Normally, this is a column on parenting-and today, it still is, because there is so much truth in the old adage that says “the best thing you can do for your kids is to love their mother (father).”

Of course it is proper and fissionable and even politically correct to want and to advocate equality in a marriage relationship. But what does equality actually mean? It seems to be a rather hard thing to define. Does it mean sameness? Or can it mean different but equally important roles? In a company, can a vice president of marketing be equal to a vice president of production?

Can two people be equal when they possess different gifts, different interests, different methods and ways of doing things?

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I (Richard) was a student at the Harvard Business School at the height of the most militant period of feminism, a time that woke a lot of people up in a good way, but also a time when the definition of equality and the definition of sameness became a bit mixed and muddled. The women in my class wanted to dress like men, act like men, and essentially be like men. But we had one Frenchman in our class who begged to differ. “Viva la difference!” he said, “We should be celebrating the wonderful and mutually attractive differences between real men and real women, not trying to eliminate them those differences!”

Feminism has grown up since then. Women legitimately want to be equal with men, but not to be the same as men. They want to be paid the same, valued the same, and judged the same, but they do not want to be alike.

And this is the pattern we should follow in our marriages! Any man who thinks he should have power or dominance over his wife is missing the whole point of marriage. And any woman who thinks that she has to do exactly the same things as her husband to be equal to him is also missing the point. Marriage is about synergy and synchronicity and symbiosis. It is about making each other better and making each other happier. It is more about always making up than about never disagreeing, and it is more about learning together and from each other than about who can win.

Perhaps the most profound and unassailable definition of equality applies to two parts of one whole. Are the engine and the transmission of a car equal? Are the sails and the hull of a schooner equal?

Smart couples enjoy specialization and figure out together who is best at what; and then manage their marriage and their family accordingly. Men generally have propensities in some things and women in others, but there are exceptions to all the prototypes and every couple is unique, and wise couples think about it and analyze it and seek to work out and learn from their differences rather than eliminating them.

Could it be that the best kind of equality is a symbiotic and synergistic one, where 2 parts of a whole depend on each other, support each other, and make each other better? Can the whole be greater than the sum of its parts? Can 1 plus 1 equal 3 or more?

Can the differences be an equal and a wonderful thing?   

Reader Poll:

1. Is it realistic for couples to try to achieve genuine equality in their marriages?

  • Yes. It requires work and love and commitment, but it is possible.
  •        No. Marital equality is a myth.

 2. Which is best in a marriage?

  • Top of Form      To never fight or disagree.
  •       To try to talk through and resolve (or at least understand) differences and disagreements.


 

Top of Form

 Richard and Linda are New York Times #1 bestselling authors who lecture throughout the world on family related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.joyschools.com. Several of their books are now available for free on www.EyresFreeBooks.com.