Pepper Schwartz describes equality as the deliberate 'desire to be neither the oppressor nor the oppressed."

How to Negotiate Equality in a Marriage

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Marriage may be trivialized and sometimes devalued in our society, but striving toward a more balanced relationship can lead to a successful and satisfying future with your spouse. There are many benefits of an egalitarian marriage, such as greater intimacy and a committed friendship. The work that must be done to achieve equality in your marriage is ongoing and may be tedious, but it is a rewarding investment.

Gender Roles & Norms

Traditional gender roles dictate that women manage the household, care for the children and passively meet the needs of their families. Conversely, men are expected to be tough, assertive and in charge of their households. In their study on the construction of equality in new marriages, Carmen Knudson-Martin and Anne Rankin Mahoney examine gender constructs and warn that, "in spite of the rhetoric of equality, men have more power and resources in American society than women, and this fact continues to structure marital relationships." Look at the ways in which you and your spouse subscribe to gender roles and how this affects the distribution of power in your relationship.

Defining Equality

Equality can mean a 50/50 partnership regarding household duties, parenting and financial responsibilities. But in "Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works," Pepper Schwartz contends that what is more important is that you and your spouse share equal influence over planning and important decisions. Each person's contribution to the family should also be given equal value. For instance, if you are the breadwinner and your spouse accomplishes the majority of the housework, you both contribute equally.


Active negotiation requires open communication. Knudson-Martin and Rankin Mahoney contend that egalitarian relationships are attributed largely to a "shared willingness to work through an issue, even when emotions are high." They report that it is often women who raise the issue of equality and warn that, because the male gender role is considered the more dominant, he especially must commit to truly practicing equality. You should not be doing this work on your own. If you find that your spouse rarely participates in discussion or is resistant to contributing beyond what his traditional gender role suggests, attaining an equal partnership is unlikely.

Egalitarian Parenting

Marc and Amy Vachon, authors of "Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents," recognize the impossibility of splitting children down the middle. They instead encourage collective decision-making regarding all things involving the kids, as well as spending time with the children individually. By doing so, "both become experts and both get to know their children emotionally and practically. When one parent leaves, the other is not an understudy who needs instruction or reminding." This technique relieves the burden of being primary caregiver while allowing the children to observe the different ways in which each parent completes day-to-day tasks, handles crisis and approaches life in general.

Financial Matters

Schwartz has found that in equal partnerships, both parties have "equal control over the family economy and reasonable equal access to discretionary funds." Whether you and your spouse have a separate income and bank account, or whether you share a pot of money filled by a sole breadwinner, discuss how money will be budgeted and spent, as well as future financial planning. Each of you contributes to the functioning of the family in valuable ways, creating a balance that enables one another to fulfill your duties. Because money tends to denote power, this balance should extend to your wallets.



  • Couples, Gender, and Power: Creating Change in Intimate Relationships; Carmen Knudson-Martin and Anne Rankin Mahoney

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

Photo Credits

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