The Paradigm Shift of Relationships

I remember attending the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents. Even as a young boy, I seemed to understand the rare and “golden” event this was. I am not sure I had any handle on what being married required, but I was certainly amazed that anyone could do anything for fifty years. Ah….they must have been so in love with each other. But I am not sure that it was always the romantic, emotional, heart-swelling connection we normally associate with the word “love” today.

In fact, I am positive it was not just love that kept them together all those years. My grandmother was the typical archetype. A loving and caring house wife who could cook, clean, raise the children, grow the garden, sew, and all manner of domestic household tasks perfectly, all while making it look like it was as easy as falling off a horse. My grandfather was similarly the male archetype. He worked hard and brought home the bacon. He worked long, hard days on the railroad. He could hunt and fish with the best of them. He ran the house, paid the bills, mowed the yard, and could fix anything that needed fixing. They lived through the depression and understood how to be thrifty and were thankful of a steady income and subsistence. But my grandfather was no “walk in the park” to live with. He was a stern man, carved from the years when being hard was a life-coping skill. There were times when he treated his wife in a fashion that could be called anything but loving. Yet, they were married for over fifty years. How did they possibly pull this off?

It is in large part due to the fact that their “love” was based on mutual need for one another. Grandma had never been part of the work force. She grew up learning how to be a good mother and wife. She did not have a trade or marketable skills to bring home an income. She needed Grandpa for that. And conversely, Grandpa couldn’t cook his way out of a paper bag; much less have the patience to deal with the kids. So he needed her to care for his house and children. Regardless of how they felt emotionally towards each other, their needs kept them together. Sometimes to the point of tolerating behavior or circumstances that today would never be tolerated. Divorce in those days was a severe taboo and social disgrace. So for their generation it was rarely an option. You just played the hand you were dealt.

That need-driven “love” died in 1941. With the advent of World War II, able-bodied men left for the war in Europe, while the factories in the U.S. had to gear-up for war-time production rates. With the earners gone, the housewives took to the factories. This is a classic image of “Rosie the Riveter” in those times. They suddenly realized that they could bring home a pay check, while still being everything their families needed as a matriarch. They simply added going to work each day to the already extensive list of duties that running the home entailed. When the men returned, things were different. Certainly, as the men integrated themselves back into the workforce, most women found themselves returning to the role of home-maker. But they had a knowledge now that had not had previously. They knew, that if pressed to do so, they could be a wage earner. And the reason you stayed married started to change. They would no longer be relegated to being treated poorly or not feeling loved just to have an income in the home. Now add to that the feminist and women’s rights movements, and the sociological change becomes even more substantial. Granted this change was a slow process, but we are now four generations removed from the end of the war. I think the current divorce rate would indicate that what women expect from their men is no longer based on any physical or monetary need. And their tolerance for being treated in any fashion other than with love and respect has died its long overdue death.

And why do I remind my readers of these events they already know? To make a point. During this major shift in relationship dynamics, most guys got left behind. They still grew up in the very macho view of our fathers and other male role models. They have been taught to be tough, unemotional, work hard, play hard, and bring home the bacon. It is not that they have completely missed the change in women. Most homes are two incomes in now, so they certainly know the wife can bring home a pay check. But they have missed the fact that, if you are no longer a need to your spouse or significant other, your longevity will be based almost solely on “want”. Couples stay together now, only when they both want to. Men, in general, must become more of an emotional partner. They can learn to be open to their own feelings; secure enough to communicate those emotions, fears, needs, and desires; empathize with our partners feelings, rather than try to suggest how to fix what is making them feel that way; and remind our partners how much they are loved, appreciated, and wanted in our own lives. And this can all be done while still being every bit a man. Our macho indoctrination into what it means to be a man, must be set aside along with our ego, so that we can truly be what the people we love “want” in their lives.

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

2 Responses to “The Paradigm Shift of Relationships”
  1. AMP says:

    Its interesting that there is such a clear awareness of these changes. I’ve heard men discussing this topic say things like, “Yes, I am going to be one of those guys who understands my wife’s and my own emotional needs.” I admire anyone who identifies and is proactive about the changes they want to make in themselves, but I wonder how long it will be before boys are given these tools as they grow up so that, when they are men, they don’t have to make such a shift in the face of a new relationship.

    • Brad Osborne says:

      Thank you for your insightful comment. As with all things, awareness is the first step. I am hopeful that the current generation is starting to produce men with this awareness and a true desire to connect with their own emotions. But connecting with them is just the next step. Many will have to learn how to verbalize those feelings; and supportive, patient partners can help a great deal when it comes time for novices to express themselves. If all that is true, then we are just beginning to provide role models to our sons and setting better expectations for our daughters. Thanks again for weighing in!

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