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)?