Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Egalitarian Marriage

I've had requests to write on a couple of topics (how exciting is that?!). And since I love to write and I love to blog, I'm jumping at the opportunity. So, first, this one on marriage. And next, one on homeschooling. I started this one about 10 days or so ago and it's been sitting here half done for a while so here goes. I mostly finished it yesterday so I'm posting today even though I know I've already posted another long one. Grab a cookie or something (I love that scene and we quote it all the time--reference #60 of this post).

Disclaimer: As I've written this, I've worried that somehow it'll come across as arrogant or pretentious when that isn't my tone or intent at all. First of all, I recognize how blessed we are. It's not like I can take a whole lot of credit for that. We know that we can not take credit for our blessings nor blame for our curses. That is what some call luck (that is a fantastic devotional by the way). We are not perfect nor do we profess to be. We work out kinks just as everyone else does. I guess I almost feel like I should be apologetic for what I say, but that doesn't make sense. It's like skinny women feeling uncomfortable and apologetic for not being overweight. It's not a personal affront or a fault! It is what it is. Remember that old commercial (I am so showing my age here), "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." (Wasn't that the magnificently gorgeous Sophia Loren?) Anyway, you get the idea. "Don't hate me because we're egalitarian." :P

Mark and I have an egalitarian marriage. What does this mean? Basically that by choice, we're on equal footing. That neither of us thinks we're higher or better than the other. That we are partners. That we share equally. That we work together. That we make decisions together. That we parent together (the older I get, the more respect I have for single parents--how in the world do they do it?!).

We've recently come across an article that says that an egalitarian marriage is somehow not Biblical. Now, first off, let me state that we find a lot of inspiration in the Bible, particularly in the teachings and example of Jesus, but we in no way believe in an absolute literal translation of the Bible. By definition, any kind of inspiration, scriptures included, works best when it speaks to us, leads us, applies, is applied, likened. It's too risky to pick and choose what the Bible backs and what it doesn't--I mean, the Bible is the same book that says you can beat your slaves and sleep with your sister-in-law as long as you don't "spill your seed." Yikes. You get the idea. So, c'mon, let's use some sense.

A few problems with the article (and also some direct, hilarious, sarcastic instant message quotes from Mark--and yes, we instant message each other on top of working right out of our home; we're that enamored.):

* "Each partner is equally free to initiate behavior designed to result in sexual intercourse."
Mark's response: I can see how this would destroy a marriage.

* The article they quote is from 1994 and the online article is from 1998. In 1994, the author said egalitarian marriages are "uncharted territory."
Mark's response: What? No follow up?

* "Christian Marriage"
Mark's response: I love how this guy changed the wording from traditional to christian marriages as if that changes anything. It's still designed to give the husband authority to use "wisely." Translation: he calls the shots, wife shuts up.

I guess we disagree with the extreme fundamental right take on things--submit at all costs. Sorry. Quite frankly, that is downright dangerous, not only to one's sense of self, but it can also be emotionally, sexually, and physically dangerous. I've heard enough in both individual and group sessions, not to mention conversations with people, and have read enough news stories to know that there are people who use authority unwisely, for whom power goes to their head. Unrighteous dominion, if you will. Ahem. I was saying.

Egalitarian. It's exactly what the Proclamation says--you know the part that is often largely ignored in discussions that tend to focus on the separate duties. The line that says quite specifically: "In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." (Emphasis mine). But I don't know. Maybe we're just hippies who like the smell of Patchouli.

I do have a difficult time with the set gender roles we hear of sometimes. Mostly because I often hear it said that certain attributes are more "natural" to women. I don't know. Maybe. But I see so many of those wonderful attributes in my husband. He is often more naturally the calm one, the peacemaker, the soothing hand. He is loving and patient and kind and forgiving and easily entreated. I don't always feel like those things are so "natural" to me, though some are, yes. But he is often the one who helps me through his example. I think we help each other. I know for certain that we complement each other. I guess I often feel like he's the better person, not that it's a comparison or a contest. Ack, am I babbling? What I'm trying to say is . . . so, I'm grateful. Deeply, passionately grateful, blessed, loved.

We have a very happy, egalitarian marriage. We're not perfect. And this doesn't even mean we always perfectly agree --- but it does mean we can discuss things without getting upset, angry, and defensive. We can talk intelligently without attacks or insults. We talk as friends and have fun analyzing and figuring things out (I'm sure we drive our kids nuts with how much we talk--incessantly! I mean, don't get me wrong, we've no problem sitting in silence--that's not uncomfortable. It's just that we're talkers, thinkers, readers, writers, analyzers). So we talk. A lot. :P

These are some of the unegalitarian phrases we do NOT use (and, incidentally, drive me crazy when I hear others use them). Yeah, we're nerds. So it's all about rhetoric. Anyway, we don't say . . . :

* "I have to check to see if my wife/husband will let me." Let you? What century is this? Like nails on a chalkboard, that one.

* "My husband is babysitting tonight." Excuse me? Come again? How can a father possibly babysit his own children? This one has never made sense to me. You enjoy your children. You care for your children. You don't babysit your own children. That's just silly. You might babysit someone else's children, but not your own. WE have children together. They're not just mine or just his. They're ours. So we care for them. Together. And when one of us does something while the other primarily cares for the children, we're certainly not "babysitting." Geesh. (Yeah, this one really strikes a nerve).

Now, this is not to say that we don't check with each other when making plans. We do. But this is out of mutual respect, not permission.

I recognize that I'm blessed with a fabulous partner. My husband doesn't ever use lecture-y words with me like "supposed to" or "should." He doesn't pigeon hole me, compare me, or use some spouse ideal as a guide. He loves me for me. He encourages me to be me. He is my supporter, my cheerleader, my friend, my lover, my partner. He complements me and I hope I complement him. I often think he got the short end of the stick in our relationship though he assures me that is not at all the case. I'm a very, very blessed girl and I do recognize that. I wish this kind of happiness for everyone. I really do. I ache for those who don't have it. What a world it would be for everyone to be happy! Wow. (By the way, here's a pretty neat talk on the subject by Bruce C. Hafen). It's about equality. I personally don't think that those who wish to be "in charge" or "wear the pants" are really that happy. Power hungry, maybe. But not happy, eh?

I found this great quote on HWHL's blog post about William P. Young's book The Shack: "It is not the nature of Love to force a relationship, but it is the nature of Love to open the way. Love that is forced is no Love at all."

Egalitarian means mutual respect. I remember one night as newlyweds sitting at the kitchen table and saying, "Hand me the salt." Mark looked at me and waited and said, "Hand me the salt?" I laughed and said, "Yes. Hand me the salt." I don't remember Mark's exact words but I know he wanted me to say "please." I eventually did, but first protested that we're married now and did we really have to have such formalities? I had said "Hand me the salt" in a nice tone. Wasn't that enough? He gently suggested that just because we're married doesn't mean we suddenly lapse into poor manners and disrespect. He's absolutely right! I've always, always been grateful for him pointing that out early in our marriage. It set the standard. Again, we aren't perfect, but more often than not, we say "please" and are courteous and polite with one another and I'm so grateful for that. Our kids aren't perfect either, but they're pretty well mannered and we owe a lot of that to their awesome Daddy.

Egalitarian means equal. It's not feminism and it's not even independence. It's interdependence. It's synergy. It's seamless. There are no rules. Mark really dislikes the phrase that marriage is 50-50. Like he says, it's 100-100. Both being themselves and both giving completely. That works. One of my favorite things is to see this in action when we're preparing dinner or setting up for book club or cleaning up. Little has to be said. We jump into action and get stuff done. There is no "his job" or "her job" but there is simply pitching in and it all gets done.

Study after study shows that "Generation X" Dads pitch in more and are, consequently, much happier, too. That's sort of "duh, well yeah" to me. I mean, let's evaluate and pretend it's a flowchart:

Husband doesn't view housekeeping and child rearing as "her job" so he participates actively.
Wife isn't so stressed out.
Husband looks even sexier when he's washing dishes.
Wife can notice said sexiness since she's not exhausted herself.
Husband is happier because he's an active partner.
Wife is more pleasant because she's not worn out.
Husband is less worn out because wife is not cranky.
Both are more fully themselves because this is encouraged and blossoms.
Both give 100-100.
"Duh, well yeah."

I remember many nights of waking to a hungry baby and Mark getting up to get the baby and bring him or her to me to nurse. I'd nurse on one side. He'd burp the baby while I got set up for the next feeding (as nursing mothers know, this all gets smoother as babies get older and we get more adept at nursing!), I'd nurse on the other side. He'd then change the baby's diaper and get the baby back to sleep.

At first I'd often say, "Mark, this is crazy. I've got it. You've got work tomorrow." To which he'd reply, "So do you. It's not like you can take a nap either tomorrow. I've got it." And he loves it. He's always truly bonded with the kids like this in addition to so many other ways as well. He is a super involved Dad. He enjoys it and takes it in, not wanting to let that pass him by without participating. He doesn't want to miss out on it, so he doesn't.

During residency especially, his sick days were my sick days. (You know how stay-at-home moms don't really get "sick days" . . . ). Mark has used his sick days when I've been sick (or frazzled) to help me be able to rest. Remember, this is the same guy who took FMLA leave for 1 and then 2 months during residency to help me through a debilitating depression. That act alone has made me feel like the most loved woman on the planet. He puts family first. He always has. And he stands up to anyone who dares tell him his priorities are out of whack.

I try, too, to look out for him and be involved in his work--medical school, residency, these, like everything, have always been a family affair. We've travelled together, we've discussed together, we've prayed together. And running our own family business together suits us more than we ever could've imagined. I don't sit back while he does all the leg work because he's the primary breadwinner (even this we've shared--I've been, at times, the primary breadwinner, he at other times, we work together). It is ours. We have so much fun being creative with it, choosing our name, our decor, our approach, writing up our philosophy, our website. We do this together. For those who look at it as his and hers jobs--I am able to help him with work stuff because he helps me with housework and homeschooling. Except we don't think of it in those terms--it's not "my jobs" and "your jobs" and it's not, "If you help me, I"ll help you." It's "we help each other because this is ours."

There is a great Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) quote that says, "Love is not possession but participation … part of that co-creation which is our human calling." That is simply delicious. Egalitarian means being free to be who you are. An affirmation I teach my clients is, "Generally what's best for me is best for those around me." Consider that one (and there needs to be balance so that it doesn't cross the line into utter selfishness). It's true. When we are fully, truly ourselves, we are more centered and at peace. Consequently, we are happier, home is a happier place, and everyone is free to be fully themselves. And everyone is more centered and at peace. We've come full circle!

And a pontificating post like this one wouldn't be complete without a quote by my favorite philosopher and transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal. If I have shrunk unequal from one contest, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and cowardly. I should hate myself, if then I made my other friends my asylum.
Again, this works for us. This may not be for everyone--different things work for different people and whatever it is, if it works well, then that's what counts. This is simply what we do and what works for us, that's all.

The beauty in this is that along with the maturing of a deep, meaningful, rich relationship, I still get butterflies. I can't stop grinning when I talk about him or how we met or anything like that. I know I sometimes stress about finances, but the truth is, we are very, very rich--you can't put a money value on this kind of love and seamlessness. It's priceless. And I love the new one I've learned from my friend, "I can sleep with this guy whenever I want!"

And finally, I think that half the reason I can even blog like this is because we work together around here. Otherwise, I'd be up to my eyeballs in dishes and homeschool tasks and I'd be grumpy from not having an outlet to WRITE. This way, we both get to do both. :) Thanks, Sweetie.


emily said...

Dave taught our kids manners too. I remember when Isaac started saying "please" and I was like, "hmm, where did he learn that?" All Dave. Love that.

And your "see if my husband will let me" comment made me lol. I've said that before, but not in those terms really...I mean, I know I can do whatever I want if I want to, but when I say that, what I mean is "I have to talk to my husband about it." It's not like he would stop me from doing something I wanted to do...I guess I should use different words!

I'm glad you're so happy together.

Lena said...

I love the 100/100 instead of 50/50! I feel much the same about my marriage and my sweetie. It seems when one is freaking out or not as patient the other one is there to even everything out. We are always saying how perfect we are "together." We really are. There are things I never ask him to do (fold laundry) and in return I never have to clean the bathrooms, lol. I think I have the better end of the deal there!

How in the WORLD can a marriage like that NOT be in God's plan? I do believe that there are more "womanly" traits but I do see that that does not mean that men cannot or do not also have these traits or that every woman will have them naturally either. It's something said in general. I believe Heavenly Father expect us to use our brains and do what is best for our marriage and our children and to have respect and love for one another and be selfless in that love.

I sent Peter and email a couple of days ago and the subject was "hey lover!" Someone else was at his desk when he received it and teased him about it. He just looked at the guy and said "when was the last time someone called you their lover?" That got him quiet pretty fast, lol.

Great piece!

terahreu said...

Yes, I get it.

I thank God everyday that I married the man I did. It makes me sad when women don't. It is hard to make something work when it is one sided.

I love the 100% - 100%. So true

Chelle said...

I totally agree that couples need to find whatever works for them. I'm so glad you and Mark are so happy. I just laugh at myself when I read some of your posts because I would go insane if Jared and I had your life (that doesn't sound mean does it?).

It's unfortunate that everyone can't be secure enough with themselves to allow their spouse to be their own person. The desire for control and power can be so destructive. I have so much respect for people who respect and honor their spouse.

D'Arcy said...

Wonderful Post. It gave me a lot to think about. I agree with it on so many levels.

I understand where you are coming from, I see you as quite progressive in your marriage and relationship. I love that you two have both worked so hard to create this life you have for each other.

I have a lot to learn from you, and am so happy that you are sharing this here with us.

I think I'll send you a more indepth email about some of my ideas!

J Fo said...

You are so great to share and to so carefully put this article together. I love the fact that you guys are always actively working on your relationship and friendship and are always conscious of each other. We can all use a good reminder and refresher about how good we actually have it every now and again. This actually reminds me about how President Hinckley talked about and treated his wife. I love that this generation of husbands and dads are so much more proactive at home. Heavenly Father definitely knew the right time for me to be here on earth and the perfect guy for me! Aren't Foley boys great?!

J Fo said...

p.s. LOVE the Emerson quote!

Jagged Rocks said...

I agree. Kraig and I are the same way, minus the kid thing (for now). I do often check with Kraig about doing things, but for one reason, I ask him if we can do something, so that he knows what I want to do. He won't stop me from doing it, he just has to get dragged along. We only have one car, and we often do things that one of us doesn't really want to do. But we do it, because it is give and take.

Boquinha said...

Wow, love the comments, guys!

Em, that's so funny! And I love the manners thing. Foley boys are great, eh? :)

Lena, holy cow, so often when you post something or comment, I find that we have such interesting, quirky things in common--Mark cleans bathrooms (works out well--I don't like to and he doesn't like to vacuum and I do), we use the phrase "use your brain" all the time, etc. :P

Terah, yep, I hear the one-sidedness in counseling sessions and it makes me sad. You and Axel are perfect together.

Rachelle, you and Jared are such great examples of pure acceptance and love. I totally know what you mean by your comment--it's not mean at all and it totally makes me miss you!

D'Arcy, I'm so excited to get your email! And see you in the fall! :)

Jessica, "I love that this generation of husbands and dads are so much more proactive at home." Me, too! And I'm so glad we're SILs. :)

Kim, I love that you and Kraig have that, too. I know what you mean. And the one car thing can be so fun as you get to do so much together. :)

Boquinha said...

P.S. In talking about this post with a friend the other day, it occurred to me that I could've added a whole paragraph about picking up slack and hope I've been fair/clear about that.

When I was EXTREMELY depressed (as in hardly functioning at all), Mark totally picked up my slack. Big time. Like in *everything.* I'd like to think we're balanced in this, that I pick up slack, too. I don't know that I'm as good at it as Mark is, but when he's busy/stressed/etc., I try to do some of the stuff he generally does or simply make things easier and smoother. Hope that makes sense . . .

I think we all have our days/times when we're feeling more up or more stressed and it's nice that we all pitch in and balance things, you know? Have you ever noticed that it seems natural that way? When one is stressed, the other not so much and vice versa? Yeah, that.

chandelle said...

awesome, awesome, awesome! i don't really have anything to say, just that you know egalitarian marriage and equally-shared parenting is our aspiration and intention also, and you hit it just right with everything. we are some lucky women and, it must be said, our men are lucky, too. :)

Dr. Mark said...

I would have to agree with Chandelle in that I am truly a lucky/blessed person. I felt like commenting earlier on this post would have come off as ganging up or self-aggrandizing, but I'm on now to say what a great wife I have. She gets what it means to be in it 100-100 and I think that's one of the HUGE reasons we are so happy. Once two people are completely and totally committed to happiness as a unit life becomes so much easier.

Boquinha said...

Thanks, Sweetie. I love you, too.

LKH said...

I came across this post on google search and am so glad!

I really enjoy reading about other couples living egalitarian marriage. My husband and I believe this to be the most freeing way to live and that we best honor God this way.


Boquinha said...

Thank you, LKH! I appreciate the comment. I'm guessing you posted on Facebook, too, because our blog (and this post specifically) suddenly got a lot of action on this post and that's where people were coming from! :) Thanks!