Do you believe marriage is an equal partnership?
Most of you will reflexively answer “yes”. Of course, what better partnership than with your spouse?
A partnership is when individuals associate in a cooperative relationship for a specific purpose. In marriage, these individuals associate to cooperate together, encourage each other, participate equally in decisions, finances, and raising a family (if that decision is made). It also helps if the individuals are physically and emotionally attracted to each other.
You might say yeah, that’s a good marriage. But is it? You might be holding on to some broken assumptions about marriage.
For example, if marriage is an equal partnership:
- What happens when the partners fail to cooperate?
- What happens when they don’t participate equally, or don’t agree on major life decisions?
- What happens if they are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to each other?
- What happens when one of the partners treats the partnership unequally?
- What happens when one of the partners becomes too sick to do their share?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, don’t ask me. I don’t know either.
There’s no shortage of marriage advice and people who say they have answers. I googled “marriage equal partnership” and got 998,000 results. There are links to the Mormon church, Huffington Post, feminist website leanin.org, the New York Times (and 997,996 more).
Entire organizations have dedicated themselves to equality in marriage. One is called The Equality in Marriage Institute; it’s closed, but the website is up for posterity. The website has such enlightening topics such as “before marrying”, “during marriage”, “when divorcing, “after divorce” and “in a new relationship”.
Here’s what the Equality in Marriage Institute recommends:
- Put in writing that your marriage is an equal partnership and keep that agreement current.
- Hold family assets like real estate and bank accounts jointly.
- Know and understand each and every aspect of your financial lives.
- Know and be able to appreciate what the other does – whether it is raising children or razing buildings.
- Respect and honor life choices made by each other.
- Make time to talk frankly about your finances and your feelings no matter how pressured daily life becomes.
This a recipe for divorce and pain.
Marriage as an equal partnership is just poor thinking about marriage. Here’s five reasons why.
Let’s start with the “written agreement”. That sounds like a “pre-nuptial” agreement. A pre-nuptial agreement usually also specifies division of community property when the marriage ends, and other conditions for ending the marriage. The “equal partnership” sought in the agreement, is that a commitment or a binding contract with conditions of default?
A written, signed record of commitment, exists for the purpose of being whipped out when a partner strays from it, as a bludgeon, or when the marriage ends, as a legal instrument defining who gets what.
Why keep the agreement current? What changes, you’re still married, right? Maybe one partner might have made some life decisions that need to be considered, like living in a different city or taking a job that required 90% travel, that kind of thing. Stuff that tends to separate couples.
A marriage depending on a written agreement on a piece of paper is as weak as the paper it’s written on. Anything can tear it apart.
Here’s another nugget of Equality in Marriage wisdom: hold family assets like real estate and bank account jointly. I agree with this, but I don’t have the same motivation for agreeing that the Institute had in giving this advice. I’ll get to that later.
Holding family assets in joint accounts prevents “his stuff, her stuff”, but we need a joint plan, and we should agree to it. What if you don’t agree? Then nobody can hide anything, it’s a rule, because I can’t trust my partner if they are hiding money or assets.
Trust is the key, isn’t it? If you trust your spouse, then it doesn’t matter where the money is, because you trust they aren’t going to leave you without any. Having a rule means that trust isn’t enough.
Trust runs out, marriage is over. Take what’s mine and leave.
It’s all about taking and having and getting to voice my opinion. My, mine, me. Another few marriage gems from the Institute: know and appreciate what the other does, and respect and honor life choices made by each other.
Do you see the use of the word “other”? There’s me, and the “other”. We need to honor each other’s choices (not make those choices together).
Why should a couple be reminded to be able to appreciate what the other does? It sounds like advice for couples who spend 90% of their time apart, doing different things, and living different lives. If I never see my spouse except at dinner parties and a kiss goodnight before bed, I suppose it’s easy to forget who does the laundry or takes care of the kids. There’s more wrong with your marriage than appreciation if that’s you, by the way.
Then there’s the “respect and honor”. An equal partnership demands that my life choices are equal to yours. My career, my aspirations, my dreams, my living, my wants, my, me, me, mine. And yeah the “other” too.
You say you should honor any life choices that affect the marriage, like career, where to live, raising the kids, sexual preference, whom they love, their physical attraction to someone else, that kind of stuff. Oh, there are limits? Who’s accountable? Or is that one of the things in the pre-nup that’s a no-no. Whip out that document and hit them with default.
The Institute says to make time to talk frankly about your finances and your feelings. Very sensible.
What if that frankness and those feelings hurt your partner? What if you can’t agree on things, who wins a stalemate? What does that lead to? What if neither of you changes their mind?
Well, there’s always divorce.
And there you have it.
The Equality in Marriage Institute’s advice prepares you for one thing: divorce. In the Institute’s opinion, divorce is inevitable. It’s just a part of the cycle of relationships: “before marrying”, “during marriage”, “when divorcing, “after divorce” and “in a new relationship”.
Why? Maybe the Institute’s founder, Lorna Wendt, can tell you. For 32 years, Lorna was married to Gary Wendt, CEO of GE Capital. In 1998, Lorna divorced Gary, very publicly, and very, very bitterly. It was a fight to the death over their assets. It’s like they both saw previews of the 1989 movie War of the Roses with Michael Douglass and Kathleen Turner, and decided to live it.
Going back over her life and failed marriage, Lorna founded the Equality in Marriage Institute, I suppose, to prevent others from enduring her nightmare. It would have been so much easier for Lorna if she’d had a pre-nup before she and Gary married, right? They could just walk away, dissolve the partnership, no muss, no fuss. Move on with life.
If an equal partnership defined by written agreements, reminders, and rules is what marriage is, if that’s all it is, then it’s not worth much.
The partnership is like a pie where you have half and your spouse has half. If the pie gets bigger, you both should get bigger slices. But this is almost never the case. Eventually, one partner gets more of the pie than the other. As a partner ask yourself this question: how would I feel if the pie got bigger, but my slice stayed the same, only the other partner’s slice actually grew and they got all the increase? Would you still want to be in the partnership?
If you’ve been divorced multiple times, I seriously doubt that every new marriage was happier than the first. This isn’t like the Hindu concept of reincarnation until you reach Nirvana. It’s more like chipping away at two stones to mate them perfectly, then pulling them apart and chipping away at them some more to mate them with two other stones. Doing that again and again, there’s less and less of the original to go around.
The cycle of marriage, divorce, and new relationships chips away at your soul, at your emotions, at the very concept of being one with another person. Each new relationship doesn’t get better, it simply gets to the point where your soul is smooth and thin and longing for the pieces old relationships have worn away.
Marriage: the real thing.
Real marriage is not an equal partnership. It’s not a partnership at all. It’s a merger, a permanent joining to create something new.
When two join they become a family, a single family, not a partnership of two individuals. Married people are not intended to part. Humans, like swans, wolves, and eagles, mate for life. When we break the strong bonds that bind a couple, we harm ourselves, in some ways, irreparably.
You’re going to tell me about animals who don’t mate for life. If you want to live like an animal, and have only animal relationships, you’re welcome to live this way. Let me know how it works out for you at the end of your life, dying alone like a male lion ejected from his pride by the younger, more capable hunters.
If you look at marriage as anything other than a lifetime commitment to a mate, you’re looking at something other than marriage. You’re looking at a friendship with benefits, a shack-up, a good time, or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. Adding a piece of paper to it labeled “marriage license” adds nothing to the relationship except a tax break.
Conversely, those who are together for life without the piece of paper, committed to each other, are just as married as anyone who got the whole church treatment. Guys, she doesn’t need to walk down the aisle or be given away or have a license to be married. Marriage is a state of matrimony; wedlock, made whole by conjugal (sexual) relations.
Before you bunch up your garters, I am not saying that couples should shack up before marriage. In America today, if you have $100, you can get married. In the county where I live, a marriage license costs $77, or $37 if you get a pastor or clergy to give you premarital counseling (which many times is free). Slip a $20 to the Justice of the Peace, and you’re hitched, fair and square. There’s no barriers, no reason to not get married if you intend to stay together. Instead of asking “why get married”, ask “why not”.
Oh, and sex. We take sex far too lightly.
In the old, prudish, socially-constrained times, if you had sex, you ended up with some version of a “shotgun marriage”. The advice in the Bible, in Proverbs, chapter seven, is pretty straightforward.
“So now I’ve come to find you, hoping to catch sight of your face—and here you are!
I’ve spread fresh, clean sheets on my bed, colorful imported linens.
My bed is aromatic with spices and exotic fragrances.
Come, let’s make love all night, spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking!
My husband’s not home; he’s away on business, and he won’t be back for a month.”
Soon she has him eating out of her hand, bewitched by her honeyed speech.
Before you know it, he’s trotting behind her, like a calf led to the butcher shop,
Like a stag lured into ambush and then shot with an arrow,
Like a bird flying into a net not knowing that its flying life is over.
So, friends, listen to me, take these words of mine most seriously.
Don’t fool around with a woman like that; don’t even stroll through her neighborhood.
Countless victims come under her spell; she’s the death of many a poor man.
She runs a halfway house to hell, fits you out with a shroud and a coffin.
Any teenager who’s been engulfed by raging hormones and overtaken by infatuation knows this feeling. Loose women and looser men find themselves bound up to each other and then heartbroken. That first heartbreak is tough.
It’s totally unnecessary. Why do it to yourself? What rite of passage does it accomplish? Is there no other way to select a mate other than sleeping around, having failed relationships, until you get tired of it and pick someone as the “permanent” mate?
I know people, not Bible thumpers, not even religious, who have never, ever, slept with another person besides their spouse. Their marriages tend to be stronger, last longer, and become more fulfilling than couples who have, ahem, more miles on them. They don’t have that feeling that they settled for something less than they deserve.
Not all relationships are that way; some who have been faithful for 30 years and never been with another have left over small things. They believe that marriage is an equal partnership and their slice of the pie isn’t big enough. So they go looking for another pie.
In leaving their spouse of many years, they leave a large part of themselves behind. The result tends to be someone who lives for the moment, and casts away many valuable relationships, because those are connected to the “old”, the discarded spouse. I don’t think any of them would deny that they have a damaged life.
Many of the long-married-recently-discarded would tell you that they were trapped in a loveless marriage. That they married for the wrong reasons. That they were with their spouse and stayed for the sake of the children. That for all those years, they were plotting, waiting for the youngest child to move out so they could be free. I can’t imagine a more awful life. These people refused to invest themselves into a marriage because they’d given up on it. They never saw it as a union, only as a partnership, and they never felt like the other partner was doing their share.
Marriage is not a partnership. Equality is not to be strived for. A good rule of thumb: if you feel like you’re giving 90% and getting 10%, then it’s probably fairly equal, especially if your spouse also feels that way. The truth is that you both give 100% of yourselves to each other, holding nothing back. The husband lays down his life for his wife, and the wife gives all of herself to her husband.
In a partnership, there’s give and take. In a marriage, there’s only give.
In the best marriages both people are giving more than themselves, which is impossible if you don’t believe in anything more than yourself. A union of two people beyond the physical requires something beyond the physical to bind us. Emotions are not enough.
The Bible says in Ecclesiastes “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” In terms of marriage union, two can function as one and withstand hardship. Add the third person, God, and the bond becomes stronger, almost unbreakable. The only way to break it, is to first remove God.
God can’t bless what he’s excluded from, and He’s never part of an equal marriage partnership; only a union. It’s easy to exclude God; just ignore Him and He fades away from life, faith ebbs, and small marital problems becomes larger ones, even marriage-ending ones.
Want to sink your happy marriage? Start by stopping. Stop praying. Stop listening to God. Stop reading the Bible. Then stop listening to your spouse. Stop giving 100% of yourself. Stop caring more for your spouse’s needs than your own. It won’t be long before you will want to find greener pastures, and you’ll be ripe for a takeover.
I said all that to say this: if you want to sink your marriage, start by looking at it as an equal partnership, not a union.
Or just maybe you already know that, you were just calling it the wrong thing.