This is Jessica dropping in briefly to say, I'm on vacation! Yay! Because I would afraid you would all feel neglected without any updates while I'm gone, I arranged for some lovely ladies to guest post in my absence. If you'd like to read the original post on which this series is based, you can check it out here! Please leave lots of wonderful comments for my guest bloggers and check out their blogs!
Here was the question: Within your marriage/partnership, how do you strike a balance between companionship and autonomy? What are the challenges you still face in finding this balance? And what role, if any, does faith in God play in how you create this balance?
----My relationship with husband is based on a deep level of trust, consideration, and respect for one another, and I think that is the basis for how we find balance between autonomy and companionship. In general, big decisions are discussed openly and without judgment or contempt of one another's opinions and feelings. Because of that, we're never afraid to say what we really think about a subject, so we never have to operate in ignorance of one or the other's true feelings.
For us it's all a matter of degrees – it is something that affects just one of us or both? Is it something big or relatively trivial?
For example, when husband was considering changing jobs as opposed to waiting for a higher position to open up, I was of course involved in the decision. However, I was hesitant to do anything to actually sway him in either direction because really, what he does for a living affects his daily life more than it would mine. I limited my comments to pointing out the pros and cons, and asking questions about how it would affect him and our life. When it became a question of maybe moving a few hours away, however, I decided it was appropriate for me to share an actual preference.
There's also a continuum of decisions on topics like big purchases vs. small purchases. For instance, when husband wanted to buy a smartphone so he could have his email and schedule available while on the road for most of the day, he asked me what I thought. We talked about whether or not we could afford a new air conditioner, an X-box 360 for him, and a new tattoo for me. But if I want to buy a book on Amazon or if he wants to buy a new video game, we don't expect notification or discussion, as long as we know there's enough money in the bank and it's not marked to pay a bill in the near future.
Similarly, if I want to dye my hair black or chop it all off, husband doesn't expect me to ask him how he'd feel about it (even if I would just out of curiosity), and he doesn't ask me how I'd feel about him changing how he wears his facial hair. We don't ask each other's opinion about clothes, I don't ask about the color of my nail polish or how often I shave my legs, except out of curiosity. These are trivial matters, and matters of personal autonomy. We both feel that the other has absolute autonomy over their own body.
So far I've only talked about superficial matters of career, money, and appearance, but how do we find balance in our relationship about the big things? I have to admit, it's been a struggle at times. I am much more aggressive, and at times closed-minded, than husband. I've had a tendency in the past to try to impose my beliefs on him, prioritizing my warped idea of unity as a couple over his personal autonomy. For the first few years of our relationship, I tried desperately to get him to become Catholic. I pushed him to the very limits of his ability to tolerate nonsense, and I am honestly surprised he never decided that the relationship wasn't worth that abuse. Now, however, I've come to terms with the idea that husband and I really don't need to agree on everything, not even the big things, to have a fulfilling and truly intimate relationship. I have honestly accepted that husband is genuinely apathetic of and uninterested by religion and spirituality, while I am thoroughly and irrevocably fascinated and deeply moved by them. We are different, and that's okay.
Another way couples have to address autonomy vs. companionship is in their sex life. I cannot go into any detail about my own because, respecting husband's personal autonomy, I know that he is uncomfortable with me sharing details about our sex lives with others, even if I am not at all squeamish and know that most people who read my blog have no idea what my real name is and therefore no idea who my husband is. We are, again, vastly different in that area, but because our relationship is based on respect, trust, and consideration, I choose to respect and give consideration to his feelings in order to not betray or lose his trust.
I can, however, speak in general terms from what I know about sexuality in married life. You can't expect your spouse to be on the same schedule as you. I would be shocked to find a couple who always wanted sex at the same time. You shouldn't feel bad about wanting sex when the other doesn't, and you shouldn't feel bad about not wanting sex when the other does. No one should ever feel forced to have sex out of marital obligation; sex should always be a freely-made choice of both individuals. At the same time, having sex even when you don't really feel like it isn't necessarily a case of coercion. It is entirely possible to make a free and conscious choice to participate when you're not aroused. This is the balance you have to find in your relationship – between respecting the other's feelings and your own, between being a slave to your own arousal or a slave to over-thinking it all. In other words, just because you don't feel like it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, and it doesn't mean you should always do it either. Husband and I have had to struggle finding balance in all these areas and more in our physical relationship, and it's not over yet. Above all, we are committed to our foundation of respect, trust, and consideration.
For me, it's about neither always being compliant nor always being aggressive, but always trying to do the thing that does the most amount of good, or in bad situations, the least amount of harm to both of us. Something that came to mind while thinking about this question was that I'm not sure if I'll have the same idea of what autonomy means as other people. I considered the idea that people might not see husband and I as autonomous because of how much we dislike being away from each other. If there's a family event that one of us is available for but the other is sick or working, we usually don't go. We don't like to go to the grocery story or laundromat alone. I know this bothers some members of my family, but really, we're happy with it. I don't expect every relationship to work like ours, and I don't think it's a superior way to be either. It's just the way our personalities work. Both of us were always loners when we were young, and social situations are stressful for both of us. Having the other there helps us enjoy our friends and family with less stress.
I bring this up because I sincerely wish everyone would explore the kind of autonomy that works for them and their own relationship, because there's no magic formula. Some couples really are happy having one spouse/partner make all the decisions about big purchases or having their spouse/partner's input before drastically changing their hairstyle. If you're not made unhappy by that, that's great for you. Just because it would never work for me doesn't mean it can't work for anybody else. I know that some people wouldn't be able happy being with their spouse/partner as much as I like to be with husband, and that having enough personal space and alone time is an essential factor in their happiness. I want to end with this exhortation for diversity and individualism in all things, because all couples are unique, and you as a couple have a right to autonomy in addition to your autonomy as an individual.
Jessica says: Check out Macha's awesome blog at Life as a Reader!