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.

When marriage allows one of its partners privileges the other doesn’t have, it is a double standard. Most marriages have quite a few, by mutual agreement, which is no big deal.

It’s a problem when most of the double standards favor the same partner. Any double standard is trouble when, according to unbiased and well informed experts, the underprivileged partner is undeserving of his or her lower status. The problem is that partners given a second-class status before long come to believe they deserve it.

Marriage is set up to be a partnership, not a dependency. Both the civil and religious vows required are quite mutual, creating a partnership of peers. When that partnership degenerates, when one partner becomes very insecure about loosing the other, when both are convinced that one could do much better than the other on the open marriage market, love starts to spoil and smell bad. One partner becoming insecure is a problem the marriage partnership is designed to correct, not exploit.

Here are some of the privileges I see most often in my office being doled out in unfairly double standards. Sometimes there are obvious justifying circumstances, but it is a danger sign if one marriage partner enjoys a lion’s share of the following privileges:

How the two families of relatives are treated

Deciding where the couple eats, vacations, or goes for fun together

Having lots of free time to eat, vacation, or have fun without the other

Spending money on one’s own clothes, hobbies, entertainment, or creature comforts

Deciding who gets invited over to the house

Setting behavioral standards for children and grandchildren

Flirting with the opposite sex

Accusing the mate of flirting, or disloyal thoughts and behavior

Deciding whether, when, and where the couple goes to church

Having confidantes with whom one can talk about the marriage

Improving or neglecting one’s health, fitness, and appearance

Knowing or determining the marriage’s assets or debts

Relaxing around the house when the mate is present

Deciding where the couple lives

Deciding whether and where to work outside the home

Deciding how the house looks (inside or out)

Making accusations of partner’s poor mental health

Receiving an apology from the mate when hurt by that mate

Judging and punishing the mate for misdeeds

Making messes one doesn’t have to clean up

Doing most of the talking

Being appreciated and gifted on birthdays and special holidays

Teasing each other

Initiating lovemaking with successful results

Being complimented by the other, in public or in private

Criticizing the mate, in public or in private

Expressing opinions without rebuke that differ from mate’s

Being given trust that can be demanded instead of earned

Can you think of others? If so, I’m developing a list for my clients, so please email me. More next week about how to address double standards in your marriage. For starters, cut out this article. You’re going to need it.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt