Saturday 20 July 2019

How you can cope with competitive marriage syndrome

Few men can accept their wife wears the trousers but isn't it time we moved on..

Emotionally uncoupled: Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow have split up despite their joint career success
Emotionally uncoupled: Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow have split up despite their joint career success
Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Centuries of cultural tradition have told him he's supposed to be the provider

When any celeb couple splits, the putative explanations are manifold. Take the recent headline-devouring "conscious uncoupling" of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow.

One day it was put down to her "bossy behaviour" – apparently Gwyneth was all "kabbalah and carbs bans" in their home – the next she was alleged to be having an affair (strenuously denied). On the theories rolled.

A more interesting, and certainly more plausible, suggestion was made by one insider, speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times: that old villain of marital discord, the demands of work. "Like so many people in the entertainment business," the source said, "the fact their careers often found them apart and on opposite sides of the world, made it extremely challenging to maintain a marriage like people who live in the same house all the time."

We don't know why the golden couple are divorcing; we may never know. But certainly, work-pressures have broken up many a celebrity marriage, too many to list here.

More specifically, a lot of high-profile unions have been afflicted by Competitive Marriage Syndrome. You know how it goes: one partner's career soars higher than the other, and they can't cope.

That's hardly the case here, as Paltrow and Martin stand roughly equal in terms of fame, success and wealth. But it did for Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman's marriage – when they divorced in 2005, he openly admitted that her huge success with Kill Bill, in contrast to his mid-list stardom, was a prime factor.

Hawke said: "It's unfair when one person's career is taking off, and the other is really suffering. It's not that they're jealous of each other. It's that the person you share your life with isn't in the mood to support."

Usually this affects the man, as he's the one who's expected to have the higher professional attainments. The thinking goes like this: men can't handle it when their wife becomes more of a big-shot than them. Or worse, he doesn't have a job at all, and must stay at home while she brings in the shekels.

Years of conditioning, and centuries of cultural tradition, have told him that he's supposed to be the bread-winner. When he ends up in a situation where his wife is the one doing these traditionally "male" things, our man can't cope. His ego can't take it. He feels like "less than a man". He leaves her and shacks up with a young one who's perfectly happy to make a pretty home while he goes out and conquers the world.

Is any of this true? Almost certainly, yes. Few men can genuinely, deep down, accept that their wife wears the trousers. All that conditioning has embedded some pretty strong roots; it's virtually written into the male DNA code by now.

Should it be true, though? Should men have a problem with their wife being more successful? (We're not talking here about the stress of unemployment, or the frustrations of one's career not going as planned; those are separate issues, and affect both men and women equally.)

Is it not kind of ridiculous to resent your wife doing better than you? For one thing, you presumably love this woman; you married her, after all. And if you love someone, you should want the very best for them in life, yes?

And if that "very best" happens to outstrip your own achievements, what of it? Do men honestly think their wives would begrudge them fame, money or plaudits? Most women would say well done and tell you how proud you'd made them.

Secondly, so what if she's the one earning the family's corn? This means that you don't have to. Who wouldn't love to be married to some rich, powerful woman?

"Take it easy there for the next few decades, I'll pay the bills. Maybe have a go at that novel you've always wanted to write." It's a win-win surely.

Thirdly, why do people define themselves by their sex, anyway? I can understand a man being annoyed that some jerk he hated in school has fared better in life than he has – this is an understandable response. Not admirable, but understandable: you didn't like this guy, you don't want them outstripping you in terms of career success. Makes sense.

But to begrudge someone else doing better, someone you profess to love, because they have different genitals to you ... that's just silly.

As is defining yourself by whether or not you carry an X chromosome. This is basically declaring – with a straight face – "I deserve the better job here, simply because my parent's germ cells randomly chose to make a male zygote, which then developed in the usual way through blastocyst, embryo and foetus, until leaving my mother's uterus after roughly nine months, in the form of me and my penis."

Men should stop thinking of themselves as "men", and start thinking of being an individual – an individual who wants to do well in life, presumably, an individual who wants some measure of happiness, at any rate.

And if that can partly be secured through your wife being more successful than you, what's the problem? Are you really willing to sacrifice marriage, family and, yes, happiness, just to prove some absurd point to yourself about some random combination of chemicals which made you male and not female?

If so – to misquote the famously macho Rudyard Kipling – you're a worse man than me, Gunga Din.

Irish Independent

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