Why did you get married? I’d warrant it was because you were in love; you wanted to have a legally binding commitment to the person you hoped to spend the rest of your life with — which is actually a fairly new concept!
Before 1850, people got married for food production, shelter, and protection from violence. Not exactly the stuff of Hollywood films, eh? We also looked to our parents to choose a suitable spouse based on their socioeconomic standing. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century people started marrying for companionship and love.
In a recent interview with bestselling author Ramit Sethi, couples therapist Esther Perel explained that romanticism is a fairly new concept. “Marrying because you are deeply attracted to someone and have fallen deeply in love with someone and are lusting [after] that person — all of these are rather recent ideas. They have arrived in the West about 150 years ago.”
Perel added that, in like the traditional model of marriage from centuries ago, “we want companionship, family life, social status, respectability, and economic support.” But we also want our spouses “to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot — and we live twice as long. That’s the model.”
That is A LOT of responsibility to heap upon one set of shoulders dontcha think? Making our husband our best friend, provider, father, lover, equal in household duties/childcare, etc.?
See, I don’t subscribe to that belief, simply because my husband doesn’t give me everything I need in life. He is of course my family, my “other half,” but that doesn’t mean he fulfills all my needs. On vacation last week with one of my oldest and dearest friends of 30 years, we talked about how much we need our female friendships in our lives. We realized that we connect with our female friends often in a deeper way than our spouses, plus we need the laughter, comradeship, support, and love that our girlfriends give us. We don’t look to our husbands to be the one and only form of friendship and fun in our lives — that is where our friends come in.
And, having asked around my female buddies, we believe our relationships are all the better for it. By turning to other people for different parts of our lives, we don’t have all of our expectations pinned on one person.
For example, I don’t expect my husband to understand my career in the way my other writer friends do. I turn to them for advice and sympathy and they “get” how insecure and unstable and difficult the profession can be. They know what it is like to get writer’s block, or spend a whole day stressing that I can’t come up with any story ideas, only for them to pop into my head just as I’m falling asleep.
Likewise, I can chat to my female friends about how our bodies are changing with age. What are those strange red dots that appear on our trunks? Is your hair thinner than it used to be? And what has happened to our boobs — have they flown the coop?? Obviously my husband wouldn’t have a clue what I was going on about. When I had my hysterectomy in January, as supportive as my husband was, I got more comfort out of sharing my fears with my girlfriends because they connected with me about it in a way he never could.
While I know nowadays, more than ever before, we are striving for gender equality, there are still expectations on mothers that simply are not put on dads. I don’t see many dads on the school run that often, I know of no dad who has had to create a costume on World Book Day, or any who regularly buy the gifts for all the parties their kids attend. Moms are expected to run a household, juggle careers and kids, and somehow still have time to be gym-honed and rustle up cakes for the school fair! So I find there are some topics that I can chat to the other moms about that my husband wouldn’t even register.
When my husband met me, he said I was the most social person he had every encountered, which was a challenge as he is a lone wolf. I need to be out chatting with people, and feel engaged and “watered” by the interaction with others, while he needs alone time. All through our dating years and marriage, I have never let any of my friendships slide – determined to make time for those that I have known for countless years. My husband is thankfully encouraging of this. He knows that it isn’t that I prefer others’ company to his, but just that I get a lot of joy from my various girlfriends and they enrich my life, so why lose something that precious?
More and more of us have ended up moving away from our families due to work opportunities; I am surrounded by friends who have no family nearby. All of us are raising our families in these tiny units, creating untold pressures on our marriages as we grapple for any “me” time. Gone are the days when dad came home and dinner was on the table and the “seen and not heard” children gave him a nod goodnight and headed straight to bed. When my husband and I have spent a day working from home together on our respective jobs, only to get through the kids’ after-school activities, dinner, and bath-time, often the last thing I want to do is have any more conversations with him — I want to see another face! None of this detracts from my marriage or the esteem in which I hold it; it will always be my priority, but in my mind, it is healthy to have things for myself too.
This idea is one I took from my aunt, who has just celebrated 40 years of marriage in April and has the most serene relationship I know. I once asked her the key to a successful relationship and she replied, “He has his things like rugby and swimming, and I have my own hobbies and friends too. That way we always have something to talk about.”
So next time you go on a girls’ night, tell your hubby you are doing your marriage a favor!