The Shrew-Whoredog Dichotomy: Expected to Control and Motivate One’s Partner

a photograph of a shrew on a tree branch
Image by Laura Wolf / CC BY

Reading your experiences and understanding I’m not a shrew for wanting communication and some details beforehand and he’s not a whoredog for wanting to play with every new woman he meets has seriously helped us both.

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I got this letter a while ago, and it remains one of my favorites. I love the idea of a shrew-whoredog dichotomy.

Because, you see, I myself was troubled by the shrew-whoredog dichotomy, well before discovering consensual non-monogamy. Woven into the expectations for a traditional heterosexual marriage.

Looking back on my marriage with Seth when it was closed, I remember that the women in my life expected me to be responsible for him. And not just for how he conducted himself socially or sexually, but for all facets of his behavior.

When I got a good job for the hospital and Seth quit working, my female relatives all turned to me and asked, “Why don’t you make your husband work?”

Make him. As though my job as a wife was to police his actions and ensure he acted in a responsible manner.

True, being the sole provider was added financial stress. But I accepted Seth’s decision and instead urged him to take the opportunity to go back to school and get more education.

Seth started attending classes part time, gen eds at the community college. Unsure about what path he’d like to take in his studies. Choosing a major. It seemed prudent at first — not to get too many topics deep into a degree when he might well change his mind as he figured out what he was really interested in.

But after a few semesters of part-time study, his grades were rather mixed. He was surely intelligent enough to be doing better in school. He became sullen when I approached him, asking if there were anything I could do to make school easier for him.

“You’re a real nag, you know,” he snapped.

“I’m just trying to help,” I said.

“Well, it has the opposite effect,” he said.

So I didn’t mention it again, instead paying for him to take several classes twice because he’d failed them.

Expected to Control and Motivate Us Both

When we opened our marriage a few years later, I was the heavier partner by far. Comfort eating and a sedentary job transcribing charts for the hospital had translated into a massive weight gain. To his credit, Seth had never said a word, never complained — although our sex life had definitely dried up. But Seth had always had a low libido, so it was easy for me to attribute it to other things.

We formed a triad with a friend, dating for several months before she admitted she had much better chemistry with Seth. The truth hurt, but after some time to reflect, I gave the go-ahead for the two of them to date each other without me.

I spent many nights on my own. I was more alone than I had been in years. And somewhere in there, I hit my stride with diet and exercise. Weight started to peel off me.

But even in this new paradigm, with my own success, I couldn’t escape the expectation by others that I was responsible for Seth.

“You look awesome,” people would comment. “But you should teach that husband of yours your secret so he can lose some weight, too.”

It wasn’t enough that I could exercise self-control and keep motivated. I was also expected to control and motivate my husband.

Rejecting the Shrew-Whoredog Dichotomy

Seth and I are now divorced but on good terms. We had a number of compatibility issues. Several of them would be considered dealbreakers on their own.  Looking back, it’s a marvel to me that we managed to stay together as long as we did.

I went on to remarry, this time committing to someone who was a paragon of motivation and self-control.

Because compromise is fine. Complementarity.

However, I’m not interested in being my partner’s guardian. I reject the shrew-whoredog dichotomy.

Maybe this limits the pool of people I can date.

I think it’s worth it.

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My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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1 Comment

  1. Oh wow, I was *JUST* thinking about this sort of thing after reading two other blog posts yesterday:
    http://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/marriage/why-married-women-get-a-raw-deal/
    http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a12063822/emotional-labor-gender-equality/

    The common thread in both articles seems to be an unintended byproduct of a typical mono relationship–there are societal expectations afoot and they make it SO easy to not have difficult conversations about relationships.

    In the first post, the author wishes he could help his wife more around the house but not getting things done her way was a no-go. This is clearly something that could be worked around with a lot of *gasp* discussion and processing, something poly folks excel at and mono folks tend to not do. (Yes, huge over-generalizations there, but still.)

    In the second post, the author wishes her husband would just know what she wants because it is too hard to fully explain the situation to him. Just like with you, Page … the woman is expected to run the house (and/or run the man in the relationship). Ugh!

    In both cases it seems like the emotional labor falls to the woman by default (because, society) and it is next to impossible to work on the issue since even the idea of processing the problem is a non-starter.

    The whole thing sucks for both parties (though in both cases it sucks a MASSIVE amount more for the woman). Darned society! :/

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