Save Your Marriage: Is There a Lack of Equality in Your Relationship?
The notion that all human beings are of equal value seems to express this point more accurately than the oft-used phrases “equal rights” or “equal opportunity.”
The equality that I am talking about here is not just equality in relation to the law of the land, but equality of rights and responsibilities in human terms. Everyone has the right to expect the same fair and equitable treatment, respect, consideration, dignity, education, and access to information; work and participate in all aspects of human life. Every human being has the right to aspire to freedom, love, happiness and peace; obey his own conscience and lead his own spiritual life; to follow his own personal goals and aspirations. Every human being is entitled to each of these things, because they are a prerequisite of social equality and an expression of the concept that all people are equally valuable and precious, simply because they are human.
Of course, individual rights may vary depending on a person’s role within a group. For example, in a group such as a neighborhood association or a music society, each committee member has specific rights with respect to achieving the group’s goals, defined by her role. For example, the president has the right to decide who speaks next, and the treasurer will speak first when it comes to decisions on financial matters.
These individual rights that relate to the different functions of group or family members, however, are not as significant as basic human rights, and it is vital that they are not assigned different values, as in the past, particularly when it comes to issues of gender, race. or class are involved. Marriage is a partnership in which two individuals of opposite sexes but of equal worth as human beings choose to live together as equals. This statement may seem self-evident. It is not, however, the traditional view of marriage. How many adults can remember their own parents’ marriage as an equal partnership? Examples of such true equality in marriages from previous generations are few and far between.
Because we may not have a personal experience of equality in marriage, it is up to most couples to work things out their own way. Is it surprising, then, that so many couples fail and give up the fight? The relative newness of the equal partnership concept and the difficulties couples experience in achieving it are the main causes of the rising divorce rate and the general lack of trust in marriage as a way of life. The proof of this is clearly seen in the fact that two generations ago, it was generally the man who initiated the divorce proceedings. Today there are more women who want to leave their husbands than the other way around.
Until very recently, society was completely on the side of men and their traditional privileges, and women seemed to meekly accept the inferior role assigned to them. Today society has recognized the need and justice of equal rights for women. Aware of both their equality and their new legal rights, women refuse to accept a subordinate role and opt for individual freedom. As is often the case, social custom lags behind legislation.
This is why so many marriages are in trouble today: the law says that spouses are equal, but society still expects the wife to take time off to care for a sick child or wait for the plumber to fix the washing machine, and Women frequently shoulder the double burden of housework and a job. Women are increasingly less likely to accept this unequal treatment, and rising divorce rates are partly a result of their dissatisfaction.
Of course there are undeniable differences between men and women. Few women can compete with men in physical strength, and no man has ever nursed a child. These differences in certain abilities and functions do not, however, imply a difference in value as human beings. Thus, both partners have equal rights to express their opinions, which neither partner has the right to overrule because of some preconceived notion of superiority. Above all, it is important to keep in mind that when consulting or making decisions as a couple, there cannot be a simple majority to guarantee fairness. Therefore, couples must work to ensure that each member has an equal voice in family affairs. Again, one partner may merit special consideration by virtue of particular skills or additional knowledge, but this consideration does not affect one’s overall worth as an individual, and should not usually override the other either.
We live today in a time of transition, when the traditional roles of men and women in society are changing, and these changes are having a profound impact on marriage. As women juggle full-time work outside the home with their traditional child-rearing responsibilities and domestic work within the home, tensions will be felt and stereotypical divisions of labor between husband and wife will need to be adjusted. Every couple today must negotiate these new challenges and find their own way of living together as two equals in a harmonious and sustainable relationship.
The promotion of women to a position of equality is therefore not a matter of fair play within the law. It goes way beyond that. It implies the establishment of a completely revised set of relationships between human beings; relationships based not on tradition or physical strength, but on mutual rights, responsibilities and friendship. Only in this way can we fully function as human beings and enjoy a rich and rewarding life within marriage, with husband and wife walking side by side, with neither being left behind.