“There are powerful historical reasons heterosexual marriages are subject to more tension, miscommunication and resentment than same-sex relationships,” Stephanie Coontz writes in the Op-Ed “How to Make Your Marriage Gayer.” There she explores the findings of a study showing that marriages between gay men appear to be the most equitable, and therefore the happiest, while heterosexual women, who are more often expected to fill stereotypical gender roles, seem to be the least satisfied.
We asked readers to tell us about the dynamics of their own relationships. A selection of their observations follows, including advice on how to navigate away from traditional roles and expectations. These comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your marriage in the comments.
Forget ‘fathers do this’ and ‘mothers do that’
I am in a same-sex relationship and we are constantly flummoxed by how our heterosexual parent friends don’t split the nighttime child care and sleep loss. There seems to be such an ingrained sense that if you birthed the child, it’s on you to sacrifice all the sleep. In our house, parents are parents. There’s no artificial distinction like “fathers do this” and “mothers do that.” — K, Wisconsin
The state of parental leave in the United States is ridiculous. Men go back to work in the first week and women, who can barely get out of bed, are expected to take care of everything at home. Eighty-hour-a-week job expectations mean that one spouse leans into their career and the other leans into the home and 99 percent of the time that seems to fall along traditional gender lines.
We are consciously choosing to live a different life by sharing household duties and keeping work arrangements flexible so that we can truly “co-parent.” — Heather Hund, San Francisco
Make socialized behavior work for you
In my same-sex relationship with a woman, we are both socialized to take on caring tasks and to feel guilt or shame if we do not perform those tasks for our partner. As a consequence, we are continuously expressing gratitude for the work the other one does and volunteering to take on tasks. — Amy, Brussels
I’m a heterosexual female, almost 70, divorced for almost 40 years. I had a number of significant heterosexual relationships in the first 20 years after my divorce, but one day I realized I wasn’t going to overcome my gender socialization. I’ve lived happily alone since. Oh, now I have a dog. Wish I’d known about them much earlier. — Deborah Hooker, Clayton, N.C.
Blurred lines help
While masculine in appearance, my wife and I both acknowledge that I am more gender fluid than other married men, something we believe plays a role in balancing the power dynamics in our marriage. I’m more in touch with my feminine side and that’s helped to blur the line between what many married couples traditionally consider to be appropriate behavior for a man. — Steve Kaverman, Cañon City, Colo.
I’m femme, presenting bisexual, in a partnership with a butch lesbian. I grew up wanting to fall into the “woman’s” place in a lot of ways, and because my girlfriend identifies with many masculine qualities, she enjoys “man’s” work. But there is always an open dialogue between us because we are very aware of the expectations you can fall into. We work together on most things or will ask each other for help. We feel very comfortable doing that in a way most of my female friends don’t. — Elizabeth Gibson, West Chester, Pa.
Changing gender, and expectations
I’m a transgender man. My wife and I had to negotiate the change in social expectations going from a “lesbian” to “straight” couple. I have a very time-consuming job and before I transitioned, my wife did most of the housework. Now those dynamics feel oppressive. I’ve stepped up how much I do, but it’s still a source of stress that I can’t do more. When we were a same-sex couple, the process of balancing household duties was something we worked out together. Now, it’s not just about our relationship, but about how we relate to gender and society. That’s a lot of pressure to put on dishes! — Alex Corbett, Kaikoura, New Zealand
I am a transgender woman, still early in my transition, and my partner is a cisgender woman. Our relationship has been mostly free of heterosexual power dynamics, even before I began transitioning. Child care and homeownership haven’t come into play yet, but I’m proud of how well we manage to divide the tasks we have. That goes for emotional labor, too. The straight couples I know do not share the burden of being an emotional center. That almost always falls on the woman. — Micah Lily Osler, Manhattan, N.Y.
Does race matter?
I am in a heterosexual, biracial relationship (I am a white female, he is a black male). I don’t know if it’s because of our difference in race, but we challenge gender roles frequently and my partner is highly attentive to my needs, much more so than any white male I’ve dated in the past. He is also the primary cleaner and is meticulous about laundry. We are traditional in some ways, but we also closely observe one another and regularly pitch in to help. — Holly Nelson, Albany, N.Y.
We do what we must
My wife is in a wheelchair and has limited ability to do many activities. I do virtually all the shopping, cooking, dishes, bills and bookkeeping. I also do physical caretaking. Our emotional life, however, is balanced. She is a fearless communicator and has helped me start to become one too. The sex can be repetitive and constrained because of her condition, which is a source of frustration. But it’s also intimate, funny and sometimes joyous. Who would have thought the best sex in my life would be with a woman in a wheelchair? We do what we can — and must — to live together and love each other. — Julian Gerstin, Brattleboro, Vt.
Let go of your baggage
I’m a male in a heterosexual marriage with two young children. I can get them ready for school, pack the lunches, cook the dinner, go to the parent-teacher conferences. But then my wife will feel she is failing or has been left out. Sometimes men place expectations on women in relationships, but women can come in with a lot of baggage as to what they think they’re supposed to do, regardless. — Andrew N, Queens, N.Y.
In our relationship, power dynamics are related to mostly one thing: money. We’ve been in a homosexual relationship for 15 years, living together and sharing our lives for a year and a half. I am half as “rich” as he and I am constantly worried about it. I had a very authoritarian childhood, and in this sense would ideally be in a relationship where I was the greater “breadwinner” so that I could take charge and have more of a say. I am still the dominant one in many ways, but I am deeply unsatisfied that we are so unbalanced, materially, even though he never brings it up. — Raymond Louis Llompart, Manhattan, N.Y.
Egalitarian ideals are not reality
I’m surprised at how my straight female friends, who are feminists and have advanced degrees and progressive politics, do so much more of the emotional labor, child care and housework than their husbands. I often want to ask, “Do you see what’s happening here? Are you really OK with being the traditional wife?” It’s hard to imagine them having a satisfying relationship with the inequality that seems baked into even the most progressive straight couples I know. — Lindsey Collins, San Francisco
I am a heterosexual male. I married my wife in 2010 when I was in law school and thought I was part of the enlightened movement toward more egalitarian relationships. I did more of the cleaning, dishes and cooking while I attended school, and my wife worked. Then we had our first child and all those egalitarian ideals disappeared. She became a stay-at-home mom and now does nearly all the household chores. Although idealistic when we got married, we were unsuccessful at challenging traditional roles and duties. — Jacob Burgess, Nashua, N.H.
Dishes Are Not the Problem
If mundane daily chores like dishwashing have become an instrument of power dynamics, then the dishes are not the problem. The overriding principle is not a chore list, but respect for the other — the ability to really see and hear the other. — Karen O’Connor, Washington
I don’t do any household chores that I don’t want to do. Because of this, my home is rarely spotless, but I am not stressed. If my husband wants certain chores done before I am inclined to do them, he will do them without complaint or resentment. He knows that if I force myself to do them I will be irritable, overwhelmed and unhappy. He, like most men, prefers peace and happiness to a spotless home. — Katie, Metairie, La.
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