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Ever since Mr. FAF and I got married about three and a half years ago, it’s always been tug of war for power between us.
Maybe Mr. FAF just thinks I’m too independent and stubborn. I want to make most decisions by myself and control everything, especially when it comes to finances.
But for me, it means much for than that.
Where I come from
Growing up in a traditional family in Vietnam where I was constantly told that the husband is supposed to have the most power in a family, I found it so unreasonable that I wanted to rebel.
Why is it that the man always has the final say in everything?
Why is it that both the husband and the wife work full-time, but the husband has the luxury of enjoying himself when he wants, while the wife has to always worry about whether she’s done a great job taking care of the house?
In Vietnam, the husband can go to a karaoke and drink beer with his friends after work.
But the wife has to go straight home to pick up the kids, give them a bath, cook dinner, and wait for the husband to come home drunk so that she can do the honorable role of a wife: taking care of the drunken husband.
If he’s not at a restaurant laughing and talking with his friends, the husband goes home, turns on the TV, or reads a newspaper, leaving the wife to her own devices.
This is not traditions. It’s gender inequality and biases against women that society, including my family, has been trying to inculcate in my brain. I’m sorry, but I don’t want any of that.
The wife also has to handle all the finances, seeing if she can save $1 on an outfit or daily groceries while the husband can just blow up $200 on drinks and food with his friends just because he wants to show off his (imaginary) wealth.
In my family, whenever we have a big get-together where a lot of cooking is involved, the women always have to do grocery shopping, cook, serve all the men during the meals, and then do the dishes and cleaning up. What do the husbands do? They just sit there watching TV waiting for food to be served.
And the problem is that everyone thinks it’s ok and even encourages this type of entitled behavior. A woman is considered lucky if her husband doesn’t cheat on her despite all the abuse that he might do to her.
I know not every family is like that. But this general trend is usually accepted everywhere in Vietnam.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always wondered why all the women in my extended family work full-time and sometimes make as much as or more than their husbands, but they have to work another shift at home (cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, etc.).
People told me the happiness of a woman is to be able to take care of her husband and children. I think there’s a lot of truth to it.
But if a woman feels suppressed and depressed taking care of the family all by herself without her husband sharing any responsibilities, it’s exploitation. If society tells women that they should be happy about being exploited, then the problem lies with society.
What I see in America
After coming to America, I’ve been exposed to much more than what I had seen in Vietnam. Women are seen more as equal to men despite the existing wage gaps and gender-dominated occupations.
When a couple goes on the first date, the guy is expected to pay, but they will take turns paying or split the bills once they decide to go steady. When a couple gets married, they can still have their separate accounts to spend on their personal needs.
I know these are broad generalizations, but they’re still very different from the biases I see in Vietnam.
Equality in a marriage
Should the wife and the husband have an equal say in every decision?
I recently read about a Norwegian study that examined thousands of couples and found that those that shared equal housework had a higher divorce rate than those where the women undertook most of the chores.
The researchers explain that among modern couples, the women tend to be highly educated and have well-paid jobs. They can walk away from an unhappy marriage more easily than women in a traditional marriage who depend on their husband financially.
That makes me think about early retirement. When you are financially free, you’re no longer bound to a job that you hate. But when you need a monthly paycheck to maintain your current lifestyle, you tend to stick with that job no matter how much you hate or even detest it.
Being financially free enables us to choose the job that we like and stay with the husband we love. This is the key reason why I plan to work full-time if I have a choice.
I know a lot of women decide to be a stay-at-home mom, and I admire them for making such a big sacrifice for their family. As for me, my sense of insecurity and uncertainty tells me to stay in the workforce under any circumstances until I’m financially free.
I want to be financially independent to make the right decisions for myself and my children. I want to plan for anything that comes my way no matter how much I trust Mr. FAF.
Is everything in society organized as a pyramid where only one person can stay at the top?
The struggle to be equal
Theoretically, a married couple should make decisions together or compromise to reach a decision. In practice, does it mean each spouse has 50% of the power in the relationship? Can there be two leaders with equal power in an entity?
At a company, all of the employees have equal rights. But there’s a hierarchy with different levels of decision-making power with the CEO at the top.
In every country, whether a democracy or an autocracy, there’s always one leader (i.e. president, prime minister) that has the most power.
I started thinking about other entities in society (i.e. school, university, organization) and realized they all have someone sitting at the top. This pyramid structures adds stability and predictability to such entities.
In a marriage, if the husband and wife are always struggling for more decision-making power, there’s bound to be clashes and dissatisfaction. But if there’s one person, be it the husband or the wife, who has the utmost say in all or most decisions, there will be less deadlock in the decision-making process.
The couple can be an dictatorship where one person makes all the decisions for the family whether their spouse agrees or not. Alternatively, they can behave like a democracy where the husband or the wife consults their spouse, but only one person can make the final decision.
I have been trying over the past 3.5 years to be the person with the utmost power in a democratic marriage. Sometimes that drive takes a toll on our marriage.
After various clashes and episodes of frustration, I finally realized maybe it’s time for me to stop trying too hard (sometimes too aggressively) to be the leader in the family and trust Mr. FAF with his leadership.
I’ve always tried to control every little purchase Mr. FAF’s made since we got married. Most of the time I feel exhausted having to monitor and convince him to save more although he’s already a frugal person.
He always asks me about purchases over $20, so I should trust that he’s aware of our financial situation and only buys things he needs.
Sometimes my newlywed cousin asks me for marriage advice. But I have to be honest with her and tell her I’m still trying to find my way to a more happy marriage.
Most of the time, things are great between Mr. FAF and me. But when there’re disagreements, it can cause an extreme amount of stress and disappointment in our family.
After 3.5 years of being married to Mr. FAF, I have decided to not micro-manage everything and focus more on the big picture.
If there’s only one person who has the ultimate decision-making power, I will let Mr. FAF take on that role more often to see if it can yield the best outcomes and the most happiness for our family.
Do you think that a husband and a wife should always have an equal say in a marriage? If yes, how do we make sure that it works smoothly? I’d love to hear your thoughts.