Q: I would like to hear what your understanding of a great marriage might be.
The other night my fiancé and I were talking about what we might expect from each other when we are married.
What he said made me a bit nervous. He thinks that I should let him know where I am going and what I am doing just about all of the time.
That sounds a lot like control to me and I am not fussy about entering a relationship where I am always accountable to the other person.
I think that a great marriage must have something besides accountability but I am not exactly clear about what makes a good or great marriage.
If you have some thoughts about this please pass them on.
Both my boyfriend and I would love to discuss them.
A: I tend to agree with you — control of one person by another person within a marriage, or any kind of an intimate relationship, is problematic.
Actually, it is more than problematic. Control within a relationship usually means that the relationship is not otherwise working to the well-being of the two people involved. One or both of them leans toward control of the other person in an attempt to correct deficiencies in their interpersonal intimacies. It doesn’t work.
A number of psychologists studying marriage and intimacy have come up with what they believe are four principle pillars upon which a reasonable relationship can be built:
- The ability of both people within the relationship to ask for love and attention.
- The ability for both people to give love and attention to the other person.
- The ability to live in comfort within the autonomy of the other person. This is a new one. Traditionally, men have had a few more opportunities for autonomy, creativity and independence than have women. It is only within the last short while that women have been encouraged to draw their own lines of control fortifying their drives to independence.
- The abilities of both people to negotiate with each other.
Nothing is a given these days. Two people moving in and trying to build a home together do not know which of them is to dust the furniture, cook the meals, pay the power bill or scrub the toilets. They have to negotiate with each other. If they don’t, either the chores will not get done or one person will end up doing all of it by themselves and in the process building an insurmountable wall of resentment toward the other person.
As stellar as these four pillars might be, few of us lean on all four of them at the same time. We move back and forth, sometimes loving, sometimes negotiating, not always admiring our partners with the enthusiasm they deserve and clamming right up rather than negotiating as an adult with our loved ones.
As long as we are moving back and forth we are not likely to spill over into the dysfunctional file with our relationship. That comes when we don’t move back and forth, when we are stuck in one of the pillars and we not able to either love or be loved, to appreciate the wonder of the person with whom we said “I do.”
When we are stuck in one pillar, either by successfully making it or woefully failing in the task, control raises its ugly head and we displace negotiating truth and reconciliation with our partner with a drive to be in charge to make things happen.
You and your boyfriend, sometimes fiancé, soon to be husband, would probably move your relationship forward by talking about the four pillars with each other and then, if through your negotiations, you decide that you could let each other know where you are going and what you are doing, it will work. But only if that agreement is drawn from a cloud of equity.
Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.