Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Marriage

"Don't piss me off, Art." -- Clark Griswold

Your marriage is better off if
you burn this piece of paper.
Or break the stones. Whichever.
Last night when I returned from another room where I had been playing a game with my son, my mother and wife handed me a section of the paper. "Read this!" they said, with glimmers in their beady eyes.

It was an article entitled "What Every Husband Should Know," and it was a single paragraph encouraging all husbands to follow "The Ten Commandments of Marriage" as depicted in the graphic at right.

For shits and giggles, I'll type them out for you:
  1. The kids come first. If there are no kids, your wife comes first.
  2. Be kind. A cruel word, once said, cannot be unsaid.
  3. Your wife is always the most beautiful woman you've ever seen.
  4. Your wife is always the best sex you've ever had.
  5. Everything is your fault. Learn to embrace this.
  6. When your wife says, "Fine," it means she is not happy.
  7. Don't seek to change each other; seek to accept each other.
  8. Let the past stay in the past. Your marriage is about today and tomorrow.
  9. Most important holidays of the year: your wedding anniversary and your wife's birthday.
  10. Laugh. A lot. Laugh with her. Laugh at yourself.
I'm a big believer in #10. Laughter is just about the most important thing we have. Laughter heals wounds, bridges emotional distances, maintains perspective. Laughter bonds and bandages, and it lightens burdens. Part of me knows that my wife and mother (two separate people; this needs to be noted in the South) showed me this list because they thought it was funny, not because it is True.

Bless their beautiful hearts inside their beautiful bodies, this list just pissed me off.

Bugger the negative and damning stereotypes these "commandments" reinforce about men, because men are big boys and can put on their big boy underwear and get over it. But what should bother anyone with a mother, a wife, or daughters is what this list suggests about women.

Here is the overall story being told in these commandments: You, as a husband, must constantly and vigilantly fight to protect and shield your weak wife from her own issues of self-doubt. Her self-esteem is a fragile flower, and the husband must wear his knightly Yes-Dear You're-Always-Right armor and slay the dragons of The Past and The Serious in order to keep the princess happy in her castle.

Oh, and also, abide by Commandment #7 and don't try and change her. Yes yes, a stupid list of commandments like this is totally an attempt to change you, the stupid male at the root of all marital problems, because you're never right. So sit there, accept that you're a miserable f*ckstick who needs to be a better person (duh) and you can't be the better husband needed to keep the marriage thriving without changing (double duh), so obviously this commandment was not about you. It's not always about you, you stupid man.

TIME recently ran one of Camille Paglia's introductory comments from a panel debate on gender that feels especially relevant in light of crap like these "commandments."
It was always the proper mission of feminism to attack and reconstruct the ossified social practices that had led to wide-ranging discrimination against women. But surely it was and is possible for a progressive reform movement to achieve that without stereotyping, belittling or demonizing men.
Or this:
Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments.
This is actually better and less damaging advice
than any of the "commandments" above.
In other words, The Ten Commandments of Marriage are vastly more destructive to healthy relationships than they are helpful. They enforce the kind of "men can't win" stereotypes that encourage men not to even try in the first place. Women should hope for and desire men who can be capable and strong without being narcissistic assholes. I should hope such a thing is possible.

Marriage is a dance. It's a non-stop, lifelong, marathon dance requiring two willing partners, with moments where bodies get tangled up and tightly connected, and others where there is space for individual movement. It uses the whole damn dance floor. It takes multiple levels of good communication and no small amount of luck and stubbornness. If one partner is always right, or if one partner is seen as More Important than the other, it's no longer particularly healthy or sustainable. Or, at least, it's not the kind of dance I'm interested in.

In other words, take these two tablets and shove 'em.


Bob said...

Tag-teamed by wife and mother? That's tough.

stowstepp said...

Why is it that we (meaning "me") learn these important lessons long after they would be helpful in our ("my") first time around? I'm so much more aware now, and luckily have found someone with whom I can share that awareness (and who appreciates it). I'm going to make sure my boys have more ammunition and awareness when it comes to relationships. Now, if they actually take my advice and use it...

stowstepp said...

And I'm keeping #10