Carol A. Boyer, MA, LPC, NCC - 50 Church Street, Suite L3, Montclair, NJ  07042
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Self vs Role


November 24, 2014

At the end of my last post, I said that this post would be about “the trap of Couplehood.”  But before I begin on that topic, I wanted to say a little more about Denial of Self, and what that means.

What is the Self?  Simply speaking, the Self is our identity.  It is who we are, separate from other people.  Aspects of the Self include our age, race, sex, beliefs, values, ability status, and so on.  Also included are things like our chosen line of work, our talents and abilities, and personal or professional goals, such as completing an advanced degree or having children.  Our Self is the essence of who we are – what makes us unique.

Some aspects of the Self can change over time.  For example, we may have been raised in a conservative family with very strict ideas about religion, politics, or sex; but as we grew up and encountered more of the world, we may have developed attitudes or opinions that differed from those with which we were raised.  We then incorporated these new attitudes and opinions into our developing sense of Self.

When we enter into relationships, especially marriage, our sense of Self can be challenged by the role we are expected to play as husband or wife.  If we give into the pressures to conform to a role, we cut off personal growth, which is a denial of Self.  Of course, that is not to say that we should avoid the behaviors and obligations of being a responsible partner or parent, but it does suggest that who we are – and who we are permitted to become – should not be predetermined merely on the basis of sex.

Let’s use housework as an example.  In the traditional view of marriage, maintenance of the home was divided into “women’s work” and “men’s work.”  A woman was expected to do the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, ironing, and decorating, and to take primary responsibility for child-rearing and social scheduling, as well as supporting her husband’s career.  A man was expected to be the primary income-earner, financial decision-maker, and emotional “rock,” as well as to take out the garbage, complete small household repairs, maintain the family car, and do the yard work. 

In a more contemporary view, maintenance of the home is simply that.  It is the collection of tasks that need to be done, in order to keep the home running smoothly.  In this view, a household task can be done by any member of the household, according to their inclination and ability, not according to their role.

Today, the vast majority of U.S. households include two income-earners, yet many of us find ourselves frustrated and exhausted trying to live up to the “traditional” model of marriage.  We want our marriages to work, but we still find ourselves under pressure, from family, society, and often ourselves, to conform to the outmoded roles of previous generations.  This is a huge denial of Self, for both men and women.

Love, companionship, intimacy, friendship, and open, honest communication are the essential ingredients of modern marriage.  All of these qualities require growth – both as individuals and as a couple.  If we commit to personal growth, both for ourselves and our partners, we enable ourselves to grow into the partners we most want to be.  Roles don’t grow.  Only people do!

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