Heterosexual romantic relationships have historically been all about men courting and "keeping" women. And it's a powerful tradition. Whether it's asking someone out, picking up the bill, or being the main breadwinner in the family many of the ideas we have about romance are still based on men being initiators and directors and women being receivers and caretakers. Yet society is changing. Women are increasingly entering the "male domains" of high-powered jobs and sexual freedom.

So how does all this affect romance? Given that popular (mis)conceptions of feminism tend to malign feminists as man-haters or lesbians, it's easy to see why many people view gender equality as incompatible with romance and a hindrance to romantic relationships.

But is this really the case? Let's take a look at the evidence.

Feminists want equality, nothing more, nothing less. Photo / Getty Images
Feminists want equality, nothing more, nothing less. Photo / Getty Images
Traditional romantic ideas may weaken a woman's want for agency and power. Photo / Getty Images
Traditional romantic ideas may weaken a woman's want for agency and power. Photo / Getty Images

For women, the pay-off is obvious. Traditional cultural views of romance thwart women's ability to express themselves, as it requires a relinquishing of control and agency. We know this leads to dissatisfaction with sex and relationships.

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Conversely, greater agency and equality in a relationship has been associated with better communication, improved relationship satisfaction and a better sex life. One study found that women in relationships with feminist men reported healthier relationships- both in terms of quality and long-term stability - than those in relationships with non-feminist men.

More generally, conforming to traditional romantic ideas may also limit women's willingness and ability to seek equality. One study found that women who associate their romantic partners with chivalry and being a "protector" - as in the ideal of a Prince Charming - were less interested in pursuing higher education and higher-status occupations.

Are men suffering?

Many men seem to believe that gender equality will cause relationship problems. But is this the case? One way of approaching this issue is to look at what happens when couples shift away from traditional family roles, with men taking on more responsibility in the home. Studies of couples who live together suggest that greater equality in earning income and sharing of household chores is associated with greater relationship stability and having sex more often.

Indeed, when husbands take on a greater role in housework, shopping and childcare, it seems to result in lower divorce rates. Likewise, when fathers take paternity leave and contribute more to homecare it results in greater marital stability.

Men doing their share of the house work is a win-win situation. Photo / Getty Images
Men doing their share of the house work is a win-win situation. Photo / Getty Images
Gender equality in relationships equals better sex. Photo / Getty Images
Gender equality in relationships equals better sex. Photo / Getty Images

Another reason why greater gender equality may lead to more stable relationships is because it promotes more positive communication patterns. Gender equality facilitates a sharing of responsibility to resolve conflicts (as opposed to placing that burden primarily on women) and may lead to more expressive communication styles which benefit the relationship.

So does that mean that men should stop initiating romantic relationships or that women should start picking up the bill? In the short term (on a first date for example), conforming to cultural scripts may facilitate interactions, so long as both partners are on the same page.

But in the longer-term, perpetuating gendered inequalities in our romantic relationships will likely cause more harm than good. Gender equality in relationships doesn't mean that we lose the romance. If anything, it lays the basis for more satisfying and healthier relationships.

Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.