Traditionally, men were primarily responsible for being good providers for their families, and women were tasked with everything else– taking care of the kids, maintaining the home, and keeping family and friends connected. In the last 40 years, however, this traditional approach has become quite unsustainable for most American families. Women want intellectual stimulation and economic independance just as much as their male counterparts, and getting married is no longer a necessity but rather a voluntary choice that many will only exercise when a truly special person comes along.

The modern couple with two equally well-educated people that have similar earning capacities have to negotiate everything– who will do the cooking, laundry, get groceries, take the kids to their doctor’s appointments, soccer practice, etc. (assuming all these things are not delegated out to nannies). Men who grew up with fathers that only had to focus on work are in for a bit of a shock these days as their partners now expect them to multi-task–a skill that has been passed on for generations in women, but is a rather new requirement for a lot of their male counterparts. This problem is then compounded by the fact that many women, who grew up with moms that ruled the house, fail to communicate their dissapointment and frustration in a manner that inspires a change for most men.

Guys tend to avoid conflict at home, so if they feel there is trouble brewing with a spouse, they might purposefully stay late at the office or go grab a beer with the guys. Rather than lash out in response to this behavior, women may want to try more positive reinforcement of the behaviors they like for their partners to exhibit. For example: a guy goes MIA for a few days because he is focused on other things, then finally he calls his sister. If she jumps down his throat for not contacting her sooner, he is probably going to want to quickly get off the phone and be a lot less willing to call again. Meanwhile, if she starts by telling him how happy she is to hear from him, and later very gently lets him know that she was disappointed in the fact that he’d been radio silent for a few days, the chances are much higher that he won’t disappear again for so long, and he will be more apt to call sooner.

We are all wired differently and cannot read each other’s minds. I used to think that as long as we all lived by the Golden Rule everything would be fine, but I have come to realize that the way I might want someone to act towards me is not the way they would want me to act towards them. Some people might want daily contact, others would feel smothered by that, so we need to find the right balance in each relationship. We need to learn about each other’s triggers, our differing needs for space versus contact, and try to respect one another’s boundaries. Not easy stuff for sure, but it is what you do for those you love.