Historically, marriages were based on economic factors and roles were assigned to individuals within that institution. Roles gave men and women clear guidelines for interacting and thus clear expectations of each other. When romanticism developed, the beloved served the function of a creative muse. He or she was never expected to be part of a marital relationship. Marriage still maintained its economic purpose.
Enter the present era where women can support themselves and marriage has been re-designed as the ultimate soul-mate relationship. Our spouse is now expected to bear not only our most romantic projections but also the day-to-day struggles of ordinary life. More importantly, while the roles men and women are supposed to play relative to one another are consciously rejected as limiting and archaic, the unconscious messages through much of the song lyrics we hear or dramas and comedies we see offer a different version of how we should be.
In counseling sessions or listening to friend’s woes about romantic partners, I have seen this dilemma manifest in double-bind situations where even the most devoted partner has a difficult time finding a way out of a maze of competing expectations. SHE wants someone who will treat her as an equal and allow her to be her own person, but complains because he “doesn’t take care of her” or treat her with all the romantic gestures she has learned through her conditioning to identify as symbols of love.
HE wants a strong woman and dynamic partner but one that is content living his life and catering to his needs in ways that make him “feel like a man”. Worse, the underlying contradictory expectation is totally unconscious so that an unhappy couple doesn’t even know what underlying need their significant other has violated. They only know they don’t feel loved in a way they “should”.
Without an economic purpose to marriage or long-term partnership there is no longer a need to be confined by traditional roles, or traditional expectations. Furthermore, there are few models of successful non-traditional roles to follow, and if two people are pursuing a conscious path to actualize themselves and grow on all levels, any kind of role model, successful or not, may not fit either partner or both partners.
In this context, relationship becomes a unique adventure and co-creative journey. How two people define their relationship and their roles, or lack of roles, becomes a conscious creation specific to their unique selves. This is both the excitement and the work of a partnership in this era. I can’t tell you how many couples I have worked with breathe a sigh of relief as they realize they do not have to try make a form of relationship that doesn’t “fit” for them — that they can design and reinvent a form that matches their uniqueness as individuals and their union.
Problems emerge when a couple doesn’t approach this task consciously and believes that the love and compatibilities they share will carry them through. Good businesses know better. They know that having a clear vision and values and roles created and shared with all those involved maximizes success and reduces conflict. How many couples and families have a conscious vision for their life together? How many have talked about the values that will form the foundation of their union, or the changing roles they may take at different times in their lives?
The nature of the times is challenging us to a new level of awareness in how we relate to ourselves and others. There is simultaneously more freedom, more fulfillment and more expansion available to us in and through partnership if we take on that challenge consciously. A consciously co-created relationship may be the highest form of loving we can give each other.
Originally published in Awareness Magazine