This chapter describes the current trends toward greater gender equality in couple relationships, what keeps old patterns of gendered power alive, and why equality is so important for successful relationships. Relationship vignettes like the ones just described are common. Sharing family and outside work more equitably is only part of the gender-equality story. Gender ideologies are replicated in the way men and women communicate with each other and influence the kind of emotional and relational symptoms men and women present in therapy. Stereotypic gender patterns and power differences between partners work against the shared worlds and egalitarian ideals that women and men increasingly seek. The concept of relationship equality rests on the ideology of equality articulated in philosophical, legal, psychological, and social standards present today in American and world cultures. The four dimensions of the relationship equality model are relative status, attention to the other, accommodation patterns, and well-being.
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This chapter explores the relationship between gender and power. Gendered power in couple relationships arises from a social context that has given men power over women for centuries. When practitioners fail to take account of social context, however, they may run the risk of inadvertently pathologizing clients for legitimate responses to oppressive experiences. The term gender is a socially created concept that consists of expectations, characteristics, and behaviors that members of a culture consider appropriate for males or females. Consequently, an individual’s ideas about gender may feel deeply personal even though they are a product of social relationships and structures. Strong social forces work to keep social power structures, including gender inequality, in place. The continued presence of gendered power structures in economic, social, and political institutions still limits how far many couples can move toward equality. Today, ideals of equality compete with the institutional practices that maintain gender inequality.
This chapter examines the cultural and relational contexts of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a debilitating, multidimensional mental health problem that affects 10"-15” of new mothers and has serious consequences for women, children, families, and marriages. Although women’s experience of postpartum depression has been the subject of considerable recent study, nearly all of this work has been interpreted within a medical or psychological frame. The chapter looks at a social constructionist lens to this body of research through a meta-data-analysis of recent qualitative studies of PPD. Though hormonal changes as a result of childbirth are related to depressive symptoms after childbirth, biological explanations alone cannot explain postpartum depression. A social constructionist approach to postpartum depression focuses on how the condition arises in the context of ongoing interpersonal and societal interaction. Climbing out of postpartum depression is an interpersonal experience that requires reconnection with others.
This chapter explains a set of guidelines to help mental health professionals and clients move away from the gender stereotypes that perpetuate inequality and illness. Identifying dominance requires conscious awareness and understanding of how gender mediates between mental health and relationship issues. An understanding of what limits equality is significantly increased when we examine how gendered power plays out in a particular relationship and consider how it intersects with other social positions such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. To contextualize emotion, the therapist draws on knowledge of societal and cultural patterns, such as gendered power structures and ideals for masculinity and femininity that touch all people’s lives in a particular society. Therapists who seek to support women and men equally take an active position that allows the non-neutral aspects of gendered lives to become visible.
This chapter provides insight into the dilemmas couples face when ideals of equality intersect with societal structures that maintain gendered power. It examines how Iranian couples construct gender and negotiate power within their culture, political structure, and Islamic values. Gender equality may express itself differently in a culture such as Iran that not only emphasizes collective goals and achievements, strong feelings of interdependence, and social harmony. Collectivism typically maintains social order through a gender hierarchy. Contemporary Iranian couples draw from diverse cultural legacies. Although some couples seemed to accept the traditional gender hierarchy and a few others appeared to manage relatively equally within it, other couples were quite aware of gendered-power issues and attempted to address them in their personal lives. Some couples describe trying to maintain an equal relationship in their personal lives despite men’s greater legal authority.
This chapter examines how 12 White, middle-class couples negotiated the issue of equality in their relationships during their first year of marriage. The social context both supports and inhibits the development of marital equality. To be included in the present study, complete transcripts with both the husband and wife present had to be available, both members of the couple had to express ideals of gender equality, and both had to express commitment to careers for wives as well as husbands. Most of the couples classified as creating a myth of equality, spoke as though their relationships were equal but described unequal relationship conditions. The other couples classified in the myth-of-equality category described similar contradictions between their ideals of gender equality and their behavior. Gender-equality issues raise political and ethical concerns for all of us who are family practitioners and teachers.
- Go to chapter: Carrying Equal Weight: Relational Responsibility and Attunement Among Same-Sex Couples
Comparison studies have long found that same-sex partners maintain more equal relationships than their heterosexual counterparts, largely because they do not divide roles and responsibilities based on gender. Thus the study of samesex couples offers the ability to examine the processes that create and maintain equality when gender differences do not organize couple relationships. However, same-sex partners emphasize the satisfaction of intimacy needs, rather than moral obligation or societal expectations, as their reason for maintaining the relationship. This primary focus on the relationship itself, which is also becoming more common among heterosexual couples, tends to be associated with egalitarian ideals that are not necessarily easy to translate into practice. A distinguishing characteristic of couples who were classified as demonstrating attuned inequality is the indebtedness that the benefiting partner feels to the other. Attuned couples describe conscious strategies for managing their relationships.
This book draws on in-depth research of couples in different situations and cultures to identify educational and therapeutic interventions that will help couples become conscious of and move beyond gendered power in their relationships so they can expand their options and well-being. Sharing family and outside work more equitably is a part of the gender-equality story. The book is divided into five parts. Part I of the book lays out the theoretical and methodological issues of gender equality that frame the book’s research projects and practice concerns. Chapters in this section frame the concept of gender equality and its role in promoting mutually supportive relationships. The second part examines the relational processes involved in equality between intimate partners. Traditional couples need help in defining the meaning of relational equality for themselves within external definitions of male and female roles. A chapter in this section is about same-sex couples and explores what happens when gender does not organize relationships. In Part III, two chapters look at how gender legacies and power influence mothering and fathering among parents of young children with a third showing how idealized notions of motherhood heighten and maintain postpartum depression after childbirth. The fourth part shows both similarities and cultural variation in power issues in different cultural settings. While one chapter considers how racial experience increases the complexities of gender and power in couple life, another discovers the considerable diversity in Iran by showing how couples work within a male-dominant legal and social structure that also includes a long cultural tradition of respect for and equality of women. Part V draws on the previous chapters to offer a guide for mental health professionals.
This chapter includes an extensive discussion of clinical implications for therapists working with couples from both collectivist and individualistic cultures. It discovers and articulates a framework for understanding the gender processes involved as couples develop dual-career relationships within a collectivist context. The traditional gender structure is deeply rooted within a collectivist culture. The internalized ideological structure consists of traditional ideals adopted through the influence of the collectivistic and societal norms. The internalized ideological structure comprises the socially embedded collectivist norms that these women and men have taken on to help them define what is appropriate for marital relationships. Collectivist norms endorse hierarchical ideas of male dominance and female subordination. There are some aspects of collectivist culture, such as the we-consciousness and valuing family that can help move couples toward more egalitarian relationships if their therapists validate these cultural strengths and help couples, especially men, tap into them.
This chapter demonstrates how transforming gendered power helps couples experience new, more egalitarian possibilities that support the well-being of each partner. Although gender equality is seldom the only important issue in couple therapy, it can be a fundamental basis from which other change can be mobilized. The chapter explores the essential elements of mutually supportive relationships and shows how unequal power derails them. It focuses on an in-depth case example to illustrate how gendered power differences can damage the emotional foundation of intimate relationships. Gendered power differences come into couple relationships in very subtle ways. Both women and men may fear that expressing aspects of self not consistent with gender stereotypes may be unacceptable and result in not being loved. Cultural gender expectations have left many men without good relationship skills. Stepping beyond gender stereotypes can make both partners feel uncomfortable.