During my undergrad college years, I spent a lot of time with a family of six which was made up of mother, father, two boys and two girls. I admired how the mother/wife fulfilled both her roles. She would ensure that dinner was always ready when everyone got home; the house was always clean; and clothes were washed, sorted and ironed all this while maintaining a traditional 9-5 job. Being around this family gave me a vision of how I would like my family to operate. As you may very well imagine, I was in for a rude awakening.
My first year of marriage was a disaster – thanks to no one but myself. I immediately wanted my wife to be like this woman I admired. Of course, at the time, it did not concern me that she had been married for well over 20 years and had over 18 years of parenting experience. I felt I was still entitled to those same benefits. My clothes should be washed, sorted and ironed regularly; dinner should be waiting for me when I get home from work; and dinner should be followed by a nice massage and 10-minute feet rub. Needless to say, I almost drove my wife crazy. I am certain she asked herself on many occasions during our first year of marriage “Why did I marry this unreasonable guy?” If she was not a principled and forgiving woman, I would most likely have been divorced before my 25th birthday.
Of course, we as counselors know this way of thinking is not healthy for any relationship. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines entitlement as A belief that one is deserving of certain privileges. Many of us, particularly men, enter marriages with a sense of entitlement. We feel we ought to be treated a certain way and to always be pleased by our spouse. This leads us to make unreasonable and many times unrealistic demands. We unintentionally encourage or beg them to consider leaving us and unfortunately many of them do. Our actions say “divorce me please.” As counselors, how often have we seen couples coming in for counseling because they have reached this point?
Having an attitude of entitlement forces us to miss out on many of the benefits and skills to be gleaned from marriage. Such as, negotiation; crisis management; decision-making skills; physical agility (you know what I mean so just move on); the art of saying “I am sorry”; and spiritual growth (if you are not asking God regularly to help you understand your spouse, I empathize with you). We mistakenly believe that “marriage is for me” or “I should be the sole beneficiary of all the good from this relationship” or “It should make me feel happy all the time”. We become selfish and so ignore our own contribution to the marriage. The result is that we miss out on important life lessons and personal growth opportunities.
Entitlement also tends to blind us and our clients from the positives our partner contributes to the marriage. We fail to see their diligence, creativity, organizing skills, love-making skills, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, etc. Entitlement causes us to focus solely on the negatives – ‘you didn’t do this right’, ‘you left out the salt…again’, ‘there are three seams in my pants’ and ‘I always have to ask for this and that’. I propose that the one thing we should feel entitled to is the experience of being the best person we can be for God, our spouse, and ourselves. Marriage and relationships in general should be seen as an opportunity for us to be our best selves. As counselors, we should encourage our clients to take advantage of this opportunity.
How many of us would stay if our boss approaches us on our very first day at work and says, “Mike, please understand that you are here to be MY worker and do whatever it takes to please ME. Your sole purpose here at this company is to serve me. Do you understand? You must never do anything for yourself. You will receive no opportunity for training, bonuses, or benefits including sick days unless of course I am sick.” I doubt any of us would or encourage our clients to do so. Anyone who answers in the affirmative needs serious help. Yet, many of us are the same way in our marriage and expect our spouse to stay around and be comfortable with this type of treatment. It’s not going to happen. In these cases, it will be our job to work with our clients to help them recognize the effects of their unreasonable and threatening attitude towards their marriage.
I am not suggesting that an attitude of entitlement is the main cause of divorce. I do realize that there are many other factors that can lead an individual into believing divorce is their best option. However, I do believe if we as well as our clients rid ourselves of this ‘entitlement syndrome’, we can slow and even reverse the divorce rate.
On 26 June this year, my wife and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. It has been an awesome experience. I can truly say that we have grown as individuals and as a couple. Our relationship has taken an interesting twist. I am the one who does the laundry, most of the sorting and ironing; provide most of the care for our 3 year old special needs son; and most of the cooking. The interesting thing is that I enjoy doing these things (most of the times). Thankfully, my attitude of entitlement has been kicked out of our marriage.
Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com