Love/Life: The Myth of the Happy Wife "Happy wife, happy life?" Not so much.


I probably like Instagram a little too much. I’m probably looking at it in Wegmans when you’re trying to get through the checkout line quickly and I haven’t noticed that it’s my turn to pay for my groceries already. Instagram is full of funny memes and deep quotes that help me feel inspired and fight boredom.

I was about to “like” a post the other day, but it struck a nerve. The maxim “Happy Wife = Happy Life” has been floating around for years, I’m sure, but it had never struck me just how insulting and wrong-headed this quote is, to both husbands and wives.

Ah, the age-old stereotypes that somehow women are high-maintenance and demanding and need to be “kept happy” otherwise they’ll be total dragons. Or that men are such knuckle-dragging troglodytes that they have to be reminded to ever do anything but be useless and disappointing.

It’s not just me, right?

It saddens me to think how many husbands and wives fall into this way of seeing marriage, this hangover from generations of sitcoms like “King of Queens” or “Everybody Loves Raymond” and even “The Jeffersons” and “All in the Family.” This mindset lampoons oafish American masculinity and critiques the plight of neglected and overburdened American women, somehow perpetuating a notion that men should make a bit of an effort to do nice things for their wives, a) so they don’t complain and b) so that maybe … ahem … maybe men might stand an enhanced chance of “getting lucky.”

The author, pondering in New York

This may be the arrangement that many men and women find the most comfortable. It’s the one a lot of us grew up with. I know I did. But I think we can do better than this.

This sitcom mindset frames husbands and wives as adversaries trying to negotiate a fragile peace, rather than as equals delighting in the adventure of co-creating love.

I think I have spent many years living by this meme, never having seen it put so plainly as it was on Instagram, but abiding by the sentiment that I feel that society has implied for decades. The fact is, I don’t think it works out very well. I think the assertion that any wife has to be “kept happy” is, ironically, probably the operating principle that is most likely to make a lot of truly modern women very unhappy.

Do you have a submission about love, life and everything in between? Submit your post for Love/Life to Jessica Gregg, STYLE’s managing editor, at [email protected]

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  1. No, not just you at all. My husband totally embarrassed me by using this phrase in our Sunday school class. I wanted to shrink with humiliation. Most people laughed but I felt belittled.


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