In the early years of my marriage, our struggles to understand each other played out against the backdrop of the women's movement's second wave. After Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique," the wave broke. Consciousness raising groups proliferated in our neighborhood. Women marched, burned their bras and got divorced. Not a joiner, I watched from the sidelines and bought Ms. Magazine.
At the time, I was in training as a family therapist in a clinic in the South Bronx. I had a job but I was not career oriented. But as the years went on, I began to love my work. To deepen my understanding of individual and family dynamics, I decided to apply to a Ph.D program in clinical psychology. During this period, I kept my growing ambition a secret not only from my husband, but from myself as well. I didn't want to make any waves.
After studying at the dining room table, I scooped up all the papers and laid out placemats for dinner. It was a matter of foolish pride that my husband never saw a term paper or a study note lying around. I wouldn't let my goals interfere with our life. Oh no! God forbid!
When we decided to start our family I knew that the jig was up. There was no way I could manage being a mother and having a career without striking a new deal with my husband. I was at a serious crossroads. What would happen if I raised this issue? Would he support me? Would I ruin our marriage? As I contemplated these outcomes, I knew that there was no turning back. I took a deep breath and opened a discussions with my husband, who was very busy building his career as an architect.
With the audacity of male privilege, he announced that his career took precedence over mine. I pushed back. Why did he think he was more important than me? I appealed to his sense of fairness. He smiled and tried to disarm me with his charm. I started leaving my schoolwork around. I would not agree to start a family until we came to an agreement. He balked. I cajoled. He sweet-talked. I argued. He gave lip service. I wrote a contract. He went to bed angry. I slept on the couch. Our relationship rocked with dissension and hostility. But I never gave up.
The most successful appeal was to his sense of fairness. How could he love and respect me without supporting my goals as much as I supported his? This question initially stumped him, but in the end it was the biggest game changer. Finally, we came to a balanced agreement.
As a family therapist for over 35 years, I know that marriages are not static. As people change, relationships change. When I lobbied my husband I held steadfast: new times, new rules. New roles, new rules. New expectations, new rules. We didn’t call it "lean in" in those days but it felt gutsy to take the risk and negotiate for the changes I wanted.
After that crucial turning point in our marriage, my husband became a strong supporter of my career and my writing. I learned that real change takes some time—and that fighting fair pays off.
Dr. Sonya Rhodes is a psychotherapist and expert on marital and family relationships. She is the co-author of four books. Her next book, co-authored with Susan Schneider, The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Strong Women Can Find Love, Success and Happiness Without Settling (William Morrow), will publish on April 15, 2014.