By Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D.
Author of The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (HCI, 2013)
It is a painful fact that women who have challenged and overcome their girly thoughts in the boardroom are stymied by them in the bedroom.
As a psychologist, I am privy to many secrets. Most secrets are wrapped in shame, shared in a low, often choked, voice that indicates the great emotional and physical discomfort of the woman sharing them. But there is one secret I’ve heard for many years that is shared only in hushed tones, the woman’s head down and her face strewn with tears. One woman told me she had other friends who struggled with “this”; they even had a private club so they could talk about it without others knowing. Another shared that she knew her marriage could not last because of this secret. More recently, women are just angry. The secret?
These women were more successful in their careers and were making more money than their husbands, and the power imbalance they felt in their marriages were unbearable. So unbearable, in fact, that they felt the need to divorce.
Crazy? Who said our girly thoughts make sense when examined in the clear light of day?
Over the years, the number of women making more than their husbands has steadily risen; it is currently 40 percent, and that is a substantial number. The idea that a woman could be the primary wage earner was almost unheard of a generation ago.
So if 40 percent is such a good number, why don’t women feel empowered by their earning capacity? Why would a woman feel shame that her man is not making more money than she is? Why is she embarrassed, and why does this non-traditional situation create such discord in an intimate partnership that the only solution appears to be a divorce?
For some of us, the answer lies in our girly thoughts, the unconsciously accepted set of rules by which we live our lives. These girly thoughts tell us that we deserve to be taken care of, that we are only desirable if we are dependent on our husbands. When girly thoughts run the show, we believe there is something shameful in earning more than our husbands earn.
And we believe our girly thoughts, those nasty, sometimes unconscious, standards that we can never meet, even when doing so means we may divorce a man we love, The painful fact is that women who have challenged and overcome their girly thoughts in the boardroom are often stymied by them in the bedroom. The same women who push to be their best at work, who are willing to risk not being liked because they put their ideas and an important part of who they are “out there” feel unable to do the same in their most intimate relationship.
In my book, The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power, I discuss this particular resilience style, which I term paradoxical resilience. Women who have a paradoxical resilience style function like two different people: they use their resilience clearly in work but not at home. The career woman whose words and actions say “This is who I am; deal with it,” often finds it much more difficult at home to assert the same confidence. “I am a successful woman, and I love you” just doesn’t get shared in the same way.
The results? Poor communication that leads to resentment, and divorce becomes a painful but clear way out.
Change is confusing, particularly when we are altering what we expect from an intimate partner. Change is painful and scary when it occurs within a committed relationship and we are moving and wanting different things. Some of us cover our fear with anger, others with developing a new goal—divorce. But some of us step into the void that change creates and use our resilience to navigate our wants and needs to develop a new and vastly improved model of what we rejected. Rather than a woman’s success being a game ender, this can be a new beginning for a marriage.
The first step toward any change that occurs in our intimate relationships lies within. So dig deep and ask yourself what it is that you want, knowing that you can use your resilience to help you get there. If it is to end your marriage through divorce, or to create a new relationship with your husband, one that bucks current norms — then your resilience is there to support you, and to help you do this. The world is changing, and women are responsible for many of these changes. It is now time for each of us to change the unhelpful parts of our thinking—our girly thoughts—so they do not keep limiting us in any part of our lives.
Here is Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” — A beautiful song and appropriate to our conversation. Enjoy.