Love, Marriage & Autonomy: You Really CAN Have It All!
November 13, 2014
Is it REALLY POSSIBLE to maintain a healthy relationship and still be your own person? The right partner for you will never criticize or shame you. As a matter of fact, they will be your personal cheering section and back you 100%. They'll give you advice and speak their mind in a constructive way, and they'll never make you feel small, belittle you, or make you doubt yourself. But can you share everything with them and still be your own person? Absolutely!
Drs. Ruth Schwartz & Michelle Murrain
You don't need to force each other to compromise "for the sake of the relationship!"
We talk to so many women (and we are sure this is true of men as well) who believe they need to choose between deep, lasting love - the kind we all hope for in marriage - and getting to live their own lives. Well, we're here to tell you that we believe you can have it all...but only if you're willing to re-think what many people take for granted.
For instance, recently Ruth bought a new used car (a major upgrade, even though it's 10 years old!) While chatting with our neighbor about it, Ruth mentioned that we had considered pooling our money to buy a nicer car together than either of us would've bought on our own, but we hadn't been able to agree on what to buy.
"Pooling your money?" our neighbor asked, confused. "But you're married! All your money should belong to both of you."
Ruth explained that we had a different approach to marriage. "Hmm, maybe I should suggest that to my wife," he responded, in a way that made it clear he was joking.
We live together and work together - and since we both work from home, we spend more quality time together every day than many couples spend in a week, or maybe even a month!
We meditate together 4-5 mornings a week, take long walks 2-3 evenings a week, and have deeply intimate conversations nearly every day.
We talk about everything. We have no secrets, and no topics that are off-limits.
We have a wonderfully physical, affectionate and sensual connection.
Yet we don't pool our money, and we don't control each other's social lives, hobbies or eating habits.
Our respect for each other's autonomy is central to the way we love.
"I feel as if our relationship lets me get to have my cake and eat it too," Michelle has said more than once. (Her past girlfriends were critical and controlling.) As for Ruth, this is the only kind of relationship in which she could ever have said "I do."
Now, before we reached our car decision, we spent several days poring over car ads, discussing our needs, priorities and how much money we wanted to spend. We even test drove some cars. But ultimately it became clear that we just wanted different things. (Michelle cared about cuteness and sportiness, while Ruth valued a comfortable, quiet ride and reliability.)
Then Michelle also realized she really wanted to have her own car, rather than sharing two cars, a "beater" and a nicer car for long trips. We couldn't agree. So we decided we didn't have to!
And this is just one example. Another is the way Michelle casually mentioned to Ruth a few weeks ago that she's going up to Oregon for a science fiction convention - or how Ruth tells Michelle when she's decided to go off for a personal writing retreat, rather than asking for her okay.
Now, this is what works for us. It doesn't have to be what works for you! If you like pooling your resources, making all your decisions jointly, and always socializing together, we applaud that too.
You don't need to force each other to compromise "for the sake of the relationship!
But we find that often couples do those things because they think they have to - because they believe what's what a committed relationship requires - even if it's not what works for them. So we're here to tell you that there is another way.
What do love and intimacy consist of, really? Is it the shared bank account, the shared social calendar - or is it the sharing of our deepest thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears?
Is it forcing each other to compromise, giving things up "for the sake of the relationship" - or is it stretching ourselves beyond conventions in order to ensure that both people get to continue being their full selves?