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Ownership vs Undependent Living (continued)

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:57 PM Comments comments (558)
February 19, 2014
 
In my last post, I started a discussion contrasting “ownership” of our partners, with “undependent living.”  (See Open Marriage, in my list of references.) Since this can be a challenging idea to embrace, I wanted to expand on it a little. 
 
When we talk about ownership, we don’t mean it literally, of course.  But in our marriages and other long-term relationships, we often behave in ways that look a little bit like ownership. 
 
Free time is a great example.  Let’s say you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, and you’re planning next weekend’s activities.  You get an email from your friend Donna, asking if you and Bob want to have dinner next Friday night with her and her husband, Jack.  You email her back immediately, saying, “We’d love to!  How ‘bout Thai?” 
 
If this sounds like you…oops!  You’ve assumed that Bob’s free time is yours, to do with as you like.  Naturally, you hope he will enjoy the dinner, but if you didn’t take the time and effort to ask what he had in mind for next Friday, then you’ve assumed control – which is one aspect of ownership. It sounds like a very small thing, and to some degree it is, but when you “take it for granted,” rather than actually having it granted, you’ve assumed ownership.  If you think this is a bunch of hogwash, reverse the example, and let me know how you think things would go if Bob made plans for the two of you to go bowling…without asking you first! 
 
Aside from ownership, the above example also touches on one of the central problems I discussed at the very beginning of this blog – being a role instead of a person. In the old paradigm “Closed Contract,” the roles of husband and wife have specific jobs associated with them, and making social plans falls to the role of wife, along with grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, vacuuming, child care, supporting her husband’s career (and ego), as well as a general expectation that she will be the one to put home and family first, when "compromise” is called for. 
 
Husbands don’t fare any better.  According to the Closed Contract, husbands must be the primary income-earner, pay all the bills, do the yard work, take out the garbage, make all home repairs, and be the main decision-maker, all while remaining the “emotional rock” of the family (never show vulnerability). 
 
No wonder marriages are failing!  But don’t lose hope.  In the Undependent Living of the Open Contract, partners are responsible for themselves.  Housework – indoor and outdoor – is just work. It’s home maintenance that all members of the family engage in, according to their ability and inclination.  I loaded the dishwasher this time, and my partner will do it next time. If his back is aching from shoveling snow, I’ll take an extra turn…AND rub his back!  Why?  Because during the last snowstorm, he did most of the shoveling, and cleaned off my car when he cleaned off his own…not because I expected it, just to be nice! 
 
Like what you’re hearing? Stay tuned for more!

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References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Finkel, Eli J. (2014) The All-or-Nothing Marriage.  Retrieved on 2/17/2014 from www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Ownership vs Undependent Living

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 3:49 PM Comments comments (403)

January 13, 2014
 
Good relationships aren’t easy.  Good long-term relationships (whether marriage or something less formal) are especially difficult, because we demand so much from them over such a long period of time.  Paradoxically, researchers have found that good relationships, including marriages, do best when expectations are high, not when they’re low.  But if that’s true, why is marriage, as an institution, floundering?
 
Two reasons: first, we expect way too much; but perhaps more importantly, we’re expecting the wrong things
 
Movies, romance novels, TV shows, and other media lead us to believe that each of us is destined to find a “one-and-only,” get married, and live “happily ever after.”  Our rational minds may warn us that life isn’t that simple, but we really, truly, deep down, want to believe in the fairy tale, so we do.  Whether we intend to or not, we bring these unrealistic expectations into our marriages, and most of us end up very disappointed – in ourselves, our partners, and most of all in marriage itself.
 
As I’ve said in previous posts, marriage wasn’t always based on romantic love; in fact, quite the opposite. But marriage and romantic love have become so intertwined that I’m not sure we could completely separate the two, even if we wanted to.  But we absolutely can, and should, take a closer look at what we want from our most important relationships. 
 
Falling in love and sprinting down the aisle is the easy part.  The better question is, how do we go about the work of creating marriages that include companionship, deep intimacy, effective communication, egalitarian power-sharing, equal personhood, privacy, and trust?
 
Nena and George O’Neill, in their book, “Open Marriage,” say we need to understand that we’re marrying people– not roles – and learn to look at our relationships in a new way.  They describe, at length, the “Closed Contract” (what many people would describe as “traditional” marriage), and contrast it with the “Open Contract,” one which embraces the individuality and constant evolution of both partners as people, rather than forcing them into narrowly defined roles that stifle growth and ignore uniqueness.
 
The first of these Closed Contract rules is Ownership of the Partner.  Now, of course, I don’t mean we must abandon saying things like “my wife,” or “my boyfriend;” what I’m talking about is an attitude of ownership or possession that undermines individuality and takes away control over one’s own life.  Here are some examples:
 
Ownership of the partner is reflected in…
 
  • Assuming that our partner’s “free time” is always available as “couple time”
  • Exercising “veto” power over our partner’s clothes, job, hobbies, etc.
  • Expecting to be “everything” to each other
  • Discouraging our partner’s friendships with people we don’t like or approve of
  • Confining “our” friendships to “mutual friends only” (mostly other couples)
  • No friends of the opposite sex allowed
 
If you think you’re not guilty of any of these outdated notions, check to see if you’ve ever said anything like this:
 
  • “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
  • “Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re having dinner with Don and Sandy on Saturday.”
  • “You complete me.” (or referring to your partner as your “other half”)
  • “Joe's kind of a jerk; I don't know why you still hang out with him.”
 
 Contrast this with examples from the “Undependent Living” of the Open Contract:
 
  • We check with our partner before making plans, to see if he/she is available
  • Each partner is a whole person, with her/his own identity
  • Partners belong with each other, not to each other
  • Both partners are committed to a strong sense of self, as well as self-growth, so there is no need to control our partner’s friends, clothing, job, or leisure activities
  • Partners make friends together and/or separately, based on shared points of interest
 
 The O’Neills go on to say that marriage doesn’t provide love, material stability, emotional security, meaning, affection, social status, happiness, or caretaking.  Good relationships – including marriage – offer partners a chance to create these things.  We must be prepared to bring to the relationship those qualities we want to see.  To paraphrase Gandhi, you must be the partner you want to have in your relationship.
 
Your partner fell in love with a person – YOU!  If you continue to grow as you, then you become more of who you truly are, and your partner’s love for you grows.  If you collapse yourself into a role, you have to stop being you.  Not only is this boring (a role is only two-dimensional, while a person is totally 3-D), but it’s also a love-killer.  We fall in love with people, not roles.
 
That’s why I started this blog; because I believe that the best way to be a good partner is by being a good person.  Commit to your own growth, AND to the growth of your partner.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  You won’t be sorry.
 
Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage: A New Lifestyle for Couples
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Love & marriage - strange bedfellows

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 5:32 PM Comments comments (246)

December 17, 2013

Last post, we all had a good little laugh about the rules of courtly love.  But as silly as they look to us, they were taken very seriously at the time (the time, of course, being the Middle Ages).  However, we must remember that these were the rules of a game – albeit a very elaborate one – that was designed to NOT interfere with the sanctity of marriage. 
 
How’s that again? Asking and giving of ladies’ “tokens” (usually a scarf or handkerchief), singing of love songs, and outrageous flirting…all with someone else’s spouse?!  Our modern sensibilities go “tilt” at the very thought! 
 
But remember…for most of history, husbands and wives were not brought together by love, but by the desire to consolidate power, money, and influence (unless you were poor, in which case, marriage was about making a living).  Of course, if love (or, more properly, respectful affection) were to “grow” between partners, that was considered a good thing…as long as it didn’t get out of hand.  (And adultery was no joke – a cheating queen could lose her head…for treason!)  But what we would consider love – that heart-racing, appetite-suppressing, sleep-depriving state of romantic intoxication – that was something our ancestors thought of as a kind of madness; certainly far too volatile and capricious an emotion upon which to base something as important as marriage. 
 
But the geography of marriage did change over time, influenced not only by the rules of courtly love, but also by the invention of the plow, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the women’s rights movement, and myriad other social changes. 
 
Fast-forward to more-or-less present day. 
 
The divorce rate has been falling steadily for about the past 40 years…but so has the marriage rate.  Part of the reason for this has been the acceptance of new relationship options.  Non-marital cohabitation has been rising since the 1970s, and has now hit historic highs.  Births outside marriage are more numerous – and less stigmatized – than ever before. More people are staying single, and staying single longer before marrying.  And yet, most people say they want to marry at some point in their lives.  So why is marriage, as an institution, on the rocks? 
 
Because we want more. We expect more from marriage, and we’re pretty disappointed when it doesn’t deliver, so a lot of us bail. 
 
For thousands of years, the basis of marriage has been livelihood, procreation, and survival.  But these days, that just isn’t good enough.  We may still want livelihood, procreation, and survival, but we also want love, intimacy, trust, and good communication. We want our spouse to be our best friend.  The problem is, as we shall see, that the old “rules of the game” could never foster the kind of intimate sharing and mutual growth we’re looking for in marriage today. 
 
Tune in next week for:
The Closed Contract – Clause 1: Possession/Ownership of your Mate 
 
Credit where credit is due: The basis of my discussion of the “Closed Contract” and the “Open Contract” of marriage comes from a ground-breaking book called Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill.  Originally written in 1972 (updated in 1984), it does come off a bit dated in some spots, but the concepts and observations are surprisingly timely.  Despite its title, the book is not primarily about polyamory, spouse-swapping, or “swinging.”  It’s about how partners relate to each other within a marital relationship.  It’s a fun read, and one of the best guides to a healthy relationship of ANY kind I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

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Resources:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage