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The Partner You “Deserve”

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A long time ago, I made a comment in a newsgroup that I was a part of about how I felt people got the partner’s they “deserved”. I probably should have phrased that assertion differently as most people probably thought that was about moral dessert or about how fundamentally “good people” got “good partners”. That wasn’t what I meant. I meant that we got the partner we “earned” based on our values and choices. I think that on a spiritual level, we all “deserve” happiness, kindness, and love. We may not acquire it, either because of circumstances or our choices, but we all “deserve” these things.

I currently live in an Asian culture in which marriage is often viewed as a partnership that is more akin to a business than to an emotional bonding. While people prefer to love their spouse in this culture, they don’t tend to choose based solely on emotional considerations. For women in particular, the earning potential of their spouse is high on the list of priorities. I don’t judge women negatively for this because I know that it is a response to the lot in life that women are given. They have fewer career options, particularly if they want to have children, and they must choose between hitching their wagon to a man who is capable of providing for their future or fending for themselves in much more uncertain working conditions than the U.S. and remaining childless. Single motherhood is not common, and much more socially unacceptable here.

That being said, some women are fairly mercenary in their approach to marriage. They mainly choose a mate based on his company, education, and income. As they get a little older (over 30), they become more driven to form a partnership with someone based on the promise of social and economic stability rather than any true affection. The men, of course, are often motivated by pragmatic concerns such as the fact that being married brings them a raise, the approval of parents, a live-in mother, maid, and cook, and allows them to have children. Love can be in the equation, but it is seen as optional rather than integral. Overcoming one’s culture is difficult, though it is not impossible. There are couples who love each other who marry, but there is often recognition that love isn’t going to be enough to drive a successful marriage. The chances that a woman in this culture will marry a man she adores but who has poor or who offers limited economic security are relatively low.

It’s easy to adopt an ethnocentric stance and feel that this country’s approach to relationships is cold and calculating, but the truth is that all cultures choose spouses for reasons which are less than “noble” or deeply spiritual. Most Western cultures choose based on beauty, shared interests, or emotional needs. It’s easy to elevate our priorities over those in other cultures when it comes to choosing a spouse, but the bottom line is that each choice is very personal, and should not be judged as more or less morally valid or “enlightened” than another. Each person has the right to choose based on whatever criteria is of greatest value to him or her.

The point which I want to make is not about the criteria for partner choice, but rather about the consequences of a particular choice. Recently, my husband and I had a discussion about a situation which illustrated this point very well. He has an acquaintance who is native to the country we live in, and she has been having some issues with her marriage. One of the problems, and this is not the least bit uncommon in this culture, is that her husband is not interested in talking about things which concern her emotionally. She has been struggling with depression and emotional upheaval and feels unsupported by her husband. She chose her husband, as many people do in this culture, based on the aforementioned priorities of economic stability and the desire to have children before a certain age. She did not choose him based on his ability to communicate, share emotionally, or connect to her on a relationship level. While I believe there is nothing wrong with her choice, she is having regrets and paying an emotional price for her focus on traditional priorities. Her husband almost certainly did not change from initially being communicative and deeply interested in her life to being cold and indifferent.

This particular situation became a point of discussion for my husband and I not because we are busily discussing the concerns of our acquaintances, but rather because my husband wanted to get together with this acquaintance to comfort her about her situation on the one day that we both had time off in the coming three weeks. The conflict of interest came about  not only because this was going to be a precious uninterrupted chunk of shared time together, but because this woman was about to change her schedule and it would become very tricky to coordinate schedules and meet up with her for a talk over coffee at any time in the near future. Under other circumstances (that is, my not having weeks and weeks of work with no entire days off), I would have encouraged him to go ahead and meet her, but I needed to have a precious day with him before facing the weeks of work ahead. In the end, he didn’t meet up with her and we spent a lovely day together, but one of the things that came up in our discussion of this was the consequences of partner choice.

This woman is a lovely person, and she deserves comfort and support in her difficulties. That being said, she currently and for the foreseeable future will enjoy the fruits of her choice of husband. She is unlikely to have to worry about earning her own income. She will have a house that will be paid for and a portion of her husband’s retirement income. Her lifestyle is as assured as one can be. This was one of her priorities when choosing her mate, and she will reap the rewards of basing her choice on them.

When I chose my husband, my priorities were communication, valuing time spent together, physical affection, receiving attention, and intellectual discourse. For both of us, time spent together was a significant priority. My husband had broken up with a woman who had placed him as a secondary or tertiary priority in her life and it was very much on his mind that he didn’t want to end up with another partner who did not put him in first place in her life. We discussed this before we entered a relationship together and it was very clear. The thing that was not a priority for me was my husband’s economic potential or a secure future based on his career options. My husband is not a career-driven man. He works and earns money, but we don’t have the sort of stability that someone who chooses other paths might have. We don’t own a home and our retirement situation is far from secure.

Comparing my situation to my husband’s acquaintance, one can see that I chose to collect the fruits of my choice in a particular manner and that means that I get time, attention, emotional intimacy, and affection on an ongoing basis. She chose security in the present and future. We each “sacrificed” something based on our priorities because it is difficult or very rare to have a career-driven mate who also can spend a lot of time with you and pay attention to your needs on a very regular basis. Generally speaking, careers and commitment to a company take away from time with family and men who are driven by their jobs are less engaged with their wives. It’s simply a part of the balance of life that means that you can’t have it all.

In the end, the thing that I concluded was that my husband was endeavoring to take away the fruits of my choice (time and attention) and give them to someone who had made another choice. She would be getting her cake, and he would be offering her a slice of mine when I was hungry and wanted it because he felt sorry for her. It would have been unfair to me for him to deny me a precious day together to support someone else, even though she “deserves” support and I feel for her pain. I don’t mind if he is helpful toward people in need who are his friends, but not if that help takes something of value from me. I deserve the partner I chose and all of the benefits that came with that choice, just as that woman deserves the partner she chose and the benefits that came with her choice. We both have to live with how our present and futures are going to play out as a result of the choices we made. It’s not that I need every moment of my husband’s free time, but parceling out part of a precious day off in a long period of time when work schedules will divide our time is a significant loss to me. It may not be for other couples, but they didn’t choose their mate based on the same priorities as me.

Getting back to the comment I made in that newsgroup so long ago about getting the partner we deserve, two divorced men took issue with this. I think both of them felt that their partners had fundamentally changed on them after marriage, but the truth is that people rarely change greatly in terms of their character. What tends to happen is not that people turn into monsters after marriage, but rather that the focal point of any relationship through time tends to gravitate away from what you have and toward what you’re not getting. My husband’s acquaintance focused on what she was getting (security) before she married, but on what she wasn’t getting after (emotional support). When those men chose their wives, they prioritized something or other, but once they had it, they started to notice what they didn’t have or what they didn’t want which came along with the entire package. The women likely did as well and difficulties grew as a result. If they chose their wives based on beauty (and one of them certainly did as he told me in detail about how he came to be with her), then the value of having a beautiful wife became less once she was “secured” and all of the issues that go along with being married to someone who is recognized and valued for her appearance came into play. And make no mistake, beauty carries a psychological consequence as do all other physical attributes.

I have talked before about how every positive has a resulting flip-side which may not be quite so attractive. That applies to our own characters as well as our partners’. When you choose a mate based on your priorities or values, you get not only the good attributes which you want, but the less appealing ones which you may not be so thrilled with. When I say people get the partner they “deserve”, I mean that their values dictate the sort of package deal they end up with. They may not be happy with the fact that their choices carried some undesirable accompanying emotional baggage, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t end up with the type of person they deserve as a result of those choices. In the end, you can’t have absolutely everything you want in a partner because paragons do not exist, each person has only so much energy that they can focus in only so many places, and every plus has a minus.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

October 6, 2010 at 8:58 am