Lady Chatterley writes of her frustration with the expression “happy wife happy life” and of the importance of being able to discuss marriage from all angles.
A few months ago at a wedding for a close friend, the groom’s father stood up and gave a genuinely warm and funny speech about the newlyweds that had the room in utter hysterics. At the end however, he turned to his son and, in the tradition of wedding speeches, offered his advice for a successful marriage. To paraphrase, his “advice” was something along the lines of the wife always being right, even when she’s wrong, followed by the tired cliché “happy wife happy life.” He then asked his son to put his hand on top of his new bride’s stating, “that’s the last time you’ll ever have the upper hand.” Hilarious. Or not.
I was reminded of this speech when I read Maggie Reyes’ piece here on the Good Men Project about the 19 Things Happy Husbands do. Reyes wrote: “build on pieces of happy every day. And before you know it, you’ll have a happy life and a happy wife.” That saying again. Facepalm. Yes, it’s often used in jest (although admittedly not in this case). But that doesn’t make it any less irritating.
I wholeheartedly agree with the central idea in Reyes’ piece that it’s the little things that go a long way when it comes to enhancing a relationship. Listening. Displays of kindness. An unexpected gift, just because. I also agree with the sentiments expressed by many of the commenters that having a good relationship takes two. A number of people in the Good Men community felt that Reyes focusing on what men could do to make their wives happy, placed the responsibility for the success of their marriage squarely on them. In Reyes’ defense though, nowhere did she state that it doesn’t take two. Her article simply focused on and shared the feedback from the wives surveyed on her ModernMarried Facebook page about what makes them happy. The Good Men Project is, after all, a website with primarily male readership so focusing on advice to husbands is hardly unexpected. I do wonder however, whether Reyes’ use of the ‘happy wife happy life” expression distracted from her core message: that it’s the little things that count.
It’s hard (impossible really) to argue against the idea that it takes two to build a successful relationship. The beauty of having ongoing conversations about marriage and relationships in general however, is the ability to look at them from all angles. From up and down, from inside and out. Highlighting what women can do to enhance their relationship doesn’t downplay the important role men have in making a relationship strong and resilient and vice versa. Focusing on husbands or wives individually, shouldn’t convey the assumption that the other party is simply a passive participant, is somehow less important, or is solely responsible for the success (or failure) of the partnership.
But happy wife happy life? Can we stop with this expression already? Can’t we accept that in a marriage, a proper,grown up marriage, the happiness of both parties is equally important. Marriage is about team work. Ideally, it’s about two individuals, both with their own needs, emotions, likes and dislikes, creating a new family and a life together.
Even though it is (usually) said in good humour, joking about losing the “upper hand” or saying “yes dear” for the rest of your life in order to keep the peace, surely doesn’t give marriage the kind of PR it deserves. If you’re constantly acquiescing to your wife, suppressing your own needs and opinions in order to maintain “the happy” then it’s likely symptomatic of deeper issues in the relationship.
Happy couple, happy life. Don’t you think?
Does Happy wife happy life describe your marriage? Does this expression irritate you too?
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