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

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Avoiding the "Trap of Couplehood"
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Ownership vs Undependent Living (continued)


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Ownership vs Undependent Living (continued)

February 19, 2014
In my last post, I started a discussion contrasting “ownership” of our partners, with “undependent living.”  (See Open Marriage, in my list of references.) Since this can be a challenging idea to embrace, I wanted to expand on it a little. 
When we talk about ownership, we don’t mean it literally, of course.  But in our marriages and other long-term relationships, we often behave in ways that look a little bit like ownership. 
Free time is a great example.  Let’s say you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, and you’re planning next weekend’s activities.  You get an email from your friend Donna, asking if you and Bob want to have dinner next Friday night with her and her husband, Jack.  You email her back immediately, saying, “We’d love to!  How ‘bout Thai?” 
If this sounds like you…oops!  You’ve assumed that Bob’s free time is yours, to do with as you like.  Naturally, you hope he will enjoy the dinner, but if you didn’t take the time and effort to ask what he had in mind for next Friday, then you’ve assumed control – which is one aspect of ownership. It sounds like a very small thing, and to some degree it is, but when you “take it for granted,” rather than actually having it granted, you’ve assumed ownership.  If you think this is a bunch of hogwash, reverse the example, and let me know how you think things would go if Bob made plans for the two of you to go bowling…without asking you first! 
Aside from ownership, the above example also touches on one of the central problems I discussed at the very beginning of this blog – being a role instead of a person. In the old paradigm “Closed Contract,” the roles of husband and wife have specific jobs associated with them, and making social plans falls to the role of wife, along with grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, vacuuming, child care, supporting her husband’s career (and ego), as well as a general expectation that she will be the one to put home and family first, when "compromise” is called for. 
Husbands don’t fare any better.  According to the Closed Contract, husbands must be the primary income-earner, pay all the bills, do the yard work, take out the garbage, make all home repairs, and be the main decision-maker, all while remaining the “emotional rock” of the family (never show vulnerability). 
No wonder marriages are failing!  But don’t lose hope.  In the Undependent Living of the Open Contract, partners are responsible for themselves.  Housework – indoor and outdoor – is just work. It’s home maintenance that all members of the family engage in, according to their ability and inclination.  I loaded the dishwasher this time, and my partner will do it next time. If his back is aching from shoveling snow, I’ll take an extra turn…AND rub his back!  Why?  Because during the last snowstorm, he did most of the shoveling, and cleaned off my car when he cleaned off his own…not because I expected it, just to be nice! 
Like what you’re hearing? Stay tuned for more!

Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
Finkel, Eli J. (2014) The All-or-Nothing Marriage.  Retrieved on 2/17/2014 from
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
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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