Not long ago a woman named Ana shared a story with me about her dad. In 1970s Mexico, he had a female boss who was a big powerhouse at the firm where he worked. Needless to say, this woman was very Alpha.
One day, Ana’s dad was invited to a dinner party at his boss’s house; and when he arrived, he was shocked to see her transformation at home: She was a doting wife who took Ana’s dad’s coat at the door, but her husband was the host of the party. He sat sat the head of the table and led the conversation.
Ana’s father used to tell her and her sister this story as an example—the moral being that they could go as far as they wanted in life, both as students and as professionals. But whatever they did, they should never bulldoze their husbands.
That is the message of my new book, "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage." I wrote it for two reasons: to help myself, and to help women like me, navigate wifedom in a culture that celebrates our fierce independence. Self-reliance is indeed a great thing. But it has a dark side.
The more dominant or dictatorial a wife has become, the more she’s crying out for her husband to be the stronger one. She’s testing him. That is the nature of sex and sex roles.
Former journalist E.D. Hill talked about this “downside” in her 2005 book "Going Places." Like so many women today, Hill’s mother taught her to learn to do everything herself, even the typically male tasks.
Here was the result: “I found it very difficult to let anyone help me. And if they tried but couldn’t do it as well I could, I was disappointed. That often left me frustrated … I couldn’t stop myself from proving that I didn’t need [my husband] to do things for me. Needless to say, this ‘power struggle,’ along with other issues, put a big strain on our relationship, and he is now my ex.”
This power struggle Hill describes is now par for the course in modern marriages and relationships. It’s hard for women who are used to being in charge to move out of one mode and into another.
As one woman who heard about my book last week shared with me in an email, “I must confess you have described not only me but many women I interact with on a daily basis. I think as teachers, we easily fall into this trap after hours of controlling a classroom. A memorable quote from my husband early on was, ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m one of your students.’ “
And from Kimberly: “I’m a complete alpha and had two fiancés and one divorce before I figured out what you’re telling everyone. It was a little frustrating at first, but I can see how great our relationship is now. We don’t argue, and we love, hug and kiss so much more.”
The concept behind "The Alpha Female’s Guide" is simple: If women want a low-conflict, intimate marriage, they must use a different approach when dealing with their husbands than the one they use as mothers and as professionals.
Laura Wellington, an early reader of my book who reviewed it for her website, Thread MB, admitted that at first she was skeptical. But she kept reading, and the ideas were compelling. So she decided to put them to the test with the man in her life, with whom she had recently broken up. Several days later — note I said “days,” not “weeks”—she emailed me back. “You’re a genius!” The advice in the book worked so well she and her man are now back together.
I’m not a genius, of course. I simply learned something the hard way that I believe is valuable. And that is this: A woman can be a force to be reckoned with, or an “alpha,” in life and a soft, vulnerable beta in love. She doesn’t have to walk around with her alpha all the time. She can relax at home and let her man drive the bus.
I can hear the voices now. “But my husband won’t step up to the plate! He’s lazy, and he expects me to do everything!” Maybe. Or perhaps he’s just used to you doing everything. Perhaps he knows you expect him to fail. People tend to live up to our expectations.
If you think you might be an alpha wife—to find out, here’s a quiz you can take—switching into beta mode will feel strange at first. But like anything new that takes practice, it will eventually become second nature. It will be as natural as it was in the early days of your relationship.
Back then, you instinctively went into beta mode. Your husband (then boyfriend) called you for the date. He picked you up and took you to the restaurant or the movies. He paid the bill. In other words, he took the initiative without a problem, and you let him. You were the receiver of his actions.
Then, at some point down the road, probably after kids came along, you grabbed the reins and took over. You became the Alpha. And your husband, who’s Alpha by nature (all that testosterone!) either rose to meet your energy level, which resulted in conflict, or he stepped back and let you take over—which means the sexual energy between you has waned.
That’s because most women don’t want to be in charge of their man. Their lives? Yes. But not their man. In fact, the more dominant or dictatorial a wife has become, the more she’s crying out for her husband to be the stronger one. She’s testing him. That is the nature of sex and sex roles.
If either of the two scenarios above—constant conflict or a waning sex life—describes your marriage or relationship, I have a solution for you: Alpha by day, beta by night.
Suzanne Venker is the author of five books on marriage, feminism and gender politics. Her latest book is "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS." Find her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.