How do you define your role as a spouse?
If I did a survey of married couples and asked them to tell me how they define their role of being a spouse, I’m pretty sure I know what kind of answers I would get.
I know what most people would say, because I ask this question to married people every day in my practice.
And the response is fairly consistent.
It’s not a question we think about very often. It’s not something we really mull over too much. Generally, most people just live out their role of being a spouse and rarely pause to contemplate; “What is my job here anyway?”
The role we play as husband and wife is often less-than-conscious; something we typically assume, take for granted, and rarely make explicit.
Also, we often mistakenly make the assumption that our partner is content with our definition.
What is your job as a husband?
When I ask husbands to tell me how they define their role & responsibilities of being a husband, they typically respond with some reference to being a “financial provider.”
He’ll say something about “taking care” of the family financially.
This is how most guys have been acculturated to define what it means to be a husband. They generally think of being great providers for their family. More money = increased success as husband.
This isn’t a bad thing. Being a financial provider is super important, but it might be limited. I’ll show you why it matters in a second.
What is your job as a wife?
When I ask wives the same question, undoubtedly they will give me an answer that includes something to do with being a Mom.
This is how most women have been acculturated to define what it means to be a wife. Women often see themselves as being a good wife if they’re a good Mom. Successful children = successful wife.
Why this doesn’t work well
Before you start thinking that I’m anti-traditional gender roles, let me tell you why this is important.
It’s not that being a “financial provider” or a “Mom” is inadequate, bad, or shouldn’t be included in our definition of being a spouse, because it should.
Those are two very important aspects of our roles as partners.
But that should be only a limited aspect of how we measure our success of being a spouse.
For most people in marriage, these two identities carry too much weight and a disproportionate amount of significance.
I see it everyday. Couples well into their marriage with these two roles as the sole paradigms that govern their functioning. But they don’t work well by themselves…they never have.
Because people lose jobs. And kids grow up. And then what?
For husbands that see their primary role as a “financial provider,” here are some questions to consider;
- What do you do when your wife doesn’t need your money as much?
- What is your role as a husband when she begins to focus on her career again and make money? Maybe even more money than you.
- What do you do when you lose your job? Is your worth as a husband vaporized? For a lot of guys—it is.
For wives that see their primary role as a “being a good parent”;
- What do you do when your kids are grown and begin to separate to the peer groups?
- What is your role when your kids are grown and leave the house?
- As your kids dependency on you diminishes with time, is your value as a wife losing it’s worth? I hope not.
Enlarging your role of spouse beyond
So instead, let me ask you a question that I ask all the couples I work with:
How do you define your role of being a spouse (and you can’t reference being a financial provider or a parent)?
Now all of the sudden, that question becomes a lot harder to answer.
Most people are totally stunned when I ask them this question. It’s as if I asked them to help me solve a complex calculus formula.
Try it right now….ask yourself: “What is your role as husband or wife without talking about being financial provider or parent?”
We hold onto the roles of financial provider and parent much too tightly. And when we are forced to let them go…even for the sake of answering a question, we are often at a loss.
This question forces us to dig deeper and think about; What is our function and purpose in marriage, if not for these two roles?
Because the truth is, as time clicks on in your marriage, answering that question will become increasingly important.
If not these two roles, then what?
If you have to define what it means to be a spouse without referencing financial provider or parent, a good place to start is to consider referencing what I call the 6 Non-Negotiables in any relationship.
These six aspects of marriage are essential if any relationship is going to flourish, and last the test of time.
If one of them is missing, the relationship will be in danger of either one or both partners been seriously dissatisfied.
If one of them is missing—the relationship is in trouble.
THE SIX NON-NEGOTIABLES
The Six Non-Negotiables are the essential building blocks for a quality marriage. This isn’t rock-star stuff…this is just good humanity and being a decent person stuff.
And I find it interesting to know that being a financial provider or a parent is not listed here.
We know what works and what doesn’t
If you look at divorce statistics and the reasoning people give for leaving a relationship, you will almost never, ever hear: “I left because they were not a good financial provider,” or “I left because they were not a good parent.” NEVER.
However, what you will see when you look at research on divorce is at least one of the Six Non-Negotiables missing in nearly EVERY case.
So…back to the original question: “How do you see your role as a spouse (without referencing being a financial provider or a parent)?
If you answered that question, would you include aspects of the Six Non-Negotiables? Would that be part of your natural language? Is that how you see your role of being a partner?
As we develop more expansive roles in our marriage that go beyond the concrete (the traditional roles), we shift our focus toward a way of being in relationships that is actually and finally sustainable.
Of course paying the bills and raising children is a part of the equation, and very important, but imagine what your relationship would feel like if you spent just as much energy as thinking about and incorporating the Six Non-Negotiables as you did with the other two roles?
I’d venture to say things would feel a lot different between you two. If you’d like to learn exactly what this looks like and exactly how to do it in your own relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to show you.
Originally published on QuentinHafner.com
Photo—Kamaljith K V/Flickr