Monica: I just want to start this whole interview off with a thank you. Thank you for the work that you both do, and for being here together, it’s such an honor!
Let’s talk about the topic. We see this come up a lot in the women all of us serve together, this power dynamic that we have within partnerships. We’re going to talk specifically about marriages today. We all have dynamics in marriages, but there tends to be one more about power. I've learned so much from both of you about how to increase partnership in marriage, and that is our topic today. But we can’t talk about that without first talking about that power dynamic. Dr. Julie Hanks, let’s start with you and just talk about what does this power dynamic typically look like in your clients and where might it come from?
Dr. Julie Hanks: There’s a lot of variety, but there is a pattern that most (if not all) of us have inherited, where the man is the head of the household. Whether we actually consciously believe that or not, we’ve inherited this assumption that the man is somehow in charge. That can be very subtle, it can look like prioritizing his career over hers, or his education over hers, or his leisure time over hers, or his opinions. So, it can be sometimes overt, but sometimes really subtle. It comes from the way that we organize in our society in general, toward patriarchy.
Patriarchy--that word is a trigger for some people, but that word is not talking about men, it’s talking about a system of organization where men are privileged above women and men are in charge. So it’s a system, it’s not the men. I love men, sometimes I’m accused of not liking men, I love men. Patriarchy hurts men and women, and it really impacts the marriages that I’ve seen in my practice.
Monica: We hear that term patriarchy, and a lot of us can have strong reactions to it either way, like big reactions to it. But there’s still an imbalance when you’re trying to move outside of that patriarchal power dynamic in marriage.
I think one of the things that helps to start is to just look at the pain that it’s causing for everyone. And Jennifer, you did an interview with me years ago, and I’ve never forgotten how you talked about how women are more developed in ways that men are not because of this dynamic and vice versa. So talk a little bit more about that.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: First of all, society has evolved a lot, because when you’re in a system where you literally can’t own property--you can’t vote, you have no rights, you can’t get divorced--I mean, you think about some of the places where legally women have been we’re in a much, much better situation legally or in terms of the structures of society. But emotionally, as Julie was saying, these things are often still inherited and we learn a way of thinking. If you grow up watching Cinderella, you learn a way of thinking that the woman kind of slides underneath the man. And the man learns a way of thinking about who he’s supposed to be. And when we’re immature in our development, we naturally create hierarchies. It’s a way of trying to earn a sense of self through the other person. So, you can get inducted into that narrative of growing up and depending on somebody, because it lowers your anxiety.
It’s this idea that, if I find someone who will love me and accept me and care for me and provide a life for me, and think I’m wonderful . . . what’s the downside? It’s like, I want that, you know?
And for the masculine version of it, or the male version, it’s “I want to be the strong one. I want to be the one that’s providing. I want her to adore me and be grateful for the things that I offer to her.” The reason it appeals is it’s a way of earning a sense of self through the other person. So it’s where most people start. And it’s why people buy in emotionally into hierarchy.
The thing is you can also buy into the idea that the husband is in charge and a lot of smart women figure out how to still get on top in that system. You can sort of be like, “Well, I’m the needy dependent one. Therefore you owe me and you’re doing a crap job of it!” You can find ways to be the dominant person or to get the marriage to revolve around you.
But it’s costly if you stay locked in it, or if you think it’s the ideal, because it interferes almost unequivocally with desire, which is kind of the main focus of my work. It interferes with development because when your sense of self is walking around outside of you, you have a hard time liking that person. You have a hard time genuinely caring for them. You’re relating to them more as somebody who manages how you feel about yourself. And it also keeps you from developing other aspects of who you are--your capacity to provide for yourself or to handle yourself in the world or your ability to be vulnerable, open, and knowable.
When you ask men to always be strong, there’s no latitude. There’s no room for them to be insecure or uncertain, so they often have to do a lot of masking to manage their sense of self.
Monica: So there’s a lot of gaps here, a lot of gaps within the day to day structure of our marriage, you know, who does what, but also a huge gap in terms of intimacy and being together, really truly together, as well as on an individual basis of lacking that development.
And we want more mature marriages. We want to be more developed people. We want more developed families. As you’re describing the costs that are paid, I feel like the flip side of that are also the benefits that can come with a partnership marriage. And so Dr. Hanks, what are we looking for?
We’re going to talk more about what it looks like, but why should someone even want more partnership in their marriage? Especially if the level they’re at right now seems to be working fine.
Dr. Julie Hanks: I think what Jennifer said is beautiful about development. So, if the goal in life is growth, eventually you’re going to get to a point where hierarchy in your marriage stops growth. Healthy development is about integration. So it’s about men integrating their vulnerability, their sensitivity, their emotional connection, and women integrating strength and ambition. Having all of that in each person is the goal of a healthy adult.
And so the benefit is that you get to become a full-grown adult with a variety of ways of being in the world, where you aren’t limited to just playing a role. You get to be authentically who you are and express that in a variety of ways.
And then you can model it for your children. You can model what equality looks like, what respect looks like, what partnership instead of hierarchy looks like, where both people are prioritized, both of their needs are considered, and you can model that. And that’s what changes things for the entire culture--parents modeling a new way of being for their children.
Monica: So partnership, if I’m hearing you right, doesn’t mean we’re going into full role reversals. It’s not like we’re just going to do a switcharoo, or downplay the different strengths that both people can bring because of their unique perspectives of being a woman and being a man; it's more about prioritizing needs on an equal level.
Dr. Julie Hanks: Right. It’s also not about dividing up tasks 50/50. That’s what people often misunderstand in partnership. So I always say, “it’s not who does what, it’s who decides who does what, and whose work is valued, and whose time is valued.” So you can have a partnership family that looks very traditional in terms of roles, but both people are equally valued, have access to resources, and access to decision-making power, to pleasure, etc.
So it’s not just about who does what, it's a structural shift in power.
Monica: That’s huge. I think that’s going to shift a lot in terms of what women think about partnership and how it can play out. Jennifer, what about you? What do you think about how you would define partnership?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I love what Julie was saying there because it’s exactly that where a lot of my clients go, which is “you should be loading the dishwasher half the time,” that kind of thing. And I can understand why people might start there. And oftentimes you do have to kind of address some of these more mundane things, but I like the idea of it being about who gets to decide.
A word I use a lot with clients is collaboration. A couple that can collaborate is able to address the challenges in their lives--whether it’s a challenge with the child, how they provide for the family, how they raise their children, how they have a good sexual partnership--and both person’s perspectives and desires are valued in that conversation. And that you bring the best from each person in that, in order to create something stronger and better. So it allows you to bring your strengths to the conversation, to address your liabilities in that conversation, but you’re trying to create something synergistic through how you each participate, and you can’t do it through devaluing one systematically in the conversation.
Monica: I’m thinking back before we first had kids, I remember thinking, “Brad and I are gonna split all the duties. He’s getting up at night just as often as I am…” and I was breastfeeding and I learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t going to work out. And I think that’s because I was at a different stage of development within my own maturity, my own sense of self. I was going from more surface ways of being able to be a bean counter within the tasks in our home, instead of what you just described and Dr. Hanks too, about the meeting of minds and of strengths and collaborating and this way where everyone gets valued.
And that’s the goal here. I want to talk more about those who are at that place that I was at before we first had kids, but first, let’s talk about obstacles. We’ve kind of covered a little bit of it being just tradition or mindset. It could also be people within a partnership disagreeing about what that looks like. Jennifer, let’s start with you in this one, what do you see as obstacles with your clients? What is getting in the way of this meeting of minds and this collaboration that we’ve been discussing?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, one is the lack of courage. I know it sounds a little bit strange, but there’s often an upside to your non-collaborative position.
That’s scary to let go of. It’s easier to resent your devalued position than to actually level up and claim a position of self-valuing and stay in a conversation, not aggressively, but not as a doormat either, and actually work out a different arrangement. Because that means more exposure of yourself, more exposure of your desires, more willingness to tolerate the inherent conflict.
It’s easier to resent your spouse for not valuing you than to value yourself enough to stand up for something that needs to be addressed. So I think a real obstacle is shifting in your own view of yourself.
I think an obstacle is staying steady enough to keep your eye on the prize. There’s a couple I’m working with, where they have had chronic desire challenges, and he never feels desired. And so sometimes he’ll come in, supposedly wanting a better sexual relationship, but then doing something that kind of digs at her as a way of managing his sense of self.
So he doesn’t keep his eye on the goal of creating something good for the two of them. Where she gets vulnerable is that she can now use that to say, “Well, you’re not very desirable,” and there’s some truth in it, but she can also use it to kind of push him down rather than looking towards what they are trying to create?
And that’s so comfortable in the beginning, that it’s easy to indulge it, but it will undermine the ultimate growth of the partnership and make it difficult to create something that’s freer and happier for both people.
Monica: That one up, one down position that you’ve talked about on the show in the past--I feel like martyrdom as women tends to be like this weird upside. It’s almost like a twisted upside, maybe because we’re used to it, maybe because we see some advantages in it, and even just staying safe in it.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, it’s a way of hiding and it’s a way of getting a corrupt sense of superiority. And often we come by it honestly, we’ve often watched a parent do it. It’s a tempting one.
Monica: You know, Julie, you’ve talked about martyrdom a lot with women. I’m sure that’s one of the big obstacles. You can talk more about that or any others that you see getting in the way of this partnership?
Dr. Julie Hanks: What comes to my mind are the larger social obstacles.
There is the expectation that men do certain things and women do certain things and women have moved into the workforce more readily than men have moved into the home front. And so there’s a large imbalance in workload because even when both couples work full time, women tend to do the bulk of the unpaid work.
And even when there’s a stay-at-home dad and a working mom, often the bulk is still on the woman. So there’s this resistance to men doing unpaid work. Mostly because it’s not valued in our society. Unpaid work is not equally valued in our society and that’s a huge barrier.
Because nobody wants to do it, and society has assigned women to do the less valuable work. And so we need to reframe paid work and unpaid work as equally valuable and recognize that time spent taking care of a sick child is just as valuable as time spent leading a multi-million dollar corporation.
And we have a hard time seeing that. These are some societal barriers to creating partnership at home. These larger societal expectations get in the way.
Monica: Well, that makes so much sense. I just finished reading this book called Invisible Women. Have you read that book?
Dr. Julie Hanks: It’s one of my favorites, I recommend it all the time. It’s heartbreaking.
Monica: Oh, I felt it was both heartbreaking and maddening. I thought of both of you as I was reading the whole thing. But even, you know, the GDP made the choice on purpose to not include unpaid labor.
And so it makes sense as this has been coming from all directions and it becomes so internalized to the point where we’re almost saying no, this is the standard and we want to hold up the standard. But now let’s speak to the women who are ready for more.
I mean, those who are ready for more intimacy and more connection, more value, more collaboration, more strength. I mean, the list goes on and on. Where do they start? It’s overwhelming. Any go-to tips, Dr. Hanks?
Dr. Julie Hanks: Oh, where to start? It really depends on where they are.
A lot of times it starts with education, like the education about unpaid labor and paid labor. Education about invisible labor, the mental and emotional labor, about development like Jennifer was saying.
So there’s kind of this education process where paradigms are shifting and they can see things that they haven’t seen before. So, often I start with educating about different concepts and different ways of thinking about your relationship and the part that you play in it.
Monica: You know, that’s the part that I think it’s easier to be stuck than to see. . . I mean, we just talked about that book, it was heartbreaking to be educated! It’s a barrier for sure, but that makes total sense, you’ve got to start there. Knowledge is power. Anything to add to that Dr. Finlayson-Fife?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I’m just thinking about that idea because until you can see it, you can’t change it and, and you can’t recognize its impact. A lot of women feel that they are in this one down position and they’ve just taken it as “there’s something wrong with me.”
Monica: Yeah, it feels like a lack of choice.
You’ve both talked about that.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I remember talking to my dad who was saying, “I just don’t understand feminism or this whole critique. It doesn’t make any sense.” And I borrowed that Eloise Bell essay that was written back in the nineties or the eighties, where she was talking about going to church and imagining seeing on the stand all women, and the men with their diaper bags and their children. And the women were passing the sacrament, and Mother in Heaven and her daughter who came down, and just so I was explaining that story to my dad and then I remember saying to him, you know, “and on Thursday night there’s going to be a homemaking on depression for the men,” and my dad started to laugh because there was sort of this recognition that there’s this downward pressure that’s very hard to see it. And it comes out in your mental health.
And so it can feel like I’m broken when you’re not, but I think a place to start more on the interpersonal level, or within yourself is to look for this one-down feeling and to understand it as an expression of a relationship dynamic rather than something individual and specific to you. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do when you’re dependent on everybody else, per se, but that this isn’t about you being broken, you're in a system that’s broken.
Another thing to look at is where are my resentments?
Sometimes women will say to me, “I don’t know what I want. I never think about what I want. I have no practice in it.” And I’m sure that’s absolutely true, but a lot of times your desires get expressed in the perverse form of resentment when there’s no room for your desires. So if you can look at your resentments, they’re trying to express something. Your depression is often trying to express something that is not being acknowledged and looked at and addressed. And so the body is actually in response, the resentment is a response.
In resentment are the keys to what you want, the things that you need more courage to address. Sometimes resentment is just indulgent. Sometimes it’s just about being a martyr and not taking responsibility for the choices that you have made. But often there’s something that needs to be addressed with more courage, more honesty until you can work out something that you really can live with and be comfortable with. And again, it takes courage often because the system’s not going to applaud you for it, but it is the pathway to more health and to a better marriage. Marriages do very badly under that resentment system.
Monica: You know, we’re definitely moving into this with the end goal in mind of what we deeply want, which is better marriages and stronger families. So we start with education, we move into impact to kind of see how am I impacted by this? And I love that trigger to pay attention to--where am I resentful?
Julie, what do you think is next?
Dr. Julie Hanks: I think it’s identifying what you think, feel, want, and need, and expressing that in your relationship in your marriage. But it takes work to be able to look inside because women are often socialized to look outside and take care of others.
To practice looking inside. I tell my clients, at any moment, to just stop and ask, “what do I think, feel, want, and need?” And then, “Who can I share that with?”
And in marriage, you need to be asking for things, right? So if you’re feeling overwhelmed with something, if you’re thinking, “I feel overwhelmed by parenting. I need you to step up in these ways” and be able to start that dialogue of open communication and knowing yourself and what you want.
Monica: We’re getting some clear steps here. Education, look at the impact, get real about what you want and need and start to express that. Now let’s talk about one big obstacle, which is kind of the elephant in the room...an unwilling partner on the other side to this.
I’m actually just going to read you a DM I received, because I’m doing this little challenge right now about women, just like a self care challenge. So I’ll just read this to you, this woman said “I’ve recently realized that none of my needs are being met and it’s definitely affecting my daily attitude and relationships. I tried talking to my husband and after implementing a few ideas and now he says I’m acting high maintenance. It’s such a fine line of putting yourself first and attending to the kids and the house and appearing high-maintenance while trying to attend to the kids and house.” I would love for you two to address this.
So what do they do if they’re meeting resistance after they’ve expressed some needs and either the changes are not happening or the needs themselves are being criticized. And we’ll start with Jennifer and then we’ll go to Julie.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: There are so many layers. Let me just get this as simple as I can.
I think that what I hear in her question is that the locus of control is outside of herself. I’m not going to deny that if you have a spouse that is unwilling to confront their role in taking advantage of you, you’re in a tough spot. So, I’m not pretending anything different than that. And the question that comes into my mind is, is the husband saying you’re high maintenance because he’s trying to be dismissive and keep a change from happening that he doesn’t want to be bothered with? If that’s true, he doesn’t really want a partnership. He just wants a woman that will back up his show.
Or is she saying to him, “you have to provide me my happiness.” This is what I’d be trying to figure out if I were sitting with the two of them.
Basically, is she doing something that’s extracting from others, as opposed to really standing up for something different and better. Now, again, this doesn’t guarantee a spouse who’s willing to go along, but the most important thing is that you’re shifting something in relationship to yourself and your own desires and your own legitimacy. And you are holding onto that in front of your partner. If you’re waiting for them to grant it, you may wait for a long time.
See, we teach people how to relate to us. We teach people how much respect to give us based on how we relate to ourselves in front of them. And you can be resentful all day long about the respect you don’t get from others, but you have enormous control over how you are treated by how you relate to yourself.
So I would be of course looking at the larger dynamic because if you have somebody who’s always pushing down on you, that’s important to see because it may be very hard to address this within yourself, but that’s where she needs to stay focused is on her relationship to her own self and her own dignity.
Monica: Yeah, it is such a hard balance, because like you said, the flip side is waiting for someone else to meet the needs. You also can’t do that all by yourself, but I think even good marriages that both want this end goal of stronger partnerships face this discomfort, right?
So, Julie, what, what else can we add to this?
Dr. Julie Hanks: The one thing I help a lot of clients with is being able to tolerate other people’s discomfort and dissatisfaction and disapproval. And so, if I were working with that woman along with everything Jennifer said, I would say, “So what? He thinks you’re high maintenance, does he get to define you? Can you still keep doing what you need to do, even if he thinks that?” And I would kind of explore because in that, “he thinks I’m high maintenance” she’s giving her self-worth and her self-definition to her husband. And he doesn’t deserve that.
I mean, we are in charge of that, like Jennifer was saying. You do what you need to do. And you keep going and showing him, this is important to me. Because everyone resists change in a family system.
People who want to make healthy changes are often punished in some way or resisted in some way. And so I would help her understand that yeah, this is gonna be really uncomfortable for him. And can you let him be uncomfortable because it’s going to help you grow and it’s going to help him.
Monica: That’s so beautifully said, both of you. I think that gives us a lot of starting points. And I think we’re just going to come home back to what you both have mentioned is starting by valuing yourself. And even though that seems so abstract, that really is the root of this, right?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Sometimes I say that self-respect is something you do more than something you feel. Like you feel it later.
You have to do courageous things on your behalf, even if you question that you are worthy of it. Because the feeling is something you’re accustomed to feeling, but it’s an act of courage to do something that really will benefit you--just like you do for a child. You do so many things for children. The acts of love are things you’re doing more than feeling. When I got up at 2:00 AM, I never felt like it, but it was an act of respect and love for the child. And I think it is towards ourselves also. A lot of times that can help because the feelings trail behind it. And so it takes courage to change these dynamics and you find resistance in others.
I’ve seen people in my life get stronger and I find resistance in myself. And I am ashamed of it, but it’s true because it means I have to grow also and I don’t want to grow anymore. I’m comfortable. So we find resistance in ourselves and in others and that’s just normal. And I think the more you can see and accept that, you can tolerate it better--it comes along with the development that’s coming.
Monica: That’s bringing to mind this little situation I had with Brad. I’m really lucky in so many ways, but we’re working on him saying what he thinks. We have kind of a role reversal problem that way. And like one time he did, and I was like, “how dare you? How dare you say what you actually think?” and I had to stop and be like, oh, I asked you to do this!
It’s stretching both sides of the partnership, and it’s going to be uncomfortable and it’s going to take time.
So if, if we want to help them know where to start, Julie, what can people do to get started on this.
Dr. Julie Hanks: I go back to education. Start reading books about partnerships. Start reading books about systems and about relationships, and start educating yourself. So you can see and have the language to put around these intangible experiences and dynamics. I think that that can be very helpful, especially if both parties are reading the same kinds of things and able to talk about it.
Secondly, I would say conversations. In my own marriage, this partnership conversation has been going on for 32 years, from the day that we got married. Mostly led by me, questioning, “How come we’re doing it this way? Well, wait, how come this is my job? Wait, how come?” and just having that dialogue just constantly going on. “How are you feeling? How does it feel? Does this feel equitable? Oh, I’m overwhelmed. Okay. Let me pick up this more here.” And being able to grow together. So just having the ongoing conversation.
Monica: That’s wonderful. Thank you. And Jennifer, what about you? What would you say?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I think the more you can see your part in your relationship dynamic, the more you can change it because we’re so often in an equilibrium that we can’t even see how what we do creates the likelihood of our spouse doing the frustrating thing that they do, which makes us do the thing we do.
When you’re in it it’s so hard to see it, you can see it in your friends more easily, in how they might interact, but it’s harder to see in yourself. So getting a wise third party, whether that’s a coach or a counselor or a good friend, or even to your spouse. Just ask, “I see that we do this, what do you think my role is in it?” And then you try not to get defensive and say, “how dare you” when the answer comes. You’re trying to increase your intelligence but it hurts. It’s always uncomfortable to see yourself differently than you’ve seen yourself, but that’s where all the possibility is.
Looking for ways to expand your map of the territory that you’re operating within will liberate your ability to make new choices and create new realities.
Monica: Oh goodness. Both of you have really just increased this idea in my mind that it’s so worth it to get uncomfortable. It’s so hard, but it’s so worth it. So I love that you’re both starting with let’s get clear on this. I actually have two great recommendations on where people can start with education--you both have incredible podcasts! Jennifer, yours is brand new, let’s start by hearing about your new podcast.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife:
I just started a new podcast called Room for Two where I’m doing couples coaching with couples (anonymously) who are bringing their stories around exactly these kinds of issues and I give my input. It’s just another way to look at these principles that I’ve talked a lot about on the other podcast and for listeners to watch them get applied in real stories and real situations. I think it’s another way for people to be able to see themselves and to make those concepts a little more understandable in the day-to-day of life. It’s been a lot of fun so far, actually, it’s been really a fun way to let people have a free coaching session, get some input, but also share their story with other people.
Monica: Well, I’m so excited for you, but I’m more excited for me and everybody else that we get that peak in. And you also have amazing courses and we’ll link to those, but I would encourage the women to start with “The Art of Desire.”
Julie, let’s tell you about your podcast and you’ve got a new membership group too, and some courses as well.
Dr. Julie Hanks: Ask Dr. Julie Hanks is a coaching session, it’s generally with individuals and it’s really about the process of understanding yourself, expressing and identifying your own needs and values, and how to communicate in relationships. So women’s self-development is the theme. I also have a book, The Assertiveness Guide for Women, that has a lot of self-reflection exercises if you want to get to know yourself a little bit better. And then I also have a membership, the Dr. Julie Hanks membership, where each month we dive into a theme and you have access to all of my courses, access to a live Q and A, downloads, and journal prompts based on that theme for the month and a private Facebook group.
So that’s been just a lot of fun to be able to work with more people and make a difference.
Monica: Yeah, that community feel really makes a big difference.
So my friends, I could talk to you two all day and this topic alone. I think we could probably speak for another two hours, but I am so grateful you took the time to be here, and thank you very much.