Say ‘I do’ to equality in relationships

Say I do to equality in relationships

by Laura Dillavou

Summer is not only a season of the year, it’s also the season of weddings. People you know, people you don’t know, family – the months of May through September bring out the love in all of us.

Unlike the men in “Wedding Crashers,” I only go the weddings I am invited to. I dutifully listen to the vows and hope the reception has a decent band. It’s a great time to see your friends celebrating the next big step in their lives.

However, at a wedding of two high school friends, I was shocked at some of the things I heard – and the statements weren’t coming from the drunk guy stalking the bar.

In the Christian faith, even though men and women are seen as partners, there’s often an emphasis on the leadership role of the man. While this role may be true of some men in some relationships, it isn’t a standard-fit, one-size-fits-all sort of thing.

In fact, some (including myself) feel the “balance” advocated by most churches isn’t much of a balance at all, but a set of binding restrictions on what the role of each partner should be.

As the minister was reading the vows at my friends’ wedding, he placed great importance on how the groom, Mike, should act toward his wife. In addition to being loving and caring, there also came a stipulation of providing a good life for his wife, Kim. He was asked to protect her from everything that may hurt her and to act as the rock of the relationship – someone to count on.

On the other hand, the minister told Kim to support Mike in all his decisions, be good to him and make a happy family that both could enjoy. In general, she was charged with creating a loving home for him.

Sure, none of these things really sound that bad, but if you stop to think about it, they’re pretty narrow-minded definitions of gender roles.

What if Kim wanted to be the breadwinner? What if she didn’t want to have kids or stay at home with them? What if Kim didn’t want to work at all? And what if Kim were actually the more stable of the two – do these vows imply she can’t or shouldn’t be?

The minister essentially told Mike to lead the family and Kim to provide support for his decisions. What these vows signify is a step back into deep tradition, something that should alarm a new, modern couple.

While some couples may be happy to let the man lead and have his wife follow, people in other relationships may not be.

All too often, stereotypes of either gender conflict with the actual roles each partner plays in a relationship. Men can be overly sensitive and emotional and women can certainly handle mowing the lawn. However, couples regularly let tradition assign the duties to each partner.

It is easy to say some people just take vows too literally, but to some degree they were written in a very literal sense – as expectations for all couples to follow. However, for many people, adhering to tradition and the roles expected of a “good wife” or “providing husband” may be easier said than done.

Before I say “I do,” it looks as though I’ll be saying “I don’t.” Today’s traditional ideals just don’t work for many independent, intelligent men and women.

When have we ever heard it read at a ceremony that it is OK for partners to be individuals as well as one unit? God created each person individually, with hopes of that person finding a compatible partner. Nowhere does it say God wanted us to lose our identities once we got married.

I’m not saying once you commit to a person your life is awash – but it is easy for a woman to lose her identity if she believes that her main, or even only, obligation as a wife is to support her husband.

A great example of what I’m talking about is a woman’s last name. Changing your last name is highly symbolic. Thankfully, not all married women feel the need to become someone’s Mrs.

However, when a woman doesn’t take her husband’s last name, there’s always a little speculation. Instead of being seen as a sign of individuality, many people think she isn’t fully committing herself to the marriage and husband.

I know what you’re thinking – these things don’t apply to you, and you certainly don’t believe a woman’s role is limited to the home. Just consider the women in your life – if you don’t know a single one who fulfils the gender role described in traditional wedding vows, good for you.

Obviously, I have not yet experienced the joys of being married. However, as I take in wedding after wedding, I realize they’re more of an opportunity to see what I don’t want to say than to get decorating tips for the aisle.

Weddings are a blessed occasion – no one is disputing that. When your time rolls around, just ask yourself what kind of message your vows send. Is it one of an equal relationship where both partners feel they have an even share, or is it a message of dominance and an impending power battle?

Before making a long-term commitment, think about what your partner expects – is your relationship a balance or a one-sided compromise?

Consider equality as a vow – practice it, live it and believe in it – whether it is in romantic relationships, friendships, social rights or national news. Everyone wants to feel equal, and everyone deserves to have his or her individuality encouraged and respected.