Looking For Love In An Equal: The Truth About Peer Marriages Essay, Research Paper
Danielle L. Woods
February 12, 2000
Looking for Love in an Equal: A Review of Love between Equals; The Truth About Peer Marriages
For Centuries in our society marriage between man and woman has been a practiced cultural right and custom. Over 90% of Americans will marry in their lifetime and roughly 50% of those marriages will result in Divorce. Many Sociological factors contribute to the high divorce rate expressed in our culture. Reasons that contribute to the divorce rate are longer life expectancy, women in the work force, birth control, social acceptance of cohabitation, single parenting and welfare reform. It is also now socially acceptable and legal to get a divorce due to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. This social acceptance of divorce implies that today there is a changing criteria when entering marriage. Couples today now insist on the element of personal fulfillment and happiness for entering wedlock, where as, in times past this was not one of the main considerations for man and woman to get married.
Historically with in marriage man and women have adopted gender roles. These gender roles that are predicated by society are traditionally seen as the man in the provider/ authoritarian role and the woman is seen as the caretaker of the home and children or in the nurturer role. These gender roles exist in our society today, even though our society now considers man and woman equal and gives each sex equal rights. Consequently, many couples still adopt traditional roles while in other marriages couples opt for non-traditional roles and treat each other as equals these are called egalitarian relationships and are far less frequent in our society. By examining these egalitarian couples that do not operate with in the traditional limits of gender and comparing them to traditional relationships, we, as a society can learn how the elements of traditional gender roles in marriage have provided a disservice to man and woman and how the less common egalitarian marriage may better suit individuals in the pursuit of a fulfilling and lasting marriage. Pepper Shwartz, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Washington and author of the book, Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works, explores the aspects of traditional and egalitarian or peer marriage. She examines how gender roles interfere with partner equality, deep friendship and fulfillment. She also argues that we should eliminate the provider and nurturer role when pursuing a peer marriage because these traditional roles interfere with man and woman’s chance to overcome the social and biological differences that separate them and ultimately interfere with the pursuit of fulfillment and happiness of the marriage.
In her book, Schwartz identifies five types of marital failures that come from traditional gender guidelines and undermine marital intimacy. Schwartz also identifies four principles adopted by peer couples that, in turn, promote intimacy. Throughout Schwartz’s history of research she has found the failure of empathy among traditional couple’s leads to isolation, feeling alone and not understood. She demonstrates that this failure comes from traditional couples not sharing common perceptions which gives them separate experiences instead of a shared world. This initiates a feeling of being unknown and affects communication while tearing away at intimacy. Schwartz also recognizes the failure of interest in traditional marriages that occurs when partners become too separate in their daily lives. When the man is involved at work and the woman is involved at home with the children they end up with lack of conversation. They begin to ask ritually how each other’s day was with out genuine interest and more out of obligation. Or the couples stop sharing altogether about day to day experiences because they do not want to burden the other partner and lastly the husband may use his wife as a ‘sounding board’ and talk at her leaving no room for her in the conversation. Again this results in the failure of shared worlds, which results in the couple having little emotional exchange and having to get it from friends and family.
Another failure in traditional marriages that Schwartz points out is the lack of mutual respect. Due to gender roles the relationship between man and wife in traditional marriage is a senior and junior partnership based on hierarchy. The husband has ultimate power to make decisions because he makes the money. Schwartz notes that power is typically the right of the breadwinner and with it breeds superiority. Traditional wives feel patronized and this failure of respect brings resentment. In conjunction, Schwartz has observed traditional couples having a failure of realism. By this, Schwartz means that the husband and wife idealize one another usually as the husband being all knowing and the wife being a saint. This idealizing or lack of realism interferes with partner’s ability to give and receive support and understanding. Finally, the traditional marriage dehumanizes women. Traditional wives are encouraged to invest themselves in their husband’s interests and to even read books on how to please a man. After time, usually after the kids have left the house, wives report feeling like they do not know who they are, they end up with out a sense of self. This realization that many women come to creates anger over not being able to be their own person while they view their husbands as “having it all.” Schwartz identifies this failure among traditional marriages to be a large factor contributing to divorce.
Having identified failures found in traditional marriages Pepper Schwartz proposes that peer marriages may be the answer to the failures seen in traditional marriages because peer marriages operate on a different premise. The couples in peer marriages that Schwartz interviewed find being equal and interdependent rewarding and they work towards a common goal of a union based on equality. They see peer marriage as a way to have stability and a lasting relationship. Schwartz found four common threads in the peer marriage that seemed to save them from the failures of a traditional marriage. She recognized that couples in peer marriages have developed deep friendship by having mutual respect for one another and understanding with tolerance. Peer couples have such a deep friendship because they have a shared world. They are invested in similar interests and make their relationship a priority over work and other external factors. These couples insist on having shared experiences. Schwartz emphasizes that couples in peer marriages are also able to negotiate differences because they have a deep friendship. “Friends do not pull rank over one another or veto opinions offered, or monopolize conversations.”(Shwartz,30) They are fair to one another because they value each other as equals. They also take turns in deciding on what to do, giving advice, and being the strong one or the one who needs support. Due to peer marriages being based on equality Schwartz did not find the problems of hierarchy in peer marriages. However, she did recognize that there are costs associated with having a peer marriage.
Costs associated with peer marriages are career, identity and exclusion of others. Couples in peer marriages typically do not have demanding careers because they choose to put their relationship first. They also need to maintain separate identities and avoid becoming enmeshed and need to remember to include family and friends in their relationship to avoid being isolated.
Considering the Benefits of Peer marriage as opposed to traditional marriage Schwartz discusses why more couples opt for a traditional one. She concludes that there is an attraction to hierarchy because it is familiar. Peer marriage is unfamiliar and doesn’t have any guidelines to follow.
Peer marriages are often seen as difficult to obtain because they do not have a provider role and a nurturer role. Couples in peer marriages both provide economic and emotional support to the relationship and share power. Schwartz contends that by appreciating the similarities between man and woman instead of focussing on the differences that separate them we can overcome the detriments that gender roles promote and enjoy a more fulfilling and lasting marriage.
After reading Love Between Equals I found Pepper Schwartz’s study to provide a deeper understanding of marriage in our society. The concept of peer marriage challenges many sociological theories held on marriage. It defies Gary Becker’s economist theory and recognizes that marriage is not necessarily based on efficiency of tasks but rather on the personal fulfillment of having an equal partner. The book also reaches to understand the dimensions of a fulfilling marriage that satisfies both man and woman equally. While many couples find traditional marriage satisfying this book is dedicated to those who want more than tradition. Perhaps our future generations will be investing in peer marriages because as our gender roles in society become more similar the need to have an equal may appeal to be a greater asset to couples. Schwartz did an excellent of job of examining how gender roles can shape a marriage. This is extremely critical because as the pursuit of happiness becomes a requirement in relationships it will force man and woman to evaluate what they want in a partner. Do they always want to be the leader or the follower? Hopefully it will evoke these kinds of questions and force man and woman alike to evaluate their own gender stereotype and make changes that better suit who they are.
In regarding the curriculum of Sociology 352, The Family, I would suggest incorporating chapters 1, 3 and 4 into the course, it would be best contrasted if coupled by Gary Becker’s reading or the Second Shift because it would truly add to the concepts of child rearing and gender roles. Secondly, these chapters in the book demonstrate how our past experiences and social reforms of the past have helped shape our relationships and values of the present day. The want and expression of peer marriage is not some rebellious act designed by couples who hate tradition. It is a result and a reflection of how some of our traditions have not served our best interests. I believe that peer marriage is based on the foundation that couples want something more out their relationships that they couldn’t find with in the limits of tradition. I find Pepper Schwartz’s work and research to be revolutionary to our changing society’s needs. A principle of nature is survival of the fittest. I find this example comparable to societal traditions of marriage. If some traditions, such as gender roles in marriage, do not serve a beneficial purpose then they will die out and the elements that do provide a beneficial purpose will thrive. I hope this is the case of peer marriage.
Schwartz kept her reading interesting by comparing the differences of traditional and peer marriage. By introducing points and supporting them through personal accounts of couples from either type of marriage she managed to successfully support her contentions.
Through examining the myriad of ways that gender roles interfere with intimacy, Pepper Schwartz has identified the costs of traditional marriage and the rewards of peer marriage. She has demonstrated that the provider and nurturer roles assumed by man and woman ultimately negate intimacy and antagonize deep friendship. She shows that deep friendship found through equality is essential for intimacy and that peer marriage promotes commitment, shared worlds, co-parenting and the celebration of similarity. It is these qualities that peer marriage promote that make a marriage lasting and fulfilling for man and woman.