I have always thought of marriage as a relationship that benefits both individuals involved – a win/win situation. Otherwise, why would anyone do it? But to hear some women talk, you would think this is not the case – that marriage is, instead, an arrangement meant to benefit them, and one for which the man is expected to submit.
I recently had fascinating conversations with a few young, never-married women about matrimony, specifically why they wanted it. Pauline said marriage would give her more leverage over her man if he should leave. Otherwise, she would not have any right to go after child support or other financial compensation. Yolanda simply wanted the security of marriage. Diane said she would just be happy that her love interest wanted to marry her.
Then, I talked to Sheila, who shared the story of a married man who began an extramarital relationship. He and his wife divorced, and he married the “other woman,” with whom he was happy. But he perceived that some of his female family members were incensed by his actions and felt that they were hostile towards him, even years after his divorce. Sheila’s take on the matter was that these women were probably hostile, because marriage was such a big part of their own identities. The thought that their husbands might leave, and what that would mean about how they then defined themselves, absolutely terrified them. And they were angry with their male relative for making them consider this possibility.
All of this has led me to really question whether marriage is for women … at least in their eyes. I hear clichés all of the time to this effect – such as “If he loved you he would put a ring on that finger” or “Make an honest woman out of her.” And each of the women with whom I spoke seemed to perceive marriage as a way of helping the woman and not the man.
Growing up, I always wanted to be married. I wanted lots of children and a partner with whom to raise them. But I never considered myself doing a woman a favor by marrying her. While I, like many men, feel the need to protect my family, I also never felt that I would have to give up my “freedom” in order to give a woman “security.” I thought of marriage as something I would do with a woman because we shared life goals and an affection for one another that made the relationship valuable to both of us. So, to hear women describe marriage as a means of providing them with security, self-worth or even an identity surprised me.
Marriage benefits both parties, because we are all selfish. Again, if we didn’t get something out of it, we wouldn’t do it. I certainly benefit from my mine. I have what I always wanted – a wonderful partner with whom to raise my children. And I am happy with our relationship. According to her, she also benefits from our partnership. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t stay.
For anyone, man or woman, to believe that one person brings more value to the relationship, is more invested, or has had to sacrifice something he/she didn’t want to give up sets the foundation for all sorts of relationship troubles – including guilty undertones, finger pointing, feelings of entitlement, unhealthy levels of dependency, manipulation, and, if the relationship ends, the chance for someone to claim “victim” status. I, for one, wouldn’t want to play either role – to feel that I am sacrificing or bringing more value to the relationship than my partner, or to feel as though my spouse did me a favor by marrying me.
We all have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate the value that both we and our partners bring to our relationships. When or if we part, no one loses, and no one wins. The relationship just changes. An understanding of this helps us check ourselves, our motivations, and our intentions. And it goes a long way towards helping each of us become a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.