses report higher levels of marital satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that some couples aren’t happy or can’t have successful marriages reversing tradition breadwinning roles, but it does mean the majority of women don’t want that.
Of course, life can sometimes intervene and hard times come along where both spouses need to do what they can to provide financially for their family. But most women still prefer their husband to take the lead in that.
MINING PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Where did this bright idea that to get what you personally wanted as a wife – a more flexible schedule with the option to scale back work or not work at all – you needed to invest in your husband’s career?
Like a lot of young guys today, during his late twenties my husband, Brian, was rather lost professionally. He would be the first to tell you he spent his early years after college floating from one job to another without really pinning down what he would be good at or what he wanted to do. So we went into marriage without him having a real career path, and that quickly became a sore point in our relationship. I harbored a lot fear and resentment, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to cut back on work once we had children. And because of that, I handled our situation badly at first, pushing him to accept a job he didn’t like but where he made a lot of money.
Then I happened to read David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. In that book, Abigail Adams was such a model of a godly wife, such a wise helper to her husband in all things but particularly in his work, that I was inspired by her example. I decided I would use all my abilities to help Brian first identify and then achieve his professional dreams. With my interest in the subject already stoked, I started noticing all kinds of news stories where men gave credit to their wives for their success and economic research proving that wives can have a tremendously positive impact on their husbands’ careers. It occurred to me that a lot of women could use this information.
POINT HIM IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
How do you help strategize with your husband about furthering his career without it coming across as nagging or controlling?
In a very real way, this is a heart question. When I first started I was pushing Brian in various directions, as opposed to helping him find what he wanted, and I was doing so out of a place of fear. I was so worried that we would never be financially secure and that I wasn’t going to be able to cut back working once we had children, I spoke and responded to him in terribly negative ways. For example, I compared him negatively to other men hoping it would motivate him, but really it just demoralized him. And this is what I think men quite correctly perceive as nagging or controlling — when we are pushing from a place a fear (which, for the Christian, shows a great lack of faith in God’s promise to care for us as well).
To change this, I had to change my heart. It had to be about Brian. It had to be about helping him fulfill his God-given potential to do well at work that would provide him satisfaction and make use of his talents. When my heart changed, my approach changed as well. I was no longer pushing, I was participating. We discussed what Brian wanted out of work, not what I wanted for him. And I began listening for ways I could use my own talents to help him achieve his goals rather than manipulating him to set the goals I wanted him to have. At that point helping Brian in his career became a fun, exciting, marriage-strengthening adventure for both of us, and he went from feeling like I was “nag” to feeling grateful for my help.
THE MARRIED WOMAN
What is the difference between being “a married woman” and being “a wife”? What makes a woman a wife? A man a husband? You say it is more than simply being married.
I actually can’t claim credit for that notion, though I love it. It comes from a Japanese proverb that states, “Not all married women are wives” to which I added, “Not all married men are husbands.” Living in the same house together, sharing a bed, creating children, these things alone do not make a woman a wife nor a man a husband. What does is serving one another’s needs and aspirations with love. By forming a single unit where each spouse is dependent on the other for different things, couples become more than just co-residents in their homes, they become the true partners God designed them to be.
One of the things that has bothered me about recent feminist writing is this notion that women should maintain total independence within their marriages, including financial independence. I think this is an incredibly un-biblical idea, not to mention a dangerous one. Sociological studies unequivocally show that maintaining this kind of autonomy after marriage leads to divorce. So part of what I wanted to do with my book was encourage interdependence by showing wives how they can use the abilities God has uniquely granted to women to serve their husbands in their work.
A BOOK FOR ANTI-FEMINISTS?
No doubt, your ideas are somewhat controversial to the point where some might wonder if you have written an anti-feminist book. How would you defend your position as being one that isn’t necessarily behind the times?
Well, whether Beside Every Successful Man is anti-feminist really depends on how you define feminism. If you think feminism allows for only one approach to marriage and motherhood — lifelong, fulltime work, then you probably would consider it anti-feminist. My goal wasn’t to denigrate the choices women make in regards to work, it was to offer them more choices. According to polling, full-time work isn’t a choice for most women today, it’s a necessity. And, as I make clear in the book, I have no problem with either the working mom or the traditional ’50s housewife. I wanted to show both of them how helping their husbands in his work will benefit him, yes, but it will also benefit them by giving them greater financial freedom and, thus, more options.
Plus, I think there’s something really wrongheaded about the notion that helping your husband means debasing yourself. This is particularly true for Christian women. I think blessing can flow from loving your husband in this way. If you look at the Proverbs 31 wife, her godly actions benefitted her husband’s business reputation — the other men in the business community had greater respect for him because of her. That was always my greatest ideal for this book.
WHY INVEST IN HIS CAREER?
What about this notion that a man should put down his career for his wife’s ambitions – is that a good idea? Why should a wife only invest in HIS career? Shouldn’t he help his wife to succeed, too?
I don’t say anywhere that a man can’t also invest in his wife’s career. In fact, my husband gave me more help while writing this book than I can tell you. However, because of women’s greater desire to give up work (whether that means totally, only for a few years, or just going part time) when their children are born, the focus of my book was on the wife’s investment. Nearly 80 percent of fathers say full-time work is ideal for them. Only 20 percent of mothers do, so that was really my guiding fact.
That said, I would suggest that a man who’s considering letting his work fall by the wayside to support his wife’s career do so very carefully. Obviously, there are couples who make that work and make it work well. But statistically, women tend to be unhappy with this arrangement.
REDEFINING A WIFE’S IDENTITY
There is something in some women that chafes at the idea of giving up a career. I guess it is a fear of missing the job and having to redefine one’s identity or being taken for granted by a hubby. What do you say to women like that?
First off I would say that it certainly isn’t necessary to give up your career to support your husband’s! I love my work as well and can’t imagine giving it up entirely after our baby is born, though at that point I expect to work much less. As for being taken for granted, there’s always a danger of that in any marriage and it’s something you have to constantly work at. What I can tell you is this: None of the men I interviewed for my book acted like their wives’ contribution to their success was simply their due. From Fortune 500 CEOs to professional athletes to national journalists, they expressed the deepest gratitude for their wives’ help, and in very specific ways, too. They were all able to give me detailed examples of how their wives gave them an advantage in the workplace, so that tells me they weren’t taking it for granted.
WIFE AS COACH
How can a wife be a partner, a coach?
When I say coach, I’m not talking about being in charge; I’m talking about a wife offering guidance and hands-on assistance based on her unique vantage point. She knows her husband better than anyone else in the world and is in a better position to know what his strengths are and what areas he might need her help in.
There are numerous ways to apply this. Some of the ones I detail in my book are motivating, networking, advising, and practicing good public relations techniques. Wives can also use their specific skills to help their husbands. I’ve constantly used my skills as a writer to help Brian throughout his broadcasting career. First writing resumes and cover letters, then suggesting good story ideas for his pitch meetings, and networking by writing notes now and then to former colleagues. It all has an impact.
HOW MARRIAGE MAKES MEN BETTER
What is it about marriage that changes men, makes them better?
I can’t claim credit for this idea either; it is based on the research of some wonderfully gifted sociologists like the late Dr. Steven Nock. Marriage makes men better because it makes them men. It creates in them a sense of adult responsibility — first responsibility for their wives, then their children, and then their community. They become more stable, they work harder, they spend more time with their extended families, they drink less, they are less likely to get into legal trouble, and they are more likely to give to charity.
Marriage is the conduit by which males begin to view themselves as men, and society begins to view them that way, too. It is also part of the reason for the marriage premium, the economic phenomenon wherein married men make between 20 to 50 percent more money than otherwise identical single men.
BALANCING HIS WORK AND REST
How do you encourage a husband to find that healthy balance between work and rest so that he doesn’t feel compelled to become a workaholic to prove himself at the office?
When I wrote the chapter on this, I had to be honest that many women use the time-tested method of “putting their foot down”! They simply schedule family vacations and make arrangements with coworkers and assistants that their husband should not receive any work calls that aren’t emergencies.
But I also included a lot of research that proves that constant, unending work actually damages productivity. The best way to convince a workaholic that he needs to recharge his batteries is to show him the incontrovertible evidence that his work will suffer if he doesn’t. Christian wives also have the advantage of going to the Bible. God makes it quite clear that we all need rest.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Much in your book is a look at how men and women basically differ. Can you touch on some of those differences between men and women – how the brain is wired, communication style, etc.?
There are countless examples of this, but a great one is advising. Ask a man for advice and he will look at the hard data, apply it to the potential options, then give you his opinion. It’s a very mechanical method. Women approach advising in a much more relational way. The way our brains are wired allows us to pick up much more emotional data than men do. We are much better at apprehending when someone isn’t being honest or when someone is holding something back.
So when a wife advises her husband, she isn’t just looking at the facts. For example, she won’t just say, yes, you should hire that person because his resume says he went to Harvard, as a man would. She would say, “Well, after having dinner with him, I really think his analytical personality would complement your work style well and he would bring something new to the team.” Many of the men I profiled in my book rely on their wives for this kind of insight.
WHY MEN LOOK TO THEIR WIVES FOR ADVICE
Why do so many successful men look to their wives for input and advice? What do wives offer that a professional advisor can’t?
Well, the foremost reason is that they trust their wives — men know that more than anyone else in their lives, their wives want the best for them and they are unlikely to have ulterior motives behind their advice. The second is that they know their husbands better than anyone else. A professional advisor may be able to look at company or department data, but he doesn’t know your husband’s working style the way you do.
A WOMAN’S POWER
Women are so prone to take the power they might have to help their husbands and use it either for themselves or against their husbands. Why do women tend to do that, and how can women learn to use their power effectively within a marriage?
Despite feminist characterizations of women as powerless in their marriages, the reality is that women have always held great power over the men in their lives. We see this modeled throughout the Bible, both on the negative side with the women like Jezebel, and on the positive side with wives like Esther. I had to laugh recently when I saw a new Pew study that showed that women hold most of the decision-making power in their marriages — something that’s hardly news to average Americans.
However, there is a big difference between responsibly wielding influence as a wise help-mate and clawing to be in charge. And, frankly, I think most wives feel the difference when we’re in the midst of acting. I know I’ve done both, and one of the best ways I can tell when I’m approaching from a controlling position is Brian’s reaction. He has no problem when I give my opinion or offer suggestions, provided I acknowledge the decision is ultimately his. But if I try to manipulate him into doing what I want, he reacts negatively, as well he should.
The way I combat that is to remember how ineffective it is. Even if Brian were to do what I wanted out of manipulation or controlling, it damages our relationship. However, straightforward, no-agenda conversation is good for both of us.
As to why women are tempted to do that, I think it’s really just part of the curse. It’s something that will always be a struggle for us in this fallen world.
An interview with Megan Basham, from her book, Beside Every Successful Man
Copyright © 2009 By Laura J. Bagby, CBN.com Sr. Producer. Used with permission.