WASHINGTON — When psychiatrist Dr. Richard Roukema and history teacher Marge Roukema moved to the small town of Ridgewood, N.J., 32 years ago, they were known around town as "Dr. Roukema and his wife, Marge."
Years later, when she became a local school official, they were referred to as "Dr. Roukema and the vice president of the school board, Marge Roukema."
In 1981, after she was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and the couple was pictured in newspapers, the caption read, "Congresswoman Marge Roukema and her husband, Dr. Roukema."
Soon it became, "Congresswoman Marge Roukema and her husband, Dick."
Today, on the doctor's official congressional passport, he is referred to as "spouse of a person."
Not even a name.
"I was gradually being demoted," says this congresswoman's spouse. "My identity was really being shattered. My advice to any man in this position is: Be sure your identity is intact."
There aren't hordes of men in his position--just because there still are not hordes of women in Congress or other high-level positions in Washington.
But for the growing army of political husbands, men whose wives outrank them, out-power them and sometimes out-earn them, the key, they say, is to have their own lives, their own identities, a lot of self-confidence and a sense of humor.
"You have to have a lot of patience, you have to develop skills in the kitchen and you've got to enjoy doing the shopping after midnight at the 7-Eleven," says Anthony Morella, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer and husband of Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.). "The truth is, you need a sense of security. And I'm very secure."
It's a familiar refrain among political husbands, most of whom say they are abundantly comfortable in their role as the lesser half.
But they also say they are only comfortable because the kids are grown, their own careers are well-established and successful and they have developed solid relationships with the microwave.
"It takes, No. 1, being old enough," says Stephen Lowey, a New York lawyer married to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who was a full-time wife and mother when their three now-grown children were young. "I don't know if I could have handled it 15 years ago. There were too many pressures in my own career and family priorities.
"If a man has achieved a certain measure of success both in career and family terms, and is capable of giving and making changes in his personal life, then it can work and it can be fun."
Lowey, whose wife is a congressional freshman, was invited to join Washington's year-old "Denis Thatcher Society," a loosely organized group of men, all married to important women. They occasionally meet at clubs to which their wives belong.
There are no rules for the group, named after the soft-spoken, back-seat husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
But to be a member you have to know the password: "Yes, dear."
Members--including James Schroeder, husband of Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and the sort of "dean" of congressional husbands, and founder Charles Horner, husband of Constance Horner, undersecretary of the Department of Health and Human Services--recently met their hero when Denis Thatcher was in town to address a British group.
When told about the society named for him, the dutiful husband responded with appropriate humility and reserve: "Indeed."
Horner, associate director of the U. S. Information Agency, figured that such a support group was called for when he noticed the couple's mail was being addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Constance Horner."
Robert Wald, a Washington lawyer married to U. S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia M. Wald, says that the men he has met who do feel subjugated by their wives' lofty positions and are self-conscious about the imbalance in their relationships often are not from Washington.
"There are so many women in this town who are successful, and this town is full of guys happy to be consorts of these women," Wald said. "I have never for a moment felt the slightest envy, or in any way subordinated. I always took immense pride in Patricia's successes."
But he says he constantly is asked what it's like to be married to a federal judge.
"I'm always asked if I refer to her as 'Your Honor.' "
His response? "Only in the privacy of the boudoir."
Indeed, jokes are to the political husband what fund-raising lunches have been to political wives--a mainstay of life.
When Lowey was late to a Democratic Party dinner in his wife's district last spring, he announced at the podium, "Nita wouldn't let me come until I did two loads of laundry."
"There's a certain potential for humor," says Lowey, who, like most congressional husbands, maintains his career outside Washington, "and I play upon that."
And so do others.
At an orientation meeting for freshmen spouses given by the Congressional Wives Club this year--a lunch for about 200-plus women and Stephen Lowey--club members added a shaving kit to his gift tote bag that included perfume and makeup.