Women in Relationships: The One-Sided Pressure to “Make it Work”
I’ve touched a little bit on this topic on a previous post, but over the past few weeks I feel like this topic has been looming over my head. Even more so with some of the most recent celebrity news. I’m not a follower of celebrity news by any means, but sometimes with social media you’re just going to be exposed to things that aren’t any of your business.
Not too long ago, popular rap sensation Cardi B announced her breakup/plans for divorce from her husband Offset, one of the rappers of Migos. This decision was on the grounds of his infidelity (aka one of the top rules of being married). The couple was married for about a year and also had a daughter, Kulture. Since the announcement, Offset has been making public attempts to win back Cardi’s affection, but to no avail.
These were all attempts done publicly online, up until recently when Offset disrupted Cardi B’s live headlining performance at Rolling Loud. He came from backstage with what looked to be a bucket of roses while the crew set up a cake that read “Take Me Back Cardi”. Cardi B’s facial expression was visible in the video clip and she looked anything but impressed. Fans are split in half on the issue: some are calling Offset’s stunt ‘disrespectful’ and ‘selfish’, while others call it ‘romantic’ and a grand effort on Offset’s part to make things right again.
It wasn’t until this incident occurred that I realized how invested the public can be about a celebrity couple’s affairs. More important how much people will feel the need to dictate their relationship despite not knowing them personally. With those opinions aside, Offset committed adultery against his wife. This is literally rule number one when it comes to respecting your marriage: don’t cheat on your spouse. Cardi B obviously decided that she will not tolerate adultery, hence the breakup.
But here is where the narrative shifts: Offset has seemed to gain the sympathy of not just fans, but also fellow celebrity rappers like The Game, T.I., 50 Cent, etc. They have even gone as far as calling out Cardi B directly on social media, urging her to take Offset back because “we all make mistakes”. So now Offset has become the victim. He cheated on his spouse, but the wife is receiving so much criticism for not looking past it. He committed adultery, but she is being torn down for “not trying to make it work”.
Now, this post isn’t about the celebrity couple directly. But they do serve as an example of the question that’s been in my head for quite some time: Do we as a society put too much emphasis on a woman’s ability to sacrifice and suffer? More important, do we feel that a woman’s suffering is the only way she can “earn” anything, including a happy marriage?
Why has this situation between Cardi B and Offset created such a divide in opinion for onlookers? I believe that one of the reasons is because of our society’s tendency to brush off the act of cheating in a relationship. I remember seeing a post online, to this day I don’t know if it’s a joke or not, but it said something along the lines of “Don’t lose a loyal man because he’s occasionally unfaithful”; it was paired with a joyful photo of Jay-Z and Beyonce. Just so we’re clear, nothing about that statement makes any sense. It’s an actual oxymoron. An ‘occasionally unfaithful’ man (or woman) is not a loyal one.
One thing I’ve noticed about my generation is that we have grown shockingly numb to the idea of infidelity. It has gotten to the point that people genuinely believe that your significant other cheating on you is just one of the “ups and downs” that needs to be dealt with in a relationship. That’s a large reason as to why we see situations like Cardi B and Offset, in which the guilty person is painted as a victim when their spouse doesn’t want to continue their relationship after the incident.
Wives: Fulfilling a Role the Mothers Didn’t?
I recently read an article that shed light on recent comments by Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina. While on the topic of his relationship with his wife, the pastor describes his wife as a “coat that was two sizes too big…she had to cover me while I grew up”. You can view the full interview here.
On the surface, this is a compliment and a husband expressing his gratitude towards his wife. However, a lot of the commentary just did not sit right with me personally. And obviously, a lot of others (both men and women) reacted the same way. As the writer of the previously mentioned article
states, I also have no intention of marrying someone just to “birth and raise” him. I’m all about growing and changing, but that’s a journey that a couple should be taking together. It should be a leveled partnership. This is far different from raising your spouse and ultimately admitting that your maturity levels are not on level with each other.
I model my expectations of a healthy marriage mostly from my parents. And I can admit that this puts me in a place of privilege. I understand that it’s a privilege for me to have an inside look of a happy, healthy marriage because there are many of my peers that cannot say the same. When I think of my parents’ relationship, I can hardly imagine my mom “raising” my dad (or vice versa). My dad, along with his 10 brothers and sisters were raised in a two parent home. While they did hold up some of those traditional, Black southern values, one thing was for sure: All of those kids would know how to work.
More important: all of my uncles and aunts were doing both house work and yard work. Hard work didn’t call for gender roles. Because of this, I witnessed both my parents fixing dinner, I witnessed both of them doing house chores. My dad grew up with a mother and 5 sisters, which I assume prepared him to be an upright man towards his wife and kids. My mom, an only child, grew up observing her parents’ relationship which I assume prepared her for how to be an upright woman towards her husband. But let me make one thing clear: I look up to my parents a lot, but I am by no means putting them on a pedestal. They married young and I’m sure there were difficult times for them. However, my mom did not “raise” my Dad. My parents acted as husband/wife to each other, and father/mother to my sister and me. To be honest, I highly doubt my mom would have been at all interested in my dad if she knew she had to “raise him”.
It seems like a tangent, but my point is this: A lot of us seem to be under this belief that growing and changing is a one-sided occurrence. I believe a relationship does take patience and growth; but we shouldn’t expect our spouse to act like our parent. We can’t expect our spouse to fulfill a role that was supposed to be taken care of by our parents. We shouldn’t expect our spouse to “catch up” or “grow into us” like an oversized coat. But, funny enough, I see so many men use motherly traits such a cooking, cleaning, and serving as their standard for who deserves to be “wifed up”.
The Man is the Provider, What are You Providing?
If you’re like me and have had a (Black) Christian upbringing, you may be familiar with these phrases:
- “The man is the head of the household”
- “The man is the provider”
- “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22)
I don’t imagine I’d have a problem submitting to a man so long as I feel he is worthy of submitting to, which should be the case if I’ve gone to the extent of marrying him. If I’m not submitting to the guy I chose to marry then that’s just another set of problems that should be worked out. But I’ve noticed that many people seem to get stuck on the “man is the provider” bullet point.
There are men who I’ve witnessed say that a woman shouldn’t be “too independent”. At first, I thought they were referring to needlessly stubborn women to which I would have agreed. Looming your success and leveraging it to talk down to or emasculate someone is extremely damaging. However, they were actually referring to women who make more money than them, are more educated than them, and who don’t seem to need them for much of anything on a financial level.
I’m speaking from observation; it’s not like I’m married or anything. But I believe that being a “provider” is only one feature of a husband. It’s a great feature, but what else? We are past the single-income household era. We’re in a place in which women are able to make a living, a career, and a name for themselves. Yes, Michelle Obama was an awesome First Lady, but with the specs she had under her belt it’s pretty safe to say that had she never married Barack, she still would’ve turned out fine. She would have had no trouble “providing” for herself. There had to be something else he offered.
If you’re a guy, are you making sure that you have something to offer to the woman you are pursuing? How can you provide emotionally? How can you provide mentally? How can you provide in growth? Obviously, this goes both ways but given the context of this post I’m mainly just directing this towards the dudes. So when a guy does have a problem about how educated I am or how much money I’m making, I usually just brush it off as them having a low self-image and inadvertently admitting that they have literally nothing else to offer.
“What About the Children?!” and Debunking How Things Were “Back in the Day”
This seems to be the top argument for keeping visibly dysfunctional relationships afloat: it’s for the sake of the children. Going back to the Cardi B and Offset situation, there were plenty of other celebrities that wanted to weigh in on the matter. One comment included west coast rapper The Game. The Game took to Instagram to release his commentary, referring to Cardi B and Offset directly. After releasing his video message and observing the comments, the rapper had this to say in response to some of the backlash:
I read some of these comments & it’s really sad how more than 1/2 of them are women saying she should move on. How do you think marriages lasted so long back in the day? It wasn’t because someone moved on after every little incident or situation. It’s because the word “marriage” itself is built on a rock. Something that is supposed to be solid & last a lifetime. This new way of [thinking] is why most black children grow up in broken homes. Some things are worth saving, especially MARRIAGES. #happyholidays to you all.
This commentary is telling. I do understand what he means. Marriage is sacred and it takes care and effort to keep the relationship strong. While I completely understand where he is coming from, we should really take into account some of these phrases. He refers to infidelity (or the suspicion of infidelity) as a “little incident or situation”; that goes back to normalizing infidelity and belittling its impact on a relationship. But he also asks “how do you think marriages lasted so long back in the day?”
Here’s the context of a lot of ‘back in the day’ marriages. I assume he’s referring to people in the age range of my grandparents who are currently in their 80’s. We’re talking about an era in which a lot of households were single income, the husband was the sole financial provider. Even if the woman was working a job, it may have been part-time or just not as much pay. More focus was put on the woman being the homemaker and raising children. Let’s not forget that a lot of these people married pretty young as well. So I imagine that if I were in a position in which I wasn’t living in a healthy marriage, but completely dependent on my husband, what options would I really have? Most (if not all) of the income is coming from him, I’m not even sure that I can secure a job that will provide for myself and my kids. In addition, I would have to worry about raising said kids. On top of that, divorce was (and still is) heavily stigmatized in the Black Christian community. The social stigma alone could be strong enough to drive women to stay in marriages that are dysfunctional, unfulfilling, or even abusive. I get it; no one really wants to get a divorce. I would hope that everyone who enters a marriage believes that this person is “the one”, that this is the person to whom they’ll spend the rest of their life. You’ll laugh, love, fight, and grow together. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some marriages (in my opinion) fall apart because they were never meant to happen in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that none of these marriages from “back in the day” were pure and happy marriages. But we can’t ignore the many factors that would drive a woman to stay with her husband despite any unnecessary antics on his part. Even today, there are many people who continue being in a marriage with someone simply because they don’t want to be viewed as a “bad Christian” or because they know they won’t be financially secure otherwise. Cardi, on the other hand, has no economical dependency on her estranged husband so the only real thing that could tie her down at this point would be societal pressure and her own thoughts and emotions regarding the situation.
The ”for the children’ argument, however, really gets to me. Growing up, my sister and I would hear commentary from our friends about how ideal our family was to them. In their eyes, because our parents both worked and got along with each other we were essentially The Cosby Show. The Game stated that the “new way of thinking” is why most black children grow up in broken homes; he is referring to homes in which the parents are not together. These friends I mentioned before did live in two-parent households…but the parents did not get along and possibly didn’t even love each other. But somehow this is supposed to be better than homes in which the parents are no longer together but still fulfill their role as parents to their kids? Let’s not forget that the child The Game refers to is only 5 months old; barely cognizant of her surroundings let alone actually effected by what is going on with her parents. Here’s what I have to say on the matter:
If you and your spouse are not conducting yourself in a way that exposes your kids to a healthy, functioning relationship: the home is already broken.
Divorce is hard and it’s far from the ideal solution to a situation. I’m not making light of its negative effects on the couple or their children. I, too, pray that I will have a solid and healthy marriage that won’t need to come to an end due to such unfortunate circumstances. Rather than using children as an excuse to keep a dysfunctional marriage going, I think it would be better to reevaluate what will really be best for your kids and yourself. Because in this particular situation, no one wins.
I think my overall point here is that I was interested in initiating a conversation about this. This topic has been in my head for a while now, and I wanted to let it out. If there is anything I could take away from these examples and what many onlookers have to say about it, is that it has me reflecting on my own standards and expectations when it comes to my future marriage. The reality is, we never know what we would do in any major situation until it happens to us. I could say that I would never tolerate my husband committing adultery , I would never tolerate my husband doing this or that, but until I actually live the situation there’s no telling how I would actually handle it. It’s such a scary thing to think about mainly because we’re not encouraged to think about it. One of my best friends has been married to her husband for 10 years. I was discussing this very topic with her and she herself said it’s just so hard to imagine herself in that situation. She and her husband have a strong marriage, so to even think that they would do something to betray the other and get a divorce is unimaginable to them. We both acknowledge that it must be a tough spot to be in, and there’s no real way to be prepared for it if that situation ever comes up.
The only thing I can really hope for myself, or anyone else, is that the decision is mine and not what society feels like I should do.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,