While out to dinner with my husband recently, we were subjected to an expression that we discovered we both dislike. It fired up a pretty good conversation between us, actually.
The table next to us contained a couple, about a decade younger than us who were married.
We knew they were married because at one point the husband told the waiter to get his wife ‘anything she wanted on the menu no matter how expensive’ to which the waiter promptly replied, ‘Oh yes, you know what they say — happy wife happy life!’
Predictable laughter followed, of course.
My husband and I both rolled our eyes simultaneously.
Then we proceeded to dive into a conversation about why we both dislike this commonly used expression that somehow attempts to sum up the ingredients for a successful marriage into one very narrow and one-sided nutshell.
Although we both understand on some level why this expression is extremely popular, we had a couple of grievances with it. Mainly, it implies that the only happiness that matters within a marriage belongs to ONE person — the wife.
While I think most of us will agree that any wife in any marriage should indeed revel in the pursuit of happiness like any other human being, the implication that a wife should consistently be made happy at the expense of a husband — strikes me as not only sexist but as a fruitless concept in regards to building a healthy, functioning partnership where both parties feel acknowledged and respected.
As a woman, wife, and partner, I feel as though the conotation of this phrase is that as a wife I need to be pampered like some sort of princess and spoiled rotten even when my requests might be unrealistic or a strain on my partner.
Additionally, there is this massive implication that a woman is responsible for her husband's moods and possibly even responsible for the moods of an entire household.
Presumably, if a wife is in a bad mood or discontented within her marriage and/or household, it’s up to her to mentally and emotionally yank herself out of her gloom and doom to fix everyone else’s emotional state because — happy wife, happy life!
That isn’t happiness. That’s an emotional burden. Women already carry way too much baggage from other people’s emotional dysfunction our society.
While it’s great that a woman’s happiness within a marriage has finally become a priority — ABSOLUTELY— we don’t necessarily need to go from one extreme to another.
There’s no doubt that immense strides have been made as far as women’s rights and equality regarding marriage, however, it doesn’t mean we need to leave our male partners out in the cold, so to speak.
If we truly want to value both partners in a heterosexual relationship, we should do that as equally as we can — for both partners.
Mind you, nothing in a marriage or long-term relationship will ever be completely equal— as those of us who are in these types of relationships already know. I don’t think anyone expects perfection in regards to relationship equality. However, an effort towards both partners being heard and attended to in a relatively fair fashion should be the ultimate goal.
Happy husband, happy life? That’s a whole other article.
I discovered in my research of this expression, that it seems to have originated from a 1903 poem titled, ‘The Work and Wages Party.’ It was printed in a 1903 British paper reporting on labor wages and conflict of the time. The verse reads, ‘With all the kids in clover, A happy wife, a happy life, And a jolly good turn over.’
Take from that what you will, but it seems to be referring to making a living and having a happy household — written well over 100 years ago!
The phrase is clearly outdated. It seems to have been taken out of context from its original form over the last century and been popularized as a funny anecdote for modern marriage.
Many people will say there’s no harm in using an expression like, ‘Happy wife, happy life’ but digging down deeper in the meaning of stuff like that is what I like to do.
For me, in my own marriage it’s more like, ‘Happy partner, happy life.’
I like it to go both ways.