When you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone, knowing what kind of relationship the two of you want to have is an exciting choice you can make together. Where will you live? Do you hope to expand your family with pets or children? What are your short- and long-term goals, both individually and as a couple?
For many people, having a feminist marriage is important. And if you’re one of the many couples that will tie the knot this summer, it’s critical to think about how to start out on the right foot as newlyweds. A feminist marriage can look different in practice for every couple and family, so we asked five experts how they recommend making it work for you.
Focus on teamwork.
“By ‘teamwork,’ I mean sharing all that it takes to run a relationship and a family,” said Dr. Jenni Skyler, a sex, family, and relationship therapist at The Intimacy Institute. “This does not need fall into specific gender roles. For instance, in my family, I run our business and all the finances and my husband does the grocery shopping and the cooking.”
Skyler explains that you have to constantly check in with your partner to make sure you’re functioning as a team. “Essentially, both people need to communicate so that they both feel they are contributing to the relationship in an equal way,” she said. “Examples can include sharing different cleaning tasks around the house. With newborns, this can mean dividing up nighttime and morning shifts for feeding babies. For those living separately, it may mean just having a joint account and sharing finances.”
One last tip from Skyler? “Don’t forget that ‘teams’ typically break bread together.” That means shared meals are a very important part of being a team, and therefore a very important part of a successful relationship.
Challenge traditional gender roles.
When it comes to household tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, childcare, and financial tasks, sit down with your partner and ask yourselves what comes most naturally to each of you, advises sex therapist Dr. Holly Richmond.
“The healthiest couples I see have unique and creative ways of expressing their roles that feel authentic to each person and do not necessarily fit societal standards,” she added.
What’s more, Richmond says, you should also challenge gender roles when it comes to sex. Among straight couples, women should not expect their male partners to take the lead in the bedroom. “Men do not own the market on high libidos,” she said, “and a feminist marriage would support a woman taking care of and being in charge of her own sexual and relational health.”
Own your voice.
Dr. Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says that to have a feminist marriage, couples should not be afraid to express their needs, wants, feelings, and wishes.
If one partner is having a hard time expressing themselves — because they’ve been trained not to show emotion or just don’t know how to open up — Walfish has a few recommendations.
1. Show curiosity. “Ask the other person questions that require more than a one-word answer,” Walfish said. “Ask thought-provoking questions including, ‘Tell me how you’ve been spending your time;’ ‘What are your hopes, wishes, and dreams over the next 5 years?;’ ‘What are some of the challenges you’ve been up against lately?'”
2. Share personal struggles. “When you share and expose your vulnerability the other person feels safe to do the same with you,” she explained.
3. Avoid judging or blaming because “people will get defensive and immediately close up to you.”
4. Try to be an empathic listener. “If you are shy and don’t know what to say, offer compassionate reflection of what you hear the other person saying,” advised Walfish. “This allows the other to feel heard, validated, and accepted — flaws and all.”
When you speak, make sure you feel heard.
“If you want to have a feminist marriage, make sure that you feel your voice counts and that you can express it,” said relationship expert Dr. Jane Greer. “Always speak your truth. This factors into joint decisions, so you exercise control over your life choices.”
Finally, figure out what each of you desires from your partnership.
Heidi McBain, a marriage and family therapist and author of Life Transitions, says couples should sit down and talk about their hopes and expectations for their marriage, so both parties have a set of ground rules to follow.
“So often, people fall into certain roles once they get married because these are the societal norm or these are the roles they grew up with in their family of origin, and to do things differently takes work,” she told HG. “So, if you saw your mom doing all the cooking, but you absolutely despise cooking, you need to talk to your partner about this, as they may have grown up in a household with a mom who loved to cook. Breaking learned patterns can be very hard to do, and couples’ counseling can be a safe place to talk about these issues and figure out what the best steps are for your marriage.”