Monday, June 11, 2012

Liza Mundy 2: Avoiding Social Comparison With Your Spouse

The most interesting part of The Richer Sex for me was Mundy's discussion of social comparison.  We want those we love to do well, but we would like them to do it in a field that is not in direct competition with our own.  As women and men increasingly have the same levels of education and are entering the same fields, the opportunities for husband and wife do be doing exactly the same kind of work increases.  It is all but inevitable that we will make comparisons with people doing just what we do.  This makes the possibility of invidious marital comparison rear its ugly head.

This got me thinking about the ways in which couples specialize, at work and at home, in ways that take them out of direct comparison with one another.  Even couples who collaborate in their professional work usually divide the labor.  And I have known many married people who let some interests drop that might put them in direct competition with their spouses. 

Mrs. G. and I, for example, used to both work in the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and were very knowledgeable about education policy when we first came to Kentucky.  Other things equal, it would have made sense for me to teach sociology of education, and to become involved in Kentucky's nation-leading education reforms.  However, as my wife developed a career in education policy, I found that it made more sense to develop other intellectual interests, while fully following and bolstering her career as a supportive spouse.  And she has done the same with my professional interests - fully supportive and a good sounding board, but not a worker in the same vineyard.

In fact, she realized early on that we should not play competitive games against one another. I think this is a very wise policy.

Mundy reports the many ways that high-earning women subtly avoid professional competition with their spouses. I recommend that couples talk about this issue directly, and make explicit policy for the good of the marriage to avoid the occasion for invidious social comparison.

Just as a couple can meta-communicate about which communication style they should use in a given situation, they can meta-communicate about how they can work together without competing with one another.

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