Many relationship talks begin with “men” and “women” or “husbands” and “wives” or “girlfriends” and “boyfriends”. This irritates me. I know that we can’t just do away altogether with grouping people, but these groups have a tendency to marginalize our differences. When I’m thought of and seen as a wife instead of as me, people miss things about me. They miss my experiences and the things that make me the specific woman that my specific husband wanted to marry. When we take our advice and our generalizations down to “husbands” and “wives” we tend to take away the parts of people that made them the “one” over all the other ones.
Women aren’t interchangeable, and I know men aren’t either. It gets even more fun when you add in people who don’t identify with the binary genders because I think they understand this concept better than the rest of us. I am me more than I am a woman, wife, mother. My husband knows that when I ask him how I look in an outfit, I want a real answer, contrary to what many people that I work with think would be the right answer for him. Of course, I’ve also married a man who has great tact and knows how to politely tell me that this outfit isn’t quite working for me today. He recognizes me under all my wifeliness.
For both of us, this idea of seeing each other above the typical pretense that people associate with marriage is a byproduct of being in a peer marriage. We’ve fallen in and out of peer status over the years because we aren’t perfect, but we’re always trying to maintain it this way. I know that he didn’t just get to a certain age and decide to marry the girl he was with at the time. I was specifically chosen for specific reasons and so was he. We are autonomous people, physically and mentally independent from each other and more so from what people say a wife and husband should be. We make our own decisions for our marriage, even when it’s not widely socially acceptable or common.
One of the hardest things about this is consistently recognizing his total autonomy, and I know it can be a struggle for him to do for me sometimes. One of the ways that we get this out is by admitting our desire to not treat each other as autonomous at times. It lets us get out the horrible things that are rolling around our minds at the same time as dismiss them. We’ve found this helpful because it allows us to give a better frame of mind to each other which helps the fight not escalate. Sometimes the irrational thing is funny, which can help to ease the tension.
It’s important to realize the autonomous person that each person in a relationship is, though. They do not exist to bend to your will. They have their own opinions based on their own experiences. They have their own ideas. They have their own desires for their own lives. They can change their minds or stay rigidly with a single idea. Expecting them to bend to you is unreasonable and irrational. It’s also not fair to them and it doesn’t help the intimacy that most people seem to want out of their marriages. Compromise is not easy, but having a relationship based one or the other person being more in charge doesn’t sound like fun to me. I know it’s fun for some and convenient for others. It just isn’t for everyone.
It’s also important to realize that we are each made up of more than which group you would put us in. Not everything we do will be in perfect congruence with what a wife or husband does and we’ve found these things to be the most precious of all. At the same time, they can be the most infuriating when it’s not complimentary to what the other person wants. We have to take the good with the bad. These things help us to disassociate something as generic as my gender or his from who we are individually and it therefore distinguishes who we are as a couple. When we can take gender away from the discussion of who should do which chore, we can start to have a better discussion on all sorts of things. An incredible benefit was assigning housework according to who noticed what and who it affected more instead of “laundry is women’s work”. Going about these discussions this way allowed us to realize what neither of us really wants to do or cares about and let’s us figure out if we would rather just pay someone else to do it. It’s been incredibly beneficial.
We are fully autonomous individuals, separate from each other and whatever group one might lump us in with. For us, it’s part of the fun to grow so that our lives are intertwined and neither is absorbed or eclipsed by the other.
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