“You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.”
— Jodi Picoult, Mercy
If there’s one sound generalisation which we can attribute to marriage it’s that it’s forever unbalanced; one reaching toward the other, and hopefully there is reciprocation, but never the perfect reciprocation. Where one partner excels in doing the housework, it’s hoped that the other partner pulls their weight in some other way. One does the ironing, whilst the other does the dishes. That’s the idea.
Within all the imbalance there is ideally a meeting of the minds toward relational compromise—toward a mutually-agreeable acceptance.
But those who are married will usually have more realistic expectations; marriage is no fair-weather ground where calm seas prevail at all times. There are the inevitable fronts and swells. Choppy seas are starkly metaphorical for those conditions that arise suddenly, producing perfect storms of indifference where the waves of conflict smash against the rocks of trust and respect.
Marriage is ebb and flow—a continuity between two souls with separate passions, entrenched beliefs, individual baggage, and divided priorities, who, due to the circumstances of their togetherness, must make the best of what they have, which is neither theirs or the others’—but theirs together.
Is Balance Achievable or Even Desirable?
Without being defeatist we could wonder whether the myriad variables in marriage are worth balancing or not. Would we be better served to appreciate whatever contribution the other can, or is willing, to make? The danger, of course, surrounds those who are minimalist by nature; the characteristically selfish. No partner wants to be a doormat.
There has to be a way through for the responsible partner; a way of them surviving with their sanity intact. They may have little influence over changing their partners.
Rather than despair there is another option. For the responsible partner, the one who makes the lion’s share of the sacrifices—the most functional one—there is safety and wisdom in reaching a landing of identity beyond the partnership.
What enters the room, now, is the idea of singleness-of-identity in marriage.
Holding Single and Couple Balls in the Air Simultaneously
Perhaps one of the most resilient methods for making marriage work is the ability to draw on two concepts of identity: 1) the married person as they are identified within the couple, and 2) the married person as a single person.
One of the things I will always be grateful for—and my wife is within herself, too—is that we spent a sufficient amount of time as single people before we married. So for us, to become single again within moments of our marriage is not hard. Indeed we desire it. It’s important as married couples that we can gain fresh perspective through the beauty of space.
Every good relationship draws on space. Good relationships can subsist in the midst of conflict, because partners understand when distance is appropriate so that mental and emotional processing may take place.
Marriage is not weakened by space, and by the identity of singleness; rather it is strengthened. Marriage is also strengthened in the acceptance of the things we cannot change.
When the inequities within marriage can be mutually accepted, and the couple are just as happily themselves as they are in the unit, marriage is a beautiful institution.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.