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5 Reasons Gender Role Reversal Typically Doesn't Work for Families

By Suzanne Venker

I received an email recently from a woman named Aimee who thanked me for speaking out about the importance of husbands supporting their families. Aimee has a Ph.D. and was the spouse "holding the family together as the breadwinner." But when she was laid off, she said, things turned ugly.

"I became resentful because my husband didn't have the same drive and motivation I did to succeed. As such, I'm now separated with two children; but I know if my ex-husband was on a trajectory toward success rather than taking the path of least resistance we could possibly be married still."

Aimee's story highlights an all-too-common relationship scenario: one in which the woman, not the man, is the primary breadwinner. If current trends continue, as they're predicted to do, more couples than ever will be in this boat. 

For most of them, this arrangement will not end well. 

Here are 5 reasons gender role reversals typically don't work:

  1. The vast majority of women prefer to work part-time or not at all when they have children. If a wife is unable to stay home with her kids at all-in any capacity-because she married a man who does not have a stable job or if she and her husband made financial decisions based on two incomes instead of one, she will become frustrated with, and resentful toward, her husband. Even if the choices were made by both partners, not being able to get by on one income, even for a short time, will cause conflict.

  2. Husbands who are financially dependent on their wives are significantly more likely to cheat.This study, also by the American Sociological Review, found that men who are 100% economically dependent on their spouses were most at risk for cheating-three times more than women married to male breadwinners.Men get a lot of flak for the idea that they're threatened when their wives work, but that isn't it. It's far more likely the husband is just lonely because his wife no longer has time for him.

  3. Men who do a lot of housewife-type tasks are less likely to have sex.In yet another study by the ASA, researchers found that couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks-such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance-report higher sexual frequency.

  4. If the wife becomes the breadwinner and the father stays home, she will likely become jealous of her husband's close relationship with the kids.It sounds counterintuitive-you'd think a wife would be thrilled to have a husband who stays home with the kids or whose job is more flexible and thus allows him to take on more child care at home-but breadwinning wives tend to feel insecure about their relationship with their children. If the husband takes on the lion's share at home, it is he to whom the kids will turn. This can become yet another source of resentment.

  5. Wives who earn more than their husbands are chronically exhausted from working full time and taking care of the house and the kids.Most husbands aren't going to care for the house and kids in the same way most wives do. Women tend to have expectations for how they think life at home should be, and when the husband doesn't do things accordingly, the assumption is that he isn't doing enough. In reality, he may just be doing things his own way. Either which way, conflict ensues.

None of this is to argue for strictly separate gender roles in a marriage-there's almost always an overlap. Nor am I saying a full-on gender role reversal can never work. But the effort that must go into it is huge. And those who do make it work are the exception, not the rule.

Bottom line: Don't think making more money than your husband doesn't matter. It does.

Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist and relationship coach known as The Feminist "Fixer." A wife of 20 years and mother of two, Suzanne liberates women from the equality narrative and inspires them to feel secure in their femininity and courageous about finding lasting love. Suzanne's most recent book, The Alpha Female's Guide to Men & Marriage, helps bossy women learn how to become better wives. You can find Suzanne at  Permission granted for use on
Tags: Choose Wisely-Treat Kindly, Dating, Marriage, Personal Responsibility, Relationships, Stress
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