‘Happy Wife, Happy Life?’ How about ‘Happy Spouse, Happy House’ Instead?
Zach Rosenberg believes the cliché “happy wife, happy life” is a terrible mantra to live by.
Here’s a proposition: let’s find a replacement for the mantra “happy wife, happy life.” I’ve never found that simply making my wife happy inherently made me happy. Oh sure, I enjoy doing things for my wife that make her happy. And in turn, that makes me more or less happy. But if we’re talking about down-to-brass-tacks, real, soul-filling happiness, I need something more out of my marriage.
Every man, the day after he’s married (unless you immediately jet-set off to your honeymoon), hears “happy wife, happy life” primarily from…well, his wife. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear it from your mother-in-law as well.
Men got stiffed on this because, well, nothing rhymes with husband. I’ve checked. And saying “Happy Husband and he’ll go to work every day and maybe go to war and raise two children with you and when it’s time, empty the retirement fund and you’ll both go on that really cool looking Alaska cruise” just doesn’t sound as catchy.
The phrase has its roots in logic. When a woman’s “place” was in the home, she was, in essence, in charge of the daily life of the family: cooking, cleaning, laundry, mothering. Mom was the home. But it wasn’t really a happy job — it was a lot of work, and she still had to gussy-up for the husband and his friends or for husband-approved social functions.
More recently, women found a place in the job market. Really cool, successful places. So, maybe it was a swing in values or maybe someone had a gun to someone’s head, but men started caring about their wives. And, well, “happy wife, happy life” sprung up from that. Maybe it was just that if you kept her happy by “letting” her work, she’d still be happy enough to come home and make dinner as well. I don’t know, I’m young and stupid.
Nevertheless, even more recently, it’s changed. The “happy wife, happy life” image that’s unceremoniously dumped on husbands daily is this: keep your wife happy, and you will be happy. Or, “if you do things that specifically make your wife happy, like shut up and surrender, she won’t poison your food, and hopefully, you will end up on the business end of some private parts later.”
So, the message is clear for men: keep your eyes peeled, keep your ear to the street, keep your nose to the grindstone, and hope that some of that sweet trickle-down happiness ends up in your mouth. But how does this work out in light of the fact that a record number of men are eschewing the job market and staying home with the children? Do they still have to be consumed with making sure their wife is happy, while the wife has to make sure the rest of the household is in-gear?
That archaic “happy wife, happy life” coexists with the idea that a wife is a husband’s “better half.” That’s a lot of pressure, wives. While we’re busy making you happy, you’re busy being better. Ugh, we already did this “have it all” thing to death, haven’t we?
Recently, Lesley at xoJane tackled a Weight Watchers commercial in which you get to see the “happy wife, happy life” equation play out. Lesley does a great job of explaining the finer details of how Meg, the “wife-mom” keeps hubby Matt in check, explicitly, for his own good. She even does the “I see you” eye-point that I do to my son when he’s outside playing with the neighbor girl and I see him start to get all rough-housey.
“The commercial ends with Meg saying, cutely, ‘Happy wife, happy life, right?’” Lesley responds in her article, “which sort of cements the idea that this whole joint diet was her idea…”
And the audience is left wondering how Meg is actually “happy” having to manage both her diet AND Matt’s. And how having a child for a husband is soul-fulfilling. I mean, sure, they’re both skinny rakes now, but Matt can’t have a Snickers at work without Skyping his wife to show her that it’s a “fun size” and not a full size.
Psssh… more like “happy better half, happy on my behalf.” Wait, does that work?
Here’s what I’d prefer: “happy spouse, happy house.”
This solution puts the whole household into the mix, even the kids. Believe me, it doesn’t matter if my wife says she’s happy; if our four-year-old son isn’t happy, no one’s happy.
But for you non-child-rearing folks (first of all, god bless you), this “happy house, happy house” thing just assumes a two-way street between you and your spouse.
Oh, and for you same-sex partner-types out there, this works for you too. I know that at least a handful of you were saying “well, which one of us is which? We don’t know who’s supposed to assume the lion’s share of happiness!” Problem solved. Who loves you, baby?
People, please, join me in replacing the old, tired, gendered “happy wife, happy life” trickle-down system with the much more postmodern “happy spouse, happy house.” My wife and I have found great success in making each other happy simultaneously. And it’s a much deeper sense of a “happy life” than me going to bed feeling like I’m a slave to my wife’s happiness and her feeling like she’s got to manage the whole house and raise our kid alone.
My wife and I are happy spouses who care for each other on an equal level. We’re teammates in life; neither of us is a “better half.” And because of that, we parent better and are raising a happy kid too.
Happy spouse, happy house. It’s not just my mantra, it’s our mantra.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.