WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff

5 Myths and Truths: Deconstructing Gender Norms in Relationships

Modern couples often confront deeply ingrained gender norms that come from our family of origin or the cultural messages that we have been raised with. These internalized gender norms shape couples’ actions in their partnerships, whether they realize it or not. These internalized gender norms often don’t reflect our true beliefs or our values, and the resulting behaviors wreak havoc on relationship health.  

Modern couples often think they are entering and building an equal partnership. However, as a relationship equity coach, I have seen firsthand the damage that unconscious beliefs around gender can cause. I believe that deconstructing gender norms is the first step to fostering equality and building mutual respect in your partnership. Without doing this work, you and your partner are likely to default to gender norms that do not serve you or your relationship. 

Gender Norms in Relationships | Tend Task

In this article, I’ll explore five common myths about gender norms in relationships, counter them with truths, and suggest actions to build an equal partnership that can lead to a balanced division of household labor, equal mental load management, and shared emotional wellbeing.

Myth 1: Men Should Be the Breadwinner

Truth: It is unrealistic and unfair for men to be judged solely for their financial contributions to a relationship. Further, the myth of the male breadwinner keeps women from engaging in the paid workforce and perpetuates the conditions that contribute to the gender wage gap.

Men Should Be the Breadwinner | Tend Task

Most families cannot support themselves on one income. And even if they can, the language of “breadwinner” devalues the economic contributions of those who provide vital unpaid labor in the home. The outdated belief that men should always be the primary earners and women should take care of the home limits the potential of both partners. Instead of buying into this myth, couples should openly discuss their strengths, preferences, financial goals, and career aspirations. Deconstructing this myth will allow couples to allocate financial and domestic responsibilities in a way that benefits both their partnership and their individual wellbeing. This approach acknowledges that both partners’ financial or domestic contributions are equally valuable to the relationship’s health and success.

Action Step: Get hyper-clear about your career goals and household responsibilities with your partner. This will ensure that both of you feel fulfilled and valued in your roles and keep you on track to meet your long- and short-term goals in the partnership.

Myth 2: Women Are Naturally Better At Household Tasks and Caregiving

Truth: Skills in domestic tasks and childcare are learned, not inherent to any gender.

This myth perpetuates the gender norm that women are innately better at cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, which is simply untrue. Women have been conditioned to see and do the things that need to be done around the house and to attend to the needs of their loved ones. Like any skill, proficiency in household chores and childcare comes from practice and willingness to learn.

Women Are Naturally Better At Household Tasks | Tend Tasks

In a study of 40 first-time fathers, those with longer paternity leaves saw physiological changes to their brains, allowing for more sustained attention. These changes likely contribute to better, more attuned parenting. This shows that gender does not contribute to better caregiving. It’s simply time spent doing the tasks. Assuming that men aren’t good caregivers keeps them from becoming good caregivers.

By challenging the myth that women are inherently better caregivers, couples can foster a more equitable division of labor at home, where tasks are divided based on interest, skill, balance, and availability rather than gender.

Action Step: Encourage a learning mindset in your household, where both partners develop skills and take on various tasks, promoting a more balanced and supportive partnership.

Myth 3: Expressing Emotions Is a Sign of Weakness in Men

Truth: Emotional expression is a strength and essential for healthy relationships, regardless of gender.

The stereotype that men should be stoic and women emotional undermines the emotional intimacy vital for a strong partnership. The patriarchy has done untold damage to men by keeping them from being able to express a full range of human emotions.

Expressing Emotions Is a Sign of Weakness in Men | Tend Task

Encouraging emotional expression in men can lead to better communication, mutual understanding, and relationship satisfaction. Acknowledging and sharing feelings should be seen as a sign of emotional intelligence and a key to a balanced relationship.

Action Step: Create a safe space for open and honest communication in your relationship, where both partners feel comfortable expressing their emotions without fear of judgment. Get comfortable with naming your emotions and feeling them in your body.

Myth 4: Women Are Better Multitaskers

Truth: Multiple research studies have confirmed that our brains cannot do two things simultaneously. Rather, we quickly switch from one task to another. This is inefficient and damaging to our wellbeing. By assuming that women can do this, they are forced to carry a heavier mental load, leading to higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Women Are Better Multitaskers | Tend Task

Women are often socialized to believe they can “do it all.” This is untrue and unsustainable. It also keeps men from realizing and participating in all the tasks that keep a family moving forward. 

Action Step: Get clear with each other about the visible and invisible work that needs to be done. Make a plan for sharing that work equitably in your relationship.

Myth 5: Challenging Gender Norms in Relationships is Unnecessary

Truth: While challenging entrenched norms can be daunting, it is crucial for creating equitable and fulfilling partnerships.

Many couples fall into traditional gender roles without question, but this can lead to resentment, frustration, and imbalance. In fact, I would argue that this dynamic is undermining the institution of modern marriage and partnership more than any other factor. Women are rightfully demanding more balanced partnerships, and those who are met with resistance are either leaving their relationships or refusing to engage in the first place. 

Challenging Gender Norms in Relationships is Unnecessary | Tend Task

By actively and intentionally questioning and discussing these norms, couples can redefine their roles in ways that align with their values and aspirations, leading to more equitable, satisfying, and long-lasting partnerships.

Action Step: Engage in regular discussions about your relationship dynamics, question traditional roles, and be open to experimenting with new ways of sharing responsibilities.

Deconstructing gender norms is not just about challenging societal expectations; it’s about creating relationships where both partners feel valued, understood, and equally responsible. By addressing and debunking these five myths, couples can work towards a more balanced division of labor and a partnership that truly reflects their unique needs and desires.

As you navigate deconstructing gender roles in your relationship, remember that Tend Task is here to support you every step of the way toward equal partnership. Together, we can break down the barriers imposed by outdated gender norms, paving the way for more fulfilling and equitable relationships. Book a free balanced relationship breakthrough session today to get started.

FAQs on Deconstructing Gender Norms in Relationships

How do gender norms impact relationship dynamics?
Gender norms can significantly impact relationship dynamics by establishing predefined roles for partners based on gender. These roles often dictate how individuals behave, feel, and engage in their relationships, leading to imbalances in responsibilities and expectations. 

Can challenging gender norms improve relationship satisfaction?
Absolutely! Challenging gender norms can enhance relationship satisfaction by fostering a more equitable and respectful partnership. When couples actively question and reject limiting gender-related beliefs, they create space for more authenticity, mutual support, and shared responsibilities. 

How can couples start to deconstruct gender norms in their relationship?
Couples can begin deconstructing gender norms by openly discussing and questioning the traditional roles they may have unconsciously adopted. They should explore their strengths, preferences, and goals to allocate responsibilities that align with their unique values rather than gendered expectations. 

What role does communication play in challenging gender norms?
Communication is crucial in challenging gender norms. It allows partners to express their feelings, share their perspectives, and collaboratively explore new ways of interacting that don’t adhere to traditional gender roles. Effective communication helps acknowledge and address any biases or misconceptions, ensuring both partners feel heard, respected, and involved in shaping their relationship dynamics.

How do societal pressures influence individual beliefs about gender roles?
Societal pressures can significantly shape individual beliefs about gender roles, often perpetuating stereotypes and expectations that people feel compelled to conform to. These pressures can come from various sources, including media, family, and religion, influencing how individuals view their roles in relationships and broader society. 

What benefits can couples experience from a more equitable division of labor?
A more equitable division of labor can lead to numerous benefits, including increased relationship satisfaction, better mental and emotional health for both partners, a stronger sense of teamwork and partnership, and enhanced sexual connection and intimacy. It allows both individuals to feel valued and supported, reduces stress and resentment, and creates a more balanced environment for the whole family.