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August 30, 2015 / 15 Elul, 5775
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Marital Roles (Second Of Five Parts)


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Taking And Sharing Responsibility
(And What Works For You)

Partnership doesn’t mean equality in skill. It means equality in responsibility and ownership. Show me business partners who have to meet about every single decision and hash it out until they both agree on a course of action, and I will show you bankruptcy proceedings. How can business partners, with so many decisions to be made, afford to stop everything to discuss and agree on the most miniscule problems? The purpose of any partnership is to bring two people together, with each having something the other does not have. This way, the partnership is stronger than the individuals in it. If each of the partners possess the same abilities, and expertise in the same areas, how will their being partners benefit the business?

Marriage is no different. We marry knowing that we are very different from our spouse but that we share a variety of unique strengths and weaknesses. If we’re mirror images in every area, then we haven’t made ourselves much better by coming together.

Even if there are areas in which you are unsure if either of you has a better or more skilled approach, you still can’t afford the time and energy to discuss “every china pattern.” Like any successful partnership, you and your spouse will have to create a clear system of management. Although it may seem odd to reduce this system to a written exercise, it is simply good “business” to develop it, on paper, for clarification. Unspoken assumptions are the enemy of a great marriage. Because we acquire new strengths as we continue in life, we cannot accept roles forever based on the limited self-knowledge of today. You’ll have to revise your management system regularly. We can only try our best and see if we can properly manage our part of the partnership.

Being in charge of “your share of the list” doesn’t mean that you are solely responsible for that area. Remember that as a partnership, both of you are ultimately responsible. You may well have to help your partner whenever you see the need, or simply when you have the extra energy to do so. But what these roles now offer you is the right to take the initiative about a particular item on the “list” without feeling you have to ask permission or prove your point of view every time you wish to make a decision.

Certain duties are too large not to share. Childcare is a simple example. You will probably need to split responsibilities for taking charge of the children’s meals; buying, washing, and caring for their clothing; supervising their homework; taking them for preventive care checkups and to activities, etc. You may find that getting the children ready in the morning is a joint responsibility. Both of you may agree to get up at the same time and work together to cook breakfast, make lunches, get the little ones dressed and drive them to school.

Childcare is a particularly complicated issue for so many couples, because presently, women make up more than half the workforce, yet are often imprisoned by traditional values that dictate women should do more of the childcare, or make the childcare arrangements. Yet, we know that today, men are far more capable of caring for children than was believed years ago. We’ve also learned how important fathers are to children. For example, in my work with divorcing couples, I have seen divorced dads show their gift at caring for their children, and these children have shown wonderful positive responses to their dads’ attention. Men – for your child’s sake as well as the sake of the marriage, become an involved parent. Challenge traditional roles, and do what works uniquely for you. Don’t convince yourself that a wife is simply “better” at parenting. Families benefit hugely from two involved parents. There will be certain areas of childcare – Sunday family days, for example – that both of you may want to participate in jointly.

With this understanding and commitment to find your own unique marital management system, you can have the permission to make daily decisions comfortably without any argument. However, there are two rules:

1. You must hold weekly meetings. Just as in any business environment, you must schedule a weekly “partners” meeting at a definite time when you will have the chance to discuss issues. Too often, we avoid serious issues with our spouses, claiming we’re too busy with life, as if there exists a more important life outside of building our most significant relationship. Couples often argue and resent each other because they don’t discuss issues properly, or resolve them. This meeting confirms that your relationship is too important to take a back seat to the mundane details of life. It sets aside real time so you can face each other and discuss the issues that are important to each of you. It is at this meeting that each of you will report on the “state of the union” and raise any decision you’ve made or are considering, that you think your spouse may be interested in.

The point of clarifying roles is never to reduce discussion but to reduce the tension of differences in everyday life decisions. However, reserving the more emotional issues for a designated time stops you from bringing them up at moments when your partner isn’t in a frame of mind to deal with them in a loving, understanding way. A scheduled meeting sets the stage for each spouse to listen carefully and focus on the important issues.

The weekly “state of the union” meeting also allows open discussion on upcoming items that may require you to adjust your roles. Most of all, it confirms the concept of making a set time to work together on your marital union.

2. You must make major decisions jointly. As explained earlier, you need to claim appropriate roles to avoid splitting your energy in too many different directions. But this division isn’t intended to give either spouse unilateral power in making major decisions. A “major” decision is anything you know your spouse will feel strongly about. Many people may say, “How am I to know what he/she feels strongly about?” Or “He/she feels strongly about everything!” As much as I’ve heard couples claim to be oblivious as to what their spouse desires or what is important to their spouse, I’ve learned that most couples know exactly what their spouse wants. Generally, you know what decisions your spouse wants to be included in. If you are unsure, you must talk to your mate before making a decision. As time goes on you will learn what your spouse considers “major.”

RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail changingfamilies@mgaryneuman.com.

About the Author: M. Gary Neuman is a psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. He is the creator of NeumanMethod.com video programs for marriages and parenting.


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