How Does Your Marriage Stack Up?

Today’s younger Philly couples are not only waiting longer to say "I do"; they’re dealing with a whole different set of issues than their parents—from Facebook-stalking to who gets to pick the love seat. Can marriage survive it? An intimate look at an institution in flux

“Equality creates more opportunity for conflict and power struggle, and men and women don’t deal with issues around power and control similarly,” says Rita M. DeMaria, a senior staff therapist at the Council for Relationships’ Spring House and Wynnewood offices. “If we’re partners, and each of us has a healthy self-esteem, then we also have a strong point of view. This is harder; you need more conversation. How do you share power?”

Chances are good that more women are wondering about this than men these days. The struggle to get guys to pitch in around the house has been surpassed. Now, to the horror of young wives everywhere, husbands want a say in what goes on around that house they’re helping to dust.

“The first time our young marriage got strange is when we went out to buy a couch,” says 28-year-old Rob, who lives in the city and has been married for a year. “Suddenly it’s our money, and we’re buying a couch together. I realized I needed to take her opinion. She didn’t expect me to care about a couch, and she was surprised that I had an opinion. But I know what I like. So what happened is, we just don’t decorate.”

One well-known paint company recently called a local therapist and asked her if she would consider being its “couples consultant,” because so many marrieds were having trouble when it came to redecorating their homes. Go ahead, bring up the topic of home decor—specifically paint—and everyone seems to have a story.

“I remember when I was painting my son’s bedroom,” recalls Steve. “The neon blue gives you a headache; it’s like a tanning booth, it’s so bright. She didn’t like it, but I said, ‘Here’s the deal. It’s going to take days to fix it, and I’m not going to do it.’ I know the next people who buy this house will walk into this room and throw up.”

Beyond what seem like superficial quibbles, therapists note most couples still face many familiar issues—sex, communication and money, especially—albeit filtered through a new equality and a growing reverse inequality. With more women finishing college and earning more in the workplace, and more men laid off in the latest recession, or mancession, labels like “alpha wife” have surfaced. In 1970, four percent of husbands had wives who made more money; in 2007, 22 percent did. In fact, money is one area where couples who fancy themselves trés progressive might stumble. According to the Pew/Time poll, 67 percent of people think it important that a man be able to support his family; only 33 percent hold women to the same standard. “I’d like to say I’d be totally cool with it, but I know I would feel like less of a man,” Rob says of the idea of his wife outearning him.

For now, many young marrieds take the practical route of keeping some, if not all, money separate. Anne says that while she and Matt pool their money to pay household bills, they each keep individual bank accounts as well, a practice that’s common among her friends. If they put their money in one big pot, she says, “I’d lose my mind.”