Resolving Power Imbalance in Marriage

Last week’s column was about double standardswhich are privileges given to one spouse but not the other. We learned that when power and privilege are distributed unevenly in a marriage, those underprivileged spouses over time come to believe they are indeed second-class, unworthy of being trusted. They take more and more of their identity, worth, confidence, and direction from their arrogant, over-privileged spouses, which makes the power imbalance grow larger every year. So what can an insecure junior partner do to address and correct these unfair double standards?

1. Clarify a mission statement, to reveal the actual working purpose of your marriage. To find out what the mission statement is now, put your spouse on the defensive here and ask him. If he won’t give one, propose what the double standards indicate: "This purpose of this marriage has been to increase your self-confidence, self-esteem, and enjoyment of life by drawing from mine." Tell him you’re assuming that’s what the mission statement has been unless he tells you another one and pledges to you and other adults that he’ll live by it.

The institution of marriage and its vows were designed to increase the quality of life of both partners, and through their equal partnership, the lives of those they touch, especially their families of origin and their families of creation (their children and their families). Ask him what’s wrong with that mission statement. As your personal declaration of interdependence, tell him you are switching your loyalty now from the old, imbalanced mission statement to the original model of a partnership that blesses each other and the world.

2. Realize that as the up-til-now underprivileged partner, you are actually the stronger and better person. You are strong enough to take care of two (or three, five, whatever) people instead of one, and without benefit of much support from outside or inside the marriage at that. You have developed an unselfish lifestyle, which makes you a good person, worthy of honor and privilege. Believe it, and then tell your spouse this truth. This awareness changes everything.

3. You take the lead now, leading at least yourself, and start giving yourself the same privileges you give your spouse. Don’t wait for your spouse to quit using double standards—that never works. Oh you can and should ask him first to embrace you as an equal, but don’t hold your breath. He probably won’t realize how strong and worthy of trust you are until he sees you acting this out in your life.

4. Do the same with responsibilities: start evening up the load. You can’t make your spouse take responsibilities, but you can give a few of them up. You just tell others that you are letting your spouse decide how that gets done, so that whatever falls between the cracks reflects on your spouse, and not you.

5. If you agree with all this but aren’t ready yet to put it into action, start violating your double standards one at a time. The best one to start with is telling others what’s been going on. Talk with friends, family, a counselor, a pastor. Break the code of silence and talk with people who keep your secrets, don’t take your side against your spouse, and whose marriages are true partnerships.

Use these people as outlets for your fear, guilt, and doubts so your spouse won’t see yours, and thus will be free to feel his own without projecting them onto you. Use your supporters as inlets for courage, wisdom, love, joy, and peace, so your spouse will see them, and since they are contagious, will feel his own. Your confidantes will encourage you and teach you how and why to start dismantling your double standards. Trust that in time your spouse will follow your lead though it may be against his values and wishes, just a you once followed him against yours.

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt