“Caring about relationships, working on them, and upgrading our how-to skills have traditionally been women’s domain. When something goes wrong, we are usually the first to react, to feel pain, to seek help, and to try to initiate change.” Dr. Harriet Lerner, PhD

“I can’t do this anymore. Something has to change.”

These were the words of my client, Jamie, to her husband after yet another argument where she felt misunderstood and blamed for their shared unhappiness.

Jamie had been seeking answers. She had gotten equipped with new relationship tools and she was actively applying those tools inside her marriage to try to bridge the disconnection she’d been feeling. But nothing was changing.

Her husband resisted having conversations about the struggles they were facing.

He often met her with anger, defensiveness and blame.

He wasn’t able to own his part in where they were as a couple. Ultimately asking her to shoulder the responsibility of not only how they had gotten to this place of struggle, but also to be the one to fix it.

He certainly didn’t want to go to therapy or hire a coach. That would make him uncomfortable.

And so Jamie’s natural response sounded like this:

Why am I the only one trying here? Why is it all on me to fix this? Doesn’t he care? Does he care about my happiness? Does he care if I leave? And what exactly am I trying so hard to keep? Because right now, we don’t even seem to like each other.

Dr. Harriet Lerner, PhD shares in her book, The Dance of Intimacy: “Caring about relationships, working on them, and upgrading our how-to skills have traditionally been women’s domain. When something goes wrong, we are usually the first to react, to feel pain, to seek help, and to try to initiate change.”

We may not like that answer, but that’s where we (still) are today in many ways.

Why is this “Women’s Work?”

Why has tending to the health of the relationship traditionally been “women’s work?” There are some logical reasons in terms of how we got here, but now it’s time we grow beyond that.

We are one of the first generations where women do not NEED marriage. We might want marriage, but we do not need a man for providing for us financially or for social protection and acceptance.

Every past generation of women needed a man to some degree to feel safe, (physically, financially , socially and emotionally) so it was on us to make it work at all costs. This doesn’t mean that previous generations were happily married, it just means they didn’t have many other viable options.

Another very real reason that the health and well-being of the relationship falls into the realm of women is because women’s brains and hormonal responses are literally built for connection.

That’s why we notice when a connection is being broken and we go seeking answers in order to attempt to re-establish that connection.

According to Dr. LouAnne Brizandine, MD in her book, The Female Brain, “When a relationship is threatened, the bottom drops out of the female brain’s neurochemicals – such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin – and the stress hormone cortisol takes over. A woman starts feeling anxious and fearful.”

This means women actually feel the disconnection more quickly and are much more eager to repair the disconnection and regain social harmony.

Lastly, there was even a study (by Robert Josephs) at the University of Texas that concluded that women’s self-esteem is maintained by our ability to sustain intimate relationships, whereas men derive their self-esteem from their ability to maintain their independence. That fact alone tells us a great deal about why women are heavily invested in making a relationship work and men seem far less concerned.

Like any new awareness, once we can see the causes differently, we can approach the solution in a new and more productive manner. We cannot just stop at the idea that, “well that’s the way it is – women care more about relationships – so therefore it’s on them to do the work to maintain them – even at the cost of self-betrayal.” Because, my friends, there’s more to this story…

The New Male Incentive

Research has shown that men don’t do as well when not in a relationship as women do. The connection between social connectedness and mental health has been well documented and women tend to have stronger communities of support and friendship than men.

And according to the American Sociological Association, nearly 70% of all divorces today are being initiated by women – a staggering difference compared to only one generation ago. If the woman is college-educated, that number jumps to 90%.

Men now have more incentive than ever before to invest in their relationships and when they actively choose not to, they often find themselves on the receiving end of divorce papers. While women will always be physiologically and emotionally hard-wired for connection and they will always want their most intimate relationships to feel good, they are no longer required to shoulder all the responsibility and compromise to make that happen.

Whether you’re a man or a woman reading this, it’s time to think about and show-up to your marriages differently if you want them to last. I’m ready to help you evolve. The question is: Are you?