Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

I was reading the other day about psychotherapist Don Jackson and his contributions to family therapy. His work was mainly in the 1960s during the time of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran from 1952 to 1966 on ABC.

Photo by nickwheeleroz

Ozzie Nelson and his real-life wife, Harriet, epitomized the nuclear American family of the 1950s: bread-winning husband and housekeeping wife. This was the way things were done. Husband came home at five o'clock after a hard day at work to a home-cooked meal, hot on the table. Wife spent her day cleaning and doing laundry and taking care of the children and volunteering. According to Jackson, this is a complementary relationship. Both Ozzie and Harriet were different, but they fit together. One is assertive, the other is submissive. One is emotional, one is logical. (It's important to note that these are not evaluative terms, but just descriptive. And don't assume that one person's position causes the other's. After all, it takes both a sadist AND a masochist to create a sadomasochist relationship!)

Photo by Mrs eNil

The mid-60s was a time of great change in the nuclear American family. Women, spurred on by the civil rights movement, made a movement of their own to join the workforce. Suddenly, women were bringing home paychecks, too, and men came home to dirty laundry and no dinner.
Marriages leaned toward symmetrical relationships where the behaviors of one are mirrored in the other. Both husband and wife have careers and share in household chores and childrearing. Nichols and Schwartz consider the two-paycheck family to be the "most profound change in family life in the second half of the twentieth century" (p. 39).

I think it important to note that research shows neither relationship style is more "functional" than the other, although writing that probably goes against your modern twenty-first century sensibilities!

So how does this affect our writing? We should think about which camp our heroines and heros come from. Think about the possibilities if you had a heroine, expecting the complimentary relationship style of her parents, to meet a hero who presumes his wife is going to work? What are the underlying relational expectations of your main characters (especially relevant if you're writing romance)?


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13 comments:

Jill Kemerer said...

I love that you always make me think of something I hadn't dwelled on before. Thanks!

It hit me yesterday that my hero and heroine have reversed their natural roles in life (if that makes sense). She is normally calm and even-tempered. He is normally hot-headed and impulsive. But the situation they're in has caused her dormant passion to come out, and he has been forced to take on the role of being the voice-of-reason.

I didn't expect this to happen when I was plotting, but it's been an illuminating twist in the book. I'm really enjoying playing with these two!

Ralene said...

I'm not writing a romance, but my characters are developing a romantic relationship. They kind of have a more complementery relationship, but as my heroine becomes more comfortable, she's becoming more assertive. This should be interesting!

Jill, isn't if funny when they do that?

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Playing with characters is so much fun, but it's even more fun when they begin playing with their creator. Then you know they've come to life.

This kind of reminds me of the old opposites attract, they also create great conflict for a novel. Deviating from the steriotypical is definitely in for modern novels now.

PatriciaW said...

And thinking outside of that "norm", as there were working woman before the 1960's, if in the minority.

So what about a character who craves a complementary relationship based on perceptions about what that might be, because she's never experienced one (her mother worked all her life)? And she finds that it's not exactly what she expected?

Terri Tiffany said...

Great thoughts! My main character allowed herself to be in a role of stay at home mom etc because her husband demanded it and now she'd changing because he is out of the picture.

Jeannie Campbell said...

that would be a great self discovery for that character, patricia. Her disillusion would be great to write.

Jill, I'm glad this makes you think of your characters in different light. : )

Windsong said...

Functional symmetrical relationships are good, I think. My characters show up with personalities already in tact, and it's my job to discover as much as I can about them. I like that what can be perceived as a weakness can actually become a strength and vice versa.

Liana Brooks said...

I guess my husband and I are somewhere between the two extremes. I work from home taking care of the kids, gardening, sometimes cleaning, and writing. At this point I'm not paid. But I do expect him to help with cleaning, cooking, and child raising.

Is there a name for that? Probably...

None of my characters follow set gender roles. I think most the relationships are symmetrical. Maybe... I don't have a lot of marriages in my writing. Or romances.

Plenty of explosions though!

T. Anne said...

Thank you, I now have a new take on my MC and why she ticks!

Katie said...

Interesting stuff... how would these two types of relationships impact chracters who grew up in single family homes? What expectations would they have coming into a marriage? Curious about Bethany! Thanks Jeannie!

Rene said...

Oh, great post. I write urban fantasy but the biggest part of my characters' developments revolve around family, particularly the structure the family has. Of course my poor heroine is always plunked into a situation which is 180 degrees from what she came from, but its fun to see how the influence of family helps her through the situation.

Lynnette Labelle said...

You're making me think at 9:39 at night? My fault for reading this so late, of course. LOL But now I'm going to be think, think, thinking (as Winnie the Pooh would say) all night. ;) Yeah, I have little kids. How can you tell?

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Jeannie Campbell said...

katie - the main thing people from single parent or "broken" homes would have as an expectation is more of the same. and research backs that up. children from single-parents homes are far more likely to become single-parent providers themselves. (esp. women).

glad everyone is thinking about those characters! :)