The Bitter Half or the Better Half? – Balancing the Positive and Negative in Marriage

  • When one enters in a marriage, he or she has different expectations, needs, fears and experiences from their families or past relationships.
  • Marriage is not an extension of singleness, where you take your spouse along.
  • The balance between negativity and positivity appears to be the key dynamic in what amounts to the emotional ecology of every marriage.

Human beings are not monogamous by nature (according to biologist David Barash and psychiatrist, Judith Lipton, co-authors of The Myth of Monogamy). “And they lived happily ever after”…so ends every fairy tale, but a marriage is not a fairy tale. Marriage is a sacred ‘bond.’ According to (Matthew 19:6) one of the commands from God was, “They are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” Strive to protect the ‘core’ of marriage, invest and spend time, effort, and sacrifice, and the chances for (eventually) having a rock solid marriage are quite high.

Remember the parable:

There was a gathering in heaven and all the men were divided into two lines. To the right were men who ruled their own house, and to the left were men who were henpecked. Only one man was in the ruler’s line, and the rest were in the henpecked line. When the Lord called forth the one man who was in the ruler’s line, he was asked, “And may I ask why are you standing in the ruler’s line?” He shyly replied, “My wife told me to stand over here.”

When couples don’t argue, they make all kinds of emotional compromises.

Then there’s the story of the famous philosopher Socrates complying with his dominant wife Xanthippe. In Xenofon’s classic book Symposium, we hear about Socrates’s wife as dominant and shrewish. Socrates argues that he actually likes this challenge, but it is also portrayed as someone who is putting up with a lot of trouble. Perhaps it’s just a challenge, perhaps he does it out of love, or maybe because it is just easier to let her run the show instead of demonstrating his authority as a man. No matter the reason, what happens is that Socrates complies and therefore he is ridiculed. What man would willingly accept such disrespect from a woman? A woman’s power of physical seduction is stronger than a man’s reason. Men’s compliance was already a piquant subject 2,500 years ago.

Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew” is the story of a strong-minded woman, Katharina, who yields to an equally stubborn man. Petruchio, from the beginning wanted to dominate a relationship that featured two dominating personalities. He sought to tame her in a nonviolent but still somewhat cruel fashion. Petruchio’s method of “taming” Kate featured depriving her of the things she had taken for granted and been given all her life, and he sarcastically acted as if it was in her best interest. In the name of love, Petruchio refused to let her eat, under the pretense that she deserved better food than what was being given to her. Similarly, Petruchio didn’t think that her bed was suitable for her to sleep in, so his servants took turns keeping her awake and denying her sleep that she so desperately needed. Petruchio took the stance that Kate was his property, as he pointed out in the second scene of Act Three:

I will be master of what is mine own.

She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house.

My household stuff, my field, my barn,

My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything..

Petruchio’s words left no doubt as to his belief in the marriage system that existed during Shakespeare’s time, perhaps presented in somewhat of an exaggerated form. As tiredness, hunger, and frustration set in on Kate, her wildcat personality began to weaken noticeably. Because of the helplessness of her situation, she began to show submission to her husband. Petruchio’s therapy for Kate has been compared to holding up a mirror and letting the shrew see herself.

The goal of a marriage is a relationship of love and freedom, not fear and fights.

The goal of a marriage is a relationship of love and freedom, not fear and fights. “Henpecked” is another way of saying psychologically abused. But notice that this is almost never called abuse. On the other hand a man treating a woman in this same manner is considered abuse. And its because of this that his submission is seen as compliance. And compliance passes as an internal weakness in the man, not as something imposed on him by an outside force. When men treat women like that, outside forces are included. When women treat men like this its treated like an individual event not linked to outside forces (and apparently exonerating feminism is more important than calling this behavior abuse).

Contrary to the common belief, men have a lower tolerance for probing conversation and verbal conflict. John Gottman, at the University of Washington monitored the heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels of both spouses during marital quarrels and found that men become physiologically overwhelmed much more quickly than women. With his pulse rate rising rapidly during an argument, and his elevated pressure, a husband may instinctively remove himself from the fray. This “stonewalling” technique of shutting down receptors and turning your body and mind into a stone wall is a defense against the stimuli that flood our system when we sense danger. Going blank, refusing to show a response or leaving the room are all defensive acts.

The following words sum up eloquently how a marriage should be:

Truly as the sun

can rot or mend, love can make one

bestial or make a beast a man.

   thus wholeness-

wholesomeness? best say efforts of affection-

Attain integration too tough for infraction.

(‘Efforts of Affection”) Excerpted from a longer essay in “Marianne Moore, poet of affection”

When one enters in a marriage, he or she has different expectations, needs, fears and experiences from their families or past relationships. Miscommunication is bound to happen. According to Monica O’Neal, PsyD., a Harvard-trained licensed clinical psychologist, relationship specialist, writier and lecturer at Harvard medical school: “a lack of arguing indicates a lack of truthfulness and emotional intimacy.” When couples don’t argue, they make all kinds of emotional compromises – everything from how they communicate to how they approach time with their extended families.

Marriage is not an extension of singleness, where you take your spouse along. It takes time to build the connection between the two – a lot of time – and this time has to be taken away from others. Marriage means forsaking some freedom in order to gain growth. You can’t have both at the same time. If you don’t make forsaking a part of daily life, you always run the danger of adding the wrong thing (bad influences) to your marriage and subtracting the good (closeness and honesty) from it.

In “what makes marriage work,” Nan Silver says, “What really separates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions towards each other. The balance between negativity and positivity appears to be the key dynamic in what amounts to the emotional ecology of every marriage.”

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Madhavi Vudayagiri

Writing and reading has always been my hobby. I would never buy a greeting card to wish a family member or a close friend, instead I would compose a poem highlighting their qualities and greet them. Having been in the field of teaching, studying people is what I do best. Creative writing is my forte, in order to hone my creative gene, I acquired a diploma in creative writing. I love to probe people's minds and try and understand their thought process. This website seems to be just what I am looking for!


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