‘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?

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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—because 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 are 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.

 

Photo: Flickr/vonderauvisuals

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About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.

Comments

  1. No matter how you phrase it, you better make sure the wife/partner is happy or you WON”T be. Years ago, when the wife and I had a disagreement on some appliances during a remodeling, my boss, about 20 years my senior at the time, offered what was probably the best advice ever. He said” to you, the home is where you go after you’re done making you’r way in the world. For her, the home IS the center of the world”. Go with her choice and you’ll be much happier, I gaurentee it!

    • So… by “best advice ever” you mean “best advice that assumes the man’s sphere is outside the home and the woman’s sphere is inside the home”… which is exactly the thing that doesn’t actually apply in a substantial way any more in most marriages, and the crux of the problem with the “happy wife, happy life” thing.

      • FlyingKal says:

        Well, if the paint scheme at home is totally non-negotiable for her, my only assumption is that it is, by default, important to her. For whatever reason.

        Any 1950’s spin you want to apply to that is totally in your head…

    • John Smith says:

      If your wife is making you unhappy because you don’t give in then the answer is not to start letting her have what she wants, but to seriously reconsider your relationship and to talk about it…

      That is such outdated and sexist advice. ” For her, the home IS the center of the world”… Shesh, thats almost “The wifes place is in the home”

  2. I couldn’t agree more! Dreadful mantra and I’ve never understood the appeal. (I say that as a woman who never would have thought of using that expression with my husband or anyone else.)

    Caring for one another. Exactly.

    But what do we do about the profusion of media sources spouting these sophomoric slogans so frequently that some begin to believe them?

  3. @ D.A Wolf

    The media doesn’t create it, they simply promote what they already know sells.

  4. A better mantra is “secure your own mask before trying to help others,” like on the airplane. If you’re not happy, you can’t help anyone else be happy, and trying to do so is the definition of co-dependence. Take care of yourself, then share the surplus joy and energy with your spouse, kids, etc…

  5. Let me be very post-modern and both agree and disagree. I have never, ever liked the phrase “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. it sounds (to me, just my opinion) very 1950s, and in any case privileges no one – it renders the husband an emasculated “wife pleaser” and the woman a mindless recipient of “being pleased”. I find that my old school guy friends are the ones who say this, and they say things like, “let your wife choose the paint color and the carpet when you re-model – it is way more important to her than you”. I think your reaction to this phrase depends on your view of gender roles. If you believe in so-called traditional gender roles then you probably like to take this approach – that making the little woman happy is important if you want to get what you want from the relationship. If you follow more recent definitions of gender and roles in relationships (as I do) you chafe at this statement, and prefer to see your partner — male or female — as your equal.

    • This is definitely a “where you’re at” argument. Some people still live and breathe by the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” thing, and it works for them. But I think it works for them because they want the kind of relationship where they think letting the wife choose the paint color makes her happy. And oh, sure – it does…in that decision, for that moment. But a deeper happiness is attained by both partners in asking “what do you want out of this marriage?”

      Then, of course, following through on it.

    • In changing gender definitions, so far women and men have mostly only looked at the female role. Challenging the male role has mostly been ignored, or even refused. And finally we’re slowly starting to see the price that so many people are paying for that, as well as the -rather hard- limits it places on striving towards equality.

      The “happy wife happy life” mantra being so present, isn’t just for people with outdated worldviews, it’s because an overwhelming majority of society actually beliefs that, and like the author pointed out : women play a leading role in that (effectively undermining equality).

  6. Brandi R says:

    Thought this was a very enlightening article, for those that have never said that phrase. My husband and I among those people. We’ve had friends say it, we have not. We are a true team and I loved this piece. I believe the only people who may have a problem, concern or dislike for the article…. Are the people committing solo acts in their relationships pretending to be a true “team”. There is nothing else to look into in this piece, unless you have an over exaggerated sense of self importance flaw, in which case you will not be able to appreciate the simplicity & truth in this article. Very well done, loved it.

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