Making Marriage Work in the '90S; Roles and Rules Change for Couples Exploring New Family Frontiers

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MAKING MARRIAGE WORK IN THE '90s

HOUSE HUNTING in the New York City suburbs was a contentious, year-long chore for Vaughan and Susan Carnay. He loved one. She couldn't stand it. She was wild about another. He hated it. She wanted a master bath opening onto a master bedroom. He wanted a fireplace. Finally, 18 houses later, came their happy compromise. A colonial-style beauty had just come on the market in Westchester County. They arrived at the location primed for more fussing and fighting. Eureka! Both liked it instantly.

The Carnays' house purchase highlighted their eight-year marriage. Their delicate, open-ended negotiations were models of the sort of honest communications that can make marriage work in the '90s. No dictatorial "lord and master" posturing for Vaughan, 42 like many of yesterday's husbands. No obedient submissiveness for Susan, 34, like many of yesterday's wives. Indeed, the Carnays are typical of thousands of contemporary couples whose relationship turns on a delicate balance of shared authority and domestic reponsibility.

As a New York bank vice president, Susan Carnay is acutely aware that until about 20 years ago women could not, without their husband's consent, establish credit and buy homes in their own names. "I am a working woman," she declares. "I have my own credit rating. I have a credit history which I'm proud of."

The Carneys also value the work ethic, the sanctity of the family, education, security and generally comfortable living. "We share decisions about vacations, major acquisitions, the rearing of our seven-month-old son, Graham, finances, and other issues," says Vaughan, a Long Island corporate attorney. "We give each other a lot of freedom and latitude. After a spirited give and take, I'll give into her or she'll give into me. It's not a situation where only one party consistently calls the shots."

Such shared power evolves naturally from the Women's Liberation Movement--Vaughan describes it as "actually men's liberation"--and the greatest-than-yesteryear incomes enjoyed by Black women, reports Chicago marriage counselor John Stokes. Women, he says, are insisting, "Hey, I want more of a say here."

Like the Carneys, John and Betty Harwell of San Diego, Calif., believe that their parenting has been self-fulfilling. After they married in March 1982, both at age 27, they did not postpone children and agreed that Betty would remain home to rear them. Despite his exhausting schedule as an assistant vice president for a San Diego bank, Betty knew John would help out when Nicole, 6, and Brandon, 5, were babies. "But he went above and beyond the call of duty," she recalls, "getting up in the middle of the night to feed them and change their diapers."

Harwell's hands-on fathering comes as no surprise to Chicago matrimonial Atty. Diane Shelley. "I'm pleased to report that more fathers are involved in the care of their children," she says. "I have fathers who take off early from work to pick up their kids from babysitters. They are very conscious of the impact that they should have on their children."

Like most young couples, however, the Harwells swing between highs and lows. They disagreed six months over Betty's desire to purchase four chairs. …