Patriarchy Is Impacting Divorce

It is much harder to have women's rights conversations at your kitchen table.

Posted Dec 21, 2020

Wisma Urcine on Unsplash
Source: Wisma Urcine on Unsplash

My client plopped down on the couch in my office and said, “You aren’t going to believe this, Dr. Cohen. I went to the Women’s March in Washington in 2017 but, I know nothing about our family finances because my ex dealt with all of it.”

She then burst into tears. She shared her feelings of humiliation that when her financial divorce consultant asked her to submit a budget of her monthly expenses she drew a blank.

She had been working for over 10 years in a high paying job but had no idea of her family’s overall financial health.

My client is not alone; thousands of women have this experience. The psychologist and author Valerie Rein, Ph.D., recently shared with me that while women might feel comfortable standing up for women’s rights outside the home, it is much harder to have these conversations at your kitchen table. Dr. Rein explains that this reticence is a result of suffering from Patriarchy Stress.

Dr. Rein explains that such stress "is the intergenerational, collective, and personal trauma of oppression that gets triggered every time women think of doing something that has been historically forbidden and dangerous for women — speaking up, making lots of money, choosing our own partner, stepping into our power — as a woman in business, as a woman who owns her sexuality and her beauty.”

Of course, this fear of stepping into personal wealth is not conscious. As Dr. Rein explains, it is based on years of conditioning that directly impacts how women’s bodies feel around power and money. 

For example, my client spent most of her day closing big deals for her clients. She was cognitively comfortable talking about money and negotiating. When I asked her how she felt in her body when she was at work she said she felt strong and capable. However, when she went home and talked to her partner about a trip she wanted to go on she reported feeling tight in her chest and having some trouble swallowing. She felt this way regardless of how her partner had responded. 

When the body feels uncomfortable, most of us ignore it and move on to something more comfortable. This makes sense. As women, we have many things competing for our attention, we must, in that moment, apply cost/benefit analysis. Is it the best use of my energy to examine why I feel uncomfortable talking about money with my partner or should I warm up dinner for the kids? Guess which one wins every time.

Dr. Rein describes turning away from financial power in a relationship as “taking a bite of the patriarchy poison apple.” My client subconsciously thought that the family’s money was the responsibility of her partner and connected to intergenerational trauma messaging that it's dangerous when women take ownership of money. 

If we have a history of being told that as women we should simply follow along and not step into our financial power then it makes perfect sense that when a marriage ends we are flooded with what we have lost financially as we wake up to what we were sleeping through. 

This pattern tends to play out under our conscious radar, it’s not our fault or shortcoming. Based on the genetically transmitted survival instructions from the generations before us, our subconscious is trying to keep us safe. But in today’s world, the result is often the opposite of that. Dr. Rein shares that while she was really good at saving, managing, and growing her money before her marriage, once she stepped into her union she fell asleep at the financial wheel. When they separated, she was shocked to discover that she had no money, even though she had been making a good living.

Because of patriarchy’s influence on our tendency to avoid our wealth-building abilities we won’t suddenly know how to tolerate feelings of discomfort that come up around wealth. However, as Dr. Rein explains, “Until we heal it, it keeps running the show, frying our nervous systems that are perpetually in overdrive, because we are constantly pushing ourselves to do things that our subconscious feels is unsafe.”

Are you ready to learn how to release the power of Patriarchy Stress over you?

Notice this stress in your life. Begin to notice those moments when you stop yourself from speaking, asking, or reaching out. Pay attention to the sensations in your body the moment you hold yourself back. Do you hold your breath? Do you tighten your jaw?

Write down the “I don’t do that” list. Take a moment to write down the things you tell yourself you can’t or don’t do well. Take your time with this exercise. This is not to shame you, but rather to challenge your thinking. Take a moment and notice how you feel in your body. Now, put a little P next to all those things women have been told forever they cannot do. Start looking at how patriarchal messaging has impacted you.

Connect and move your body daily. Patriarchy Stress creates heightened activation in the nervous system. It keeps women in perpetual fight, flight, or freeze. The best way to release these responses is by connecting and moving your body every day. As I have said many times, you do not have to engage in structured exercise. You can dance to music that moves you. You can pay attention to your hands when you are washing the dishes. You can notice the sensation of your mug against your hand as you sip your tea. Simply bring your body into your awareness. The more you befriend your body the more likely you will notice when it is triggered by Patriarchy Stress and you can help it settle. 

We all wake up when we get divorced. We all notice the places where we were sleeping in our marriages. This discovery is an opportunity to understand why sleeping was adaptive and to begin to question whether you can slowly wake up. Patriarchy Stress leads women to feel a deep sense of what Dr. Rein calls “worth-less-ness.” This is not an internal failure, but rather the effect of marinating in this stress for years. Allow yourself the patience, time, and grace to heal. You are so incredibly worth it.


For more on this check out Dr. Rein’s book “Patriarchy Stress Disorder.”