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The Relationship Double Standard: Communicating with Mutual Respect

The Double Standard.

We've all heard this phrase used when talking about how the lives of men and women are portrayed in the media, evaluated in the workplace, and judged by our peers. But how many of you have really thought about all of the double standards we experience in marriage (or just in relationships in general)? I have. Actually, I do all of the time. I watch partners interact with one another and I think to myself, "you would HATE it if he talked to you that way" or "she would NEVER say that to you." And lately, I feel like I'm being inundated by prime examples of what I'm calling the Relationship Double Standard.

The Relationship Double Standard is a situation where relationship partners have different sets of rules or expectations for themselves than they do for their partners. In relationships (and in life), we have sets of rules about what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. Some of these rules are explicit (i.e. verbally stated or written down by you or your partner; wedding vows are a great example) and some of them are implicit (i.e. not directly stated, but observed by watching patterns of behavior). We have rules about how we would like others to treat us and we have rules about how we plan to act towards others. These rules tell our partners what they must do (i.e. "In order to be my partner, you have to be faithful to me."), what we would like them to do (i.e. "Please laugh at my jokes."), and what we want them to avoid doing (i.e. "You can't call me a bitch."). It's easy to learn the rules or expectations of our partners when they are explicitly stated. But, when rules are not explicit, it may take us a little longer to catch up, learning about them by spending a lot of time with our partners and through trial and error. Once you figure out how your partner wants to be treated, it's your job to continue behaving in that way to maintain your relationship.

The problem I'm focusing on here is when a person has rules about his or her partner behaving in a certain way, yet he or she doesn't follow the same set of rules. For instance, I know a woman (let's call her Alaina) who is married to a man (let's call him Grant) and they have two children. Alaina is a strong-willed, independent, confident working mom. Grant is a dedicated, positive, happy-go-lucky working dad. Alaina expects respect from her children, husband, and just about anyone with whom she interacts. But for some reason, she thinks it's perfectly acceptable to boss her husband around and tell him what he should or should not be doing on a several-times-a-day basis. And let me tell you, she would flip her shit if her husband told her how to make dinner or what order to get the kids ready in the morning. How can she disrespect him (by bossing him around, talking down to him, treating him like a child, and telling him what to do) and demand respect from him at the same time? There's definitely a double standard here.

I've even caught myself doing this with my husband. Sometimes I'll say something and then right afterwards, I'll wonder how I would have reacted if he had said that to me. And usually, my response (to myself) is not a positive one. 

For instance, I'm consistently saying to my husband, "Don't tell me what to do." I actually hate it when he tells me how to do something (unless I ask) or that I'm not doing something in the best, most effective way. BUT, I'm totally willing to tell him how to drive (for example) on a very regular basis. I'm a total back seat driver whenever I'm with him. And that makes him crazy.

Well, a few weeks ago, I was driving up to Maryland for the night with just our youngest child (my husband stayed home with our other children). And I was speeding. About 10-20 miles over the speed limit. And I felt totally in control of the car. Then I started thinking to myself...
  • Why does my husband driving fast get on my nerves so much? Why do I feel the urge to tell him how to drive? I'm speeding right now and I feel fine. He's a grown-ass man who knows how to drive. I would bite his head off if he told me how to drive.
Needless to say, I'm working on it.

My advice here is simple: 
  • Talk to your partner in the same way that you expect him or her to talk to you. 
  • Only engage in behaviors that you would find to be acceptable yourself. 
  • Bite your tongue if whatever you're about to say would offend you if it was said to you by your partner.
  • Treat your partner as you would like to be treated.


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