September 3rd, 2015 .

Happy Wife, Happy Life: The pitfalls of catchphrases and Internet research

Pat Morden


mr. right

Okay, I admit it, I sometimes pass the time by watching HGTV, even though there’s a lot that irritates me about it. Like the young couples who walk into a gorgeous kitchen three times the size of mine, and say worriedly, “Ooh it’s a bit small, don’t think we could cook in this.”

But perhaps the most irritating thing about HGTV is the frequent use of the catchphrase “happy wife, happy life.” It’s used to explain everything – from buying a house $50,000 over budget, to ripping out kitchen countertops because she doesn’t like the color of the granite.

Call me an old-fashioned feminist (go ahead, I really don’t mind), but this simple phrase makes me steam. To me it implies that women are emotional manipulators who use their tears and pouts to exert power. It suggests that good marriages are based on one partner bending to the will of the other. And of course, there’s a strong suggestion that women can be kept content with household frou-frous, much in the same way that we buy our dogs new toys.

I decided to see what my dear friend Dr. Google thought of this accepted “wisdom.” The results were interesting. A Huffington Post article in September 2014 reported on a study from which the researcher, a professor at Rutgers, concluded, “A wife’s happiness in the marriage has the power to overtake a husband’s marital unhappiness to make his overall life quite pleasant.” In other words, it’s not just a catchphrase: it’s a scientific fact.

But then I found an article from Time in March 2014. It reported on a study conducted at the University of Chicago. Researchers there found that “the health and attitude of the husband plays a major role in marriage bliss.” And then there was the study reported in Pyschology Today in November 2013. Researchers there found that “wives and husbands were equally good at calming down emotionally during conflict,” and hypothesized that gender stereotypes perpetuated the notion that women are the emotional centres of relationships.

I’m sure you’ll forgive me for stopping my research at that point.

So what did I learn from all this? “Happy wife, happy life” is essentially meaningless, as I long suspected. My theory is that “wife” just happens to rhyme with “life,” whereas “husband” and “relationship” don’t rhyme with anything.

More important, I was reminded that you can find anything you’re looking for on the Internet, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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