Friday, March 16, 2012

equality in relationships

this post was inspired by the thoughts of dr. kelly flanagan in a post called, "marriage is for losers." i encourage you to read it--it is relevant and well stated.

i have often thought about equality between relationship partners. in every relationship i have been in, i have considered whether one of us was more dominant than the other. think about the relationships you have had. did one person always make the decisions? did one person always get their way? was there usually a "winner" and a "loser" in fights, arguments, or conversation?

how much do you compromise in a relationship? how much ought you to give up for your partner's sake? i believe it is just as possible to give too much as it is to give too little.

your thoughts, feelings, and opinions are much of what makes up who you are. these things need to be shared VERY OPENLY in relationships. i have seen the effect of poor communication in relationships. in most cases, not sharing an opinion is infinitely worse than sharing one.

now i want to suggest that there is a correlation between relationship equality and compromise. in order to be equal, both partners in a relationship need to share their feelings. there also needs to be a willingness to compromise. sometimes this means that you don't get to eat at your choice of restaurant. sometimes this means that you allow your partner to "win" an argument even when you think he/she is clearly wrong. compromising does not mean that the same person is always compromising--it needs to go both ways.  whatever the circumstance, we need to be open enough to consider the other person's point of view. and we should be able to expect that our partner is honestly sharing their point of view. there is no reason for silence.

dr. ben carson taught me a lesson at the BYU devotional on Feb 24th. he told the story of a pair of adult siamese twins. they were very intelligent. both had college degrees. both of them had doctorates (though only one of them had wanted one). in considering the operation to separate them, they were informed that there was a possibility that one or both of them could die. despite the danger, they decided to go ahead. ben quoted them as saying, "we would rather die than spend another day stuck together." dr. carson gave us this response: "i was surprised at first, but then i did something that i highly recommend you try out--i put myself in their shoes." after he considered how difficult it would be to spend literally every second of every day stuck to another person, regardless of how much you liked that person, he decided it would be very difficult indeed.

the point i am trying to make in sharing that story is that we need to put ourselves in our partners shoes. we may think that we know our partner very well, but chances are that you don't know everything. i bet that those siamese twins still had arguments. i bet that they sometimes surprised each other with their differences of opinion. as we interact with our significant others, we need to put ourselves in their shoes often.  every time that we disagree. that doesn't mean we will necessarily change our minds, but it does mean we are more likely to understand and to empathize.

in dr. flanagan's blog, he speaks of three different kinds of marriage relationships. the first two are grossly unequal.  i quote from his blog:

"In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some."

"The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse. These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all."

"But there is a third kind of marriage. The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful."

after reading his words, i came to the conclusion that i need to work to have that third type of marriage in my future.  the others are too painful and sad to consider.  so how do we create that kind of self-sacrificing, loving, compromising relationship?  and how do we do it without changing too much of ourselves?

i believe it is possible to change and compromise in a healthy way and in a healthy quantity.  i think there are two main things that we can do to foster equality in our relationships:

1)  listen to each other.  try to listen more than you talk.  when your partner is not speaking, listen more. as you listen, put on his/her shoes.

2) do not be silent.  share your opinions, both big and small. there is no reason why a mother-in-law should hear the true feelings of a husband or wife before it has been shared with their partner.

i think there is too much of a tendency for one person in a relationship to dominate the relationship.  that dominant person calls all the shots, makes all the plans, and ends up in control.  at first there may be a reason why their partner puts up with it.  maybe they are just glad to have a boyfriend/girlfriend (or husband/wife).  maybe they don't like making choices or they have a hard time choosing between alternatives.  but i don't think it is good for a relationship to be so one-sided.  in most cases we will make better decisions when two people come together and deliberate.  even if our decision is not the best (in our opinion) we may find that joint-solutions are more effective than a solution decided upon without mutual agreement.

i want a relationship where my opinion is equal to (not superior to) my wife's.  i want a relationship where my wife feels comfortable calling me an idiot when i am acting like one.  i want a relationship where we are both willing to admit it when we are at fault.  what do you want? share your thoughts.


  1. Working in an elementary school, I have seen various effects of marriages 1 & 2. Men and women don't always realize that their warring or painful silence is observed by their children and its heart-breaking. I completely agree, I believe that spouses should be equal in what they bring to the relationship. My family calls this being "equally-yoked" with your partner. One cannot take the lead away from the other or complications will arise. And the other cannot simply drag behind silently. It takes an equal effort to pull the wagon and both sides have to work together. I've always loved that analogy. I think it perfectly describes marriage. Even in depicting that its not just an easy ride. It takes a lot of hard work and possibly even pushing through some problems, but its easier if you work together. Thanks for sharing Jeremy!

  2. Indubitably my friend! I agree to the max! I have found so many instances where this has been described and discussed. Equality is so important! I can't really add much except for my agreement! Thanks for posting!

  3. I like this post :) this is what I study every day at school! It fascinates me. Communication is so key.