In most modern Western marriages, the understanding and expectation of couples entering into a new union are that the relationship will be one of shared decision-making and shared responsibilities. That’s all good. If, however, we let ourselves think of marriage as a “50:50” relationship, we have opened the door to two unwanted guests– the Conflict Twins, Same and Equal. We have intellectually decided that both partners will be “status equals” but the reality is that Nature does not accept status equals! There is always differentiation. If you persist in the idea of status equals, the Conflict Twins of instinct will run in, screaming that someone must be boss! With you, your husband and the Conflict Twins… four’s a crowd!
Believe me, I understand your intellectual sense – that you and your mate should be equal in all regards, yet I also know that neither your Inner Animal or that of your husband’s can abide uniformity. Our instincts are constantly striving for differentiation, because “difference” in status is what achieves and maintains group harmony in the natural world. Unfortunately, the only way to differentiate status is through a challenge or a conflict that results in a winner and a loser. Oh no! This tug of war between intellect and instinct is the real reason harmony within modern marriage is perpetually so difficult.
Clearly, living harmoniously together in a marriage requires a different skill set than living alone. That skill set can be summed up in a nutshell: the more you defer to your husband’s “win” in a discussion and willingly take second chair, the more you will keep the Conflict Twins at bay. Now before you bridle to that, understand this irony: the more friendship is fostered in a relationship and the conflict is avoided, the more partners will trust each other and will tend to let the other “win.” This voluntary deference back and forth is often the secret behind a happy, harmonious marriage. There is less competition for power and status and more giving of it voluntarily. Status differentiation is maintained though the balance of power may shift continually. In one matter, you may defer to your husband, but in another he may defer to you. I guess you could say that to get, one must be willing to give.
To banish the Conflict Twins from our bedroom and beyond, we must foster friendship with our spouse, earn their trust and be a predicable ally. We must give and take in the delicate ballet of power that is our life together, never demanding status yet still getting what we want. Most importantly, we can beat the Conflict Twins at their own game, and that feels good.