Case Study

Case Study

It’s Still Unfair! Struggling to Establish Equitable Relationships

By Sara Schwarzbaum

July/August 2022

Healthy, equal relationships require compromise, negotiation, and generosity. But when couples don’t have models for mastering these skills, they often regress to old gender scripts as a way to cope. Given how far recent generations have come to free themselves from those scripts, this can feel to today’s couples like its own kind of failure.

In addition to not always achieving a more egalitarian home life, many of today’s couples don’t recognize the cultural pressures that impact their well-being, and they operate as if they’re solely responsible for their struggles—which deepens their sense of failure.

I was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a patriarchal and family-oriented society, but when I came to the U.S. in the 1980s, I was trained as a feminist couple-and-family therapist to ask gender-centric questions of my clients. I learned from the Women’s Project in Family Therapy, Harriet Lerner, and Monica McGoldrick how to bring feminist insights into clinical practice. When I started my clinical practice, the women I saw were usually reserved, indirect, and sheepish, while the men were loud, demanding, and entitled. My work then was about helping men understand and change power imbalances, and helping women make their voices heard.

For the straight couples I see today, I often end up doing the reverse. There’s been a spike in women chafing at the continued sense of “not enough” in their lives, and straining to reject old gender roles while…

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