As I said in my previous post about Hungary, trips to my homeland often go hand in hand with big discoveries. This year I had another one of these eye-opener moments. As I chatted with my friends, one after the other, for hours on end, suddenly a piece of the puzzle fell into place and I felt I knew a little bit more about life. The puzzle piece is called relationships, the married kind.
I always thought that in a good marriage the two partners accept each other and give each other room to be themselves. I also thought it was probably good if the partners were of more or less the same intelligence, shared a similar background or upbringing and had similar values, etc… What I didn’t understand was how some relationships still seemed a lot closer than others despite seemingly not ‘ticking’ any more of the above-mentioned boxes. That is, I didn’t understand it until my ‘eye-opener’. Now I think that marriages are more complicated than just ‘loving each other the right way’.
I realised that there is a hidden power relationship in all marriages. It’s not something that is openly discussed or decided on (at least not in our Western culture obsessed with gender equality). It is something that evolves naturally. This power inequality seems to be necessary for a marriage to work. And this is what surprised me. It’s very counter-intuitive. I used to think that in a good marriage partners are equals. Now I believe the opposite. Now I believe that for a marriage to work, one partner has to assume the leading role and the other the supportive role. They must do this willingly, often unknowingly, and each must be happy and comfortable in their role. In fact, they must be grateful for it. The role is not necessarily gender-bound, but the men often dominate.
What’s also interesting is that when something disturbs this power relationship, or when one party becomes aware of their position in the relationship and this becomes a source of insecurity that’s when a happy marriage may hit the rocks. What I find beautiful about this all is that having the supportive role does not at all mean that the partner is worth less in the relationship. They are not equal in power but equal in value. They are the foundation on which the relationship stands, from which the leader can lead. As soon as the foundation feels under-valued, disrespected or unappreciated they may strive for equality or dominance. This threatens the balance and the relationship can topple over. Even when two people are well-matched and love each other, a relationship may fail when one partner is pushed into a leading role or into a supportive role against their will. My theory may sound contentious, but it probably has an evolutionary foundation!