Dear Dr. Alasko: I earn over twice what my husband makes. He's in the entertainment business and his schedule allows him to help with our two children, which I really appreciate. He protests that he doesn't resent my income but he does, and his resentment shows up in many small ways, such as grumbling comments like “it must be nice to go out for lunch whenever you want.” I'm so sick of his sniping that I sometimes consider leaving. Why can't he be thankful for what we have?

Dear Reader: Obviously your husband is struggling with some deep-seated sexist attitudes that threaten to destroy your marriage —- and your financial wellbeing. The sexist attitude at work here is that a woman is supposed to earn less than a man. And if she doesn't, his sense of masculinity is threatened.

Fortunately for society, sexism has been losing its noxious influence as gender roles have slowly but dramatically shifted. For instance, it's more and more common to see a man pushing a stroller, or carrying his infant while shopping.

By the way, women can also suffer from internalized sexism. A woman who sees herself as innately incapable of performing certain jobs due to her gender is struggling with deep-seated sexism. Insisting that men open doors for her is a milder form, but also indicative of her having absorbed rigid rules for each gender.

But when it comes a family unit, to the ability to enjoy a thriving career and earn good money, issues of which gender excels more must be irrelevant to the relationship. Otherwise the relationship itself becomes a container for the preservation of rigid, unfriendly gender roles.

In your case, I would guess that your husband grew up in a family with traditional gender roles and his beliefs about a woman's place being in the home — as well as a man’s place being out in the world winning more bread than anyone else in the family — became part of his unconscious attitudes about relationships. And perhaps after decades of those images lingering in his mind, he's unwilling to confront those destructive beliefs.

The big problem with sexism for men is that it can also be connected to their sense of masculinity. In practice he might believe that if he earns less money, he's also "less of a man." He’ll therefore interpret situations in which he’s reminded of his smaller relative financial contribution to the household as insulting to his manhood.

Of course the belief that men express manhood primarily in achieving financial potency is patently false. But once a man is caught up in it, it becomes difficult for a man and a woman to build a truly equal relationship. Each erroneous belief about masculinity, femininity and their “proper” expression reinforces the other.

Given all these threads of unspoken understandings going on, I’d advise you to handle it in a bit more safe and formal setting than you might with smaller, more transitory issues I suggest you make an appointment to talk with your husband. Ask for only ten minutes and choose a time when you're both rested. Make sure he understands it's a vitally important discussion to you. Limiting it to ten minutes tells him it won't be an endless harangue about his deficiencies that ends in a nasty argument.

In advance, carefully write out a 200 word (maximum) description of 1) the problem, and 2) what you want him to do, what exactly you want him to change. Be very specific.

At all times speak calmly. Then let it all go for a few weeks. Give him time to absorb the message. Any time he makes a small change, compliment him. Men can change their attitudes . . . but it transpires slowly.

The male psyche seems to resist input whenever it's too direct or seems forcibly imposed. The wisest way to effect change in a man is to present an idea, then back off and allow the idea to slowly sink in.

This method, by the way, of making an appointment, limiting the time spent in discussion, putting what you’d like to see change in writing, and practicing some patience in measuring the results can be of help in nearly any non-physically-threatening situation that’s troubling any two people committed to each other’s welfare.

About the Author

Carl Alasko

Carl Alasko, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond Blame (Tarcher Penguin), and like his first book Emotional Bullshit, it has been published in five languages.

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