Equality in Our Relationships
Recently I was asked if I felt that Barry and I had an equal relationship and if so how did we achieve this. In my heart I felt that the answer was yes, but I decided to ask the three experts, our children. I sat alone with our two daughters, ages 27 and 22, and our son, age 14, and asked them, “Do Daddy and I have an equal relationship? Do you see us sharing equally in the household chores and in the decision making process? Do you see us as equally powerful?” These questions were quickly answered with a “Yes”, as if to say, “It’s obvious, how else could your relationship work?” This is a wonderful gift and model that we have given to our children. They see our equality as simple and natural. What they don’t know is the difficult journey that we have taken to arrive at this place.
The model of equality and balance, or the model of inequality and unbalance, in a relationship is often passed down from generation to generation. Each generation has the choice to either emulate their parents or not. I am very grateful that my father chose to create a new model for himself. My father was born to German immigrants in the early 20th century. Each Sunday he watched as his mother, sister and grandmother prepared a huge Sunday dinner for he and his brother, his father, and grandfather. They worked very hard and served many different courses. Then when dessert was finished, the men would go into the living room, light up their cigars and relax while the women then did all the dishes. My father felt this whole process was very unfair. As a child he made a vow that he would always help his wife. If my mother prepared a meal for the family, my father always did the dishes. He vacuumed, cleaned and helped with the laundry. He worked hard all day, while my mother stayed at home and took care of my brother and I. However tired he was when he got home, his priority was to spend time playing with my brother and me. He was the one that read to us each night and tucked us in. I grew up thinking that all men were helpful like my dad.
Barry and I married when we were both 22 years old. It was our first time living together. I loved Barry with all my heart and felt that I knew him totally. However, I soon discovered that Barry’s mother had done everything for him. Household jobs such as dishes, laundry, vacuuming, cooking, grocery shopping and picking up after oneself were not a man’s duty while he was growing up. You can just imagine my shock. Our marriage almost ended in the first 6 months. I made it clear to Barry I simply could not stay in a marriage that was unequal. I knew that I deserved equality and would not settle for less. Intellectually Barry agreed, but his model from his childhood was so ingrained that each step in the process of my gaining equality was a huge effort. I never let it go. Sometimes it seemed so much easier to just pick up after him and do all the chores, and yet I knew inside that I wanted an equal relationship in all ways and that I couldn’t settle for less.
Three years later, Barry was helping in all of the chores around the house. It became something we did together and it brought joy to our relationship. Now there was the even more difficult task of learning to listen carefully to one another and respect each other’s feelings – emotional equality. There was still a subtle tendency within me to give my power away to Barry. I hadn’t yet learned to say no and mean it when something wasn’t right for me. Finally there was a crisis and I learned to say no in a big way. I left the relationship. In the process of coming back together we had to learn to honor each other’s feelings and truly respect one another. I learned that I can never give my power away to my husband by putting up with something that does not feel right to me.
We also needed to learn to make decisions together. Decisions that affect both of us need to be made by both of us. We’ve both made mistakes by trying to push our own way in order to win a decision. Decisions made in this way have never worked well.
By the time our first child was born, eleven years into our relationship, we had done much work to find balance and equality. What our children now see as something easy between us, was really a rather difficult journey. But how grateful we both are that we went through those uncomfortable places. The balance and equality between us has allowed us to love one another deeply because we are a team together. We work together rather than against one another. Our hope is that our three children will strive towards an equal and balanced relationship and that we can help other couples achieve this. No matter how long you have been in your relationship, the effort for equality is worth it. Not only will you give your children a lasting gift, but creating equality in your relationship is the precursor to creating equality among all the people in the world.