Over the weekend, I attended two beautiful events: a wedding and a hen’s lunch. At both occasions, the subject of marriage was front and centre. We all got to talking about the different expectations of husbands and wives. And in the cluster of all the conversations, I had an epiphany about marriage (which of course applies to all manner of long-term relationships).
I have always felt strange about being a wife, even though I deeply love my husband. I think it’s because the concept of being a wife comes with strings attached: the group consciousness that surrounds marriage.
For me, there is a huge difference between being “a wife,” and being my husband’s wife.
Once a woman becomes a wife, she is weighed down with expectations that have been set by the experiences of marriage throughout history. The archetypal wife is faithful and devoted. She follows her husband, rather than her spirit. She is not set on fire by ideas and passions outside the relationship. She has a happy and eager smile. She is accommodating. She is sensible and emotionally stays in the one place, waiting for her husband as he provides for the future family. She is not free to roam. She is not encouraged to follow the call of the wild. If the wife does work, it is for the good of the future family. She is acquiring skills that will one day be applied to the family unit. Once she becomes pregnant, the dutiful wife will bid her work farewell and return to the fold, to embrace the world of motherhood. All of her potential is diluted into creating a thriving family.
The unsettled wife looks for passion and inspiration in fashion, food, wine, drama and gossip- she is looking for her spirit in all the wrong places.
Of course this portrayal of marriage is not representative of all modern wives- it is a portrayal of the archetypal wife- the sum total of all the cultural constructs we have created and shared. So, if wives deviate from this archetype, we feel guilty, as though we, in some way, are letting our husbands down. We don’t want to let them down, so we play the part.
Similarly, the archetypal ‘good husband’ is the emotional servant of the wife. He lives by the adage, ‘happy wife, happy life’ and chooses to submit to the wife’s whims in order to keep the peace. If she is happy, he is happy. If she is upset, he is unnerved. This man has outsourced his spirit and his emotional life, and wonders why he feels a fire in his body that he numbs with alcohol, drugs or a deep desire for other women. He reverts to being a child because the man he has become has left the building. When men deviate from the ‘good husband’ archetype to go on a temporary search for their long lost soul, they feel guilty, as though they, in some way, are letting their wives down.
And so we are left with a wife who has turned the volume down on her free spirit, and a husband who has reverted to a child because the man in him cannot stand the submission. We tell ourselves that this is okay, because we look around and everybody else seems to be dancing the same dance.
It’s time to shift the dynamic.
In the space between meeting the love of our life and becoming a married couple, we do not fundamentally change. Our spirits are still our spirits, with the same desires, longing and dreams. We still love the same things and hope for the same things. The moment we give up on our spirit is the moment we cannot ardently love anyone else. It is in our own interests to encourage our partners to follow their spirit.
The answer is to run our own race. Have conversations that reignite the spark in you- the spark in the relationship will take care of itself if the spark in each of the partners is alive and well. Ask each other questions like, ‘If you were single, with all the money in the world, what would you be doing right now?’ It’s a paradox: conversations about being apart and completely free will revive the soul of the relationship and will remind you why you fell in love in the first place.
In all areas of life, we need to forget the group expectations and the labels and go off in search of soul. We need to encourage our partners to keep up the search for their power and soul. To keep discovering all of our hunger and strength. Marriages and families are beautiful and soulful things. But when they become tyrants that banish the souls of their members, they become terrifying institutions that people naturally want to escape from. A marriage can be a set of wings or a cage.