It tends to be a joke among husbands and wives, that in order to have a happy marriage, the husband needs to agree with the wife about everything all the time. Statements like this usually garner a chuckle among mixed company because the truth is that most women run over the thoughts and feelings of their men in relationships. Who wears the pants in most marriages? Women. Why? Is it because men are afraid to assert themselves? Is it because they are truly inferior? Is it because our society has taught women to bat their eyes and smile to “get what they want” and men to give-in to female manipulations? I don’t know honestly. Maybe it’s a combination of reasons. But many women I know call the shots in marriage. I did.
My first marriage was so upside down. Anything and everything I said became law. “Maybe we should…” was all I had to say and it happened. There was little to no conflict. My ex just went along with my sense of right and wrong, good and bad and everything in between.
I remember thinking, “I’m always getting what I want, I should be happier…” but I wasn’t. Getting what I want all the time unleashed a sense of power in my personality that made me more critical, mean, and pushy then I ever really wanted to be. I didn’t know why I was so unhappy. Why I was so picky. It was as if I were an unchecked despot at times. Not attractive. But here’s the kicker…I didn’t know how to fix it. I tried so hard to pull back my personality to allow my husband some power, but since he never pushed back and never asserted his own needs and wants. All I had to do was finally open my mouth and I got what I wanted.
After 17 years of marriage, he finally told me that he was unhappy and thought I was a tyrant and I was dumbfounded. He seemed so happy for so many years and he never told me he thought I was wrong. In fact, I was the one, during one-sided arguments, who would bring up that he should exercise his own agenda. I was aware that something was terribly awry…but things never changed.
I believe that when we got married he desperately wanted me to be happy. He wanted to be my prince charming, making my life a fairytale. I believe he genuinely believed that making me happy meant agreeing with my strong personality. Logic flows that if I’m getting, doing, being who I want…happy wife would equal happy life. But that lead to a miserable existence for him.
He had an affair with a woman he worked with that lead to a four-year relationship. I saw them in person together only once. But what I gathered from my children, the relationship fell apart because she always got her way and she became critical, mean, and pushy….hmmm….sound familiar?
In fact, it seemed that she relished that role even more than I did. She actually chastised him for making her wait to eat dinner because our daughter called him in crisis one evening. My daughter listened over the phone as this woman cussed him out, demanded that he hang up because it was dinner time. Wow.
Turns out that the dynamic at play here is much like what happens when a human becomes a guard in a prison. When given all the power, humans get more aggressive and become bullies. When giving away power, humans get depressed. A study last year done in New Zealand gives evidence that this is true in relationships as well.
The study attempted to demonstrate if happiness could be derived from always agreeing with your spouse even if you thought they were wrong. A husband entered into the study agreeing to follow along with his wife no matter what. The wife knew nothing. But after only 12 days researchers could see the dynamic unfold and halted the experiment. The husband’s happiness went from 7 out of 10 to 3. The woman’s happiness went from 8 to 8.5 but in addition she became more critical, aggressive, and demanding. And that was after only 12 days…think of how much more imbedded the behavior would be after 17 years!
So, it turns out that having a system of checks and balances is not only good for government, it’s good for marriages too. Conflict is healthy. Debate is healthy. And agreeing on everything is not.
My ex’s personality is such that he does not like conflict. He avoids it at all costs because it makes him uncomfortable. I was told while trying to save my marriage that I needed to allow him that comfort in order to make him happy. So as soon as I knew my marriage was in trouble, we flip-flopped. I loved him, so I was determined to show him that I TOO could be SELFLESS. For a year and half, whatever he said he wanted, he got. Whatever movie, food, or recreation. I suppressed myself as he had done for me all those years as proof to him that I loved him.
Now, I understand how wrong that was! And let me say, I have learned a lot over these past few years. It was right to show my husband love. It was right to make him feel valued. I just was a bit misguided in HOW I did it.
Now, I understand that what I did would not “FIX” what was “BROKEN” in my marriage. It was just more of the same. Huge revelation!
Now, I’m newly married, and I’m in awe at how different it is to be in an equal relationship where power is checked on both sides. My Harry admits that he too has only been in lopsided relationships where he pretty much could do whatever he wanted and controlled the power. He got what he wanted all the time, but he too was not “happy.”
I often tell him I think he’s wrong and he tells me the same. But we don’t get upset about it most of the time. We just agree to disagree. Conflict doesn’t have to mean that you fight. It just means you don’t capitulate your will for someone else’s. There has to be give AND take going both ways.
We were at one of his family gatherings once and his aunt marveled at our interaction saying, “I’ve never heard anyone talk to him like that before.” And I just kind of looked at her like…I do it all the time…. I don’t think its disrespectful at all to tell someone what you truly think as long as it’s not done in a mean-spirit. I believe its one of the main reasons why we are SO HAPPY together.
It all comes down to respect. If someone becomes a wet blanket with no backbone…giving-in to your every desire, any human being will naturally lose respect for that person. And when respect is lost, it is easy to excuse mistreatment. Because in your mind…they don’t deserve good treatment.
It’s a vicious cycle that takes two to correct. It takes the will to be different which requires courage, strength, restraint, and self-reflection. It can be done, but it’s rare. And to be very honest with you (and this may seem bias but I’m going to say it anyway) the onus for change is the burden of the weaker partner who needs to be stronger. They have to change the most and it is a harder change. Because in most cases, the dynamic was created because there was a void of pushback, not because the other person wanted and set out to be king or queen.
The best thing is to choose a mate who is a good balance for you. If you are easy-going, don’t choose someone who is strong-willed and visa versa. And, let my example be a warning to all husbands who have the happy wife is a happy life philosophy and to all wives who think getting what they want means they will be happy. Because it simply is not healthy and doesn’t work.
And one more thing. It was a scary choice to go from the kind of relationship I was in to one where both partners are strong. I feared we would fight constantly and I would be miserable. But the very opposite has happened. After two years together, I can honestly say this is the happiest relationship I’ve ever been in. It was worth taking the leap of faith to trust and give up some of that power. We both often say that it was the best decision we ever made.