Carol A. Boyer, MA, LPC, NCC - 50 Church Street, Suite L3, Montclair, NJ  07042
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Ownership vs Undependent Living


January 13, 2014
 
Good relationships aren’t easy.  Good long-term relationships (whether marriage or something less formal) are especially difficult, because we demand so much from them over such a long period of time.  Paradoxically, researchers have found that good relationships, including marriages, do best when expectations are high, not when they’re low.  But if that’s true, why is marriage, as an institution, floundering?
 
Two reasons: first, we expect way too much; but perhaps more importantly, we’re expecting the wrong things
 
Movies, romance novels, TV shows, and other media lead us to believe that each of us is destined to find a “one-and-only,” get married, and live “happily ever after.”  Our rational minds may warn us that life isn’t that simple, but we really, truly, deep down, want to believe in the fairy tale, so we do.  Whether we intend to or not, we bring these unrealistic expectations into our marriages, and most of us end up very disappointed – in ourselves, our partners, and most of all in marriage itself.
 
As I’ve said in previous posts, marriage wasn’t always based on romantic love; in fact, quite the opposite. But marriage and romantic love have become so intertwined that I’m not sure we could completely separate the two, even if we wanted to.  But we absolutely can, and should, take a closer look at what we want from our most important relationships. 
 
Falling in love and sprinting down the aisle is the easy part.  The better question is, how do we go about the work of creating marriages that include companionship, deep intimacy, effective communication, egalitarian power-sharing, equal personhood, privacy, and trust?
 
Nena and George O’Neill, in their book, “Open Marriage,” say we need to understand that we’re marrying people– not roles – and learn to look at our relationships in a new way.  They describe, at length, the “Closed Contract” (what many people would describe as “traditional” marriage), and contrast it with the “Open Contract,” one which embraces the individuality and constant evolution of both partners as people, rather than forcing them into narrowly defined roles that stifle growth and ignore uniqueness.
 
The first of these Closed Contract rules is Ownership of the Partner.  Now, of course, I don’t mean we must abandon saying things like “my wife,” or “my boyfriend;” what I’m talking about is an attitude of ownership or possession that undermines individuality and takes away control over one’s own life.  Here are some examples:
 
Ownership of the partner is reflected in…
 
  • Assuming that our partner’s “free time” is always available as “couple time”
  • Exercising “veto” power over our partner’s clothes, job, hobbies, etc.
  • Expecting to be “everything” to each other
  • Discouraging our partner’s friendships with people we don’t like or approve of
  • Confining “our” friendships to “mutual friends only” (mostly other couples)
  • No friends of the opposite sex allowed
 
If you think you’re not guilty of any of these outdated notions, check to see if you’ve ever said anything like this:
 
  • “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
  • “Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re having dinner with Don and Sandy on Saturday.”
  • “You complete me.” (or referring to your partner as your “other half”)
  • “Joe's kind of a jerk; I don't know why you still hang out with him.”
 
 Contrast this with examples from the “Undependent Living” of the Open Contract:
 
  • We check with our partner before making plans, to see if he/she is available
  • Each partner is a whole person, with her/his own identity
  • Partners belong with each other, not to each other
  • Both partners are committed to a strong sense of self, as well as self-growth, so there is no need to control our partner’s friends, clothing, job, or leisure activities
  • Partners make friends together and/or separately, based on shared points of interest
 
 The O’Neills go on to say that marriage doesn’t provide love, material stability, emotional security, meaning, affection, social status, happiness, or caretaking.  Good relationships – including marriage – offer partners a chance to create these things.  We must be prepared to bring to the relationship those qualities we want to see.  To paraphrase Gandhi, you must be the partner you want to have in your relationship.
 
Your partner fell in love with a person – YOU!  If you continue to grow as you, then you become more of who you truly are, and your partner’s love for you grows.  If you collapse yourself into a role, you have to stop being you.  Not only is this boring (a role is only two-dimensional, while a person is totally 3-D), but it’s also a love-killer.  We fall in love with people, not roles.
 
That’s why I started this blog; because I believe that the best way to be a good partner is by being a good person.  Commit to your own growth, AND to the growth of your partner.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  You won’t be sorry.
 
Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage: A New Lifestyle for Couples
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

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