Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Archetypal Wife

I have been reading the archives of Reclaiming Wife on A Practical Wedding.  I love it.  Everything Meg has to say.  All the amazing comments from smart and thoughtful women (I've seen no men so far).  It just fits in so well with what I have been feeling and thinking about lately:  What does it mean to be a grown up?  What does it mean to me to be a satisfied, fulfilled, generally happy person?  What do I want to be (when I grow up)?  And, now that Phil and I are getting married, what do we want our new family to be like, how to we want to be as husband and wife?

We have only just started talking about those last two things.  And we got this book to help us out since we're not religious and won't be required to attend pre-marriage counseling at a church or temple.  We've barely begun it, but it has already sparked some good discussions.

At the same time, I just finished Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, which is a fabulous book and has helped my thoughts on ALL of the above areas start to crystallize.  This morning, because I didn't feel ready to put it down, I was flipping back through Care of the Soul, looking at some of my underlinings and dog-ears.  I came across the following passage in a chapter entitled "Jealousy and Envy: Healing Poisons," which discusses Hera, wife of Zeus and taker of vengeance against his paramours.
In a culture in which women are oppressed and all things feminine are undervalued, "wife" is not as honorable a title as it might be.  When this anima image has no place in the psyche of men, then wifehood becomes literal dependency, and the woman is given all responsibility for home and children.  Men are free of the restraints of home life, but they also suffer a loss, because care of home and family gives back vast amounts of feeling and imagination to the soul.  Typically men prefer the adventurous path of business, trade, or career.  Of course, the career woman also loses anima if she devotes herself to the myth of culture building.  Both men and women can look down on the image of wife and be glad to be liberated from her inferiority.  In this context, the mythological image of Hera reminds us of the honor due to the wife.  Her mythic figure suggests that "wife" is a profound face of the soul.

There just seems to be so much important in this passage about the roles married people take on or refuse.  Of course, there has been much argument around whether feminism should seek power by embracing traditional male roles.  I am not knowledgeable enough about those arguments to rehash them here, nor is that my point.  What seems to be so important here is that it has become verboten for anyone to be the wife, for anyone to gladly and proudly take on that role--male or female.  No one wants to be subservient, no one wants to feel that they have given up themselves.  But what this passage seems to be saying and what I think is so right is that both the husband and the wife must practice taking on the roles of both "husband" and "wife."  There is room for each to be inferior, subservient,  at times without either becoming an Inferior.

This passage also hints at the importance, in a marriage, of not allowing each "I" in the marriage to thrive at the expense of the "We," and it asserts that an individual can work to serve the "We" without losing her "I."  Moore goes on to discuss this in more detail:
In Hera, a person is most an individual when he or she is defined in relation to another, even though this idea seems to go against all our modern notions of the value of independence and separateness.  In our time it doesn't seem right to find identity in relationship to another.  Yet this is the mystery of Hera.  She is dependency given dignity and even divinity.  In ancient times she was given great honor and was worshiped with deep affection and reverence.  When people complain that whenever they get into a relationship they become too dependent, we might see this symptom as a lack of Hera sensibility, and the tonic might be to cultivate an appreciation for deeper union in love and attachment.

It takes special skill and sensitivity for a man or woman to evoke the wife within a relationship.  Usually we reduce the archetypal reality to a social role.  There are ways that Hera can be drawn into the relationship so that being an attentive and serving partner is vitally present in both people.  Or Hera might be evoked as the atmosphere of mutual dependency and identity as a couple.  In the spirit of Hera, the couple protects the relationship and values signals of dependency.  For Hera, you make a phone call when you're on a trip or out of town.  For Hera, you include your partner in visions of the future.

Feelings of jealousy may well be attached to this dependent element in the partnership.  Jealousy is part of the archetype.  Hera is loving and jealous.  But when the value of true companionship is not taken to heart, Hera leaves the scene, and the relationship is reduced to mere togetherness.  Then the individuals split themselves into the independent one who stands for freedom and the "codependent" one, tormented by jealousy.  If in a marriage one of the partners is clearly the wife--and it's not always the woman--then Hera is not being honored.  If you are faced with symptoms of a troubled marriage, look for her distress.
. . .  
The problem is, Hera cannot be evoked without her full nature, including her jealousy and her wifehood, which may at times be accompanied by feeling of inferiority and dependence.  To find soul in relationship and in sex, it may be necessary to appreciate the inferior feelings that are part of the "wife" archetype.
From Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore

Feelings of inferiority and dependence were something I struggled a lot with when, a few months after leaving my job, my savings ran out and Phil and I decided to pool our finances early so that I could take more time to figure out where my career was going next.  At the same time that I felt so thankful to be in a position where I didn't have to run back to law--to be in a relationship where I could receive this amazing emotional and financial support, I was resentful of this new dependence.

Money had always been a tricky thing for me, as I know it is for many people, and having my own income meant freeing myself from power struggles within my family.  It meant getting myself out from under the control of someone else's money and the unhealthiness that fostered in my relationships.  It meant independence and the ability to take care of myself, myself, men be damned.

The possibility of being "kept" was terrifying.  I imagined having to pass every grocery purchase by Phil, not being able to leave the house for lunch with a friend without permission.  And cautionary tales I had been told by women in my family about the need for secret savings accounts ran incessantly around in my head as I did the household chores that had become my sole domain now that I was off work and out of savings.

Eventually, I realized that these visions were not prophetic and that those fears were pretty out of control.  Phil and I spend "our money," we discuss big purchases and financial goals.  I am not ruled with an iron fist; I am part of a partnership with a budget.  We are, for the most part, a team now when it comes to money.  Do I ever feel dependent and worthless because I'm not making money (or much money, now that I've taken on some contract work)?  Hell yeah.  Do I ever resent not being able to buy what I want and having to do all the housework?  Absolutely.  Do I need to work on speaking up more about my opinions regarding our finances? A thousand times yes.  Does Phil resent that he can't pay his loans off as fast as he had planned because he's the sole breadwinner?  I'm SURE, though he insists otherwise.  Am I stuck in a too traditional role? NOOOOOO!

Once my worst fears were not realized, I could peek out from behind my hands a little bit, open one tightly clenched eye.  I started to appreciate the position I was in.  Because we had together decided I needed some time away from work, I took on some different roles both dependent and independent.  I am creating a stronger "I" by allowing myself this time and space for reflection and exploration, and I am contributing to the strength of the "We" by keeping our home, by cooking dinner.  I get this time to be creative, to write, to craft, to read, to sit.  In exchange, I take on the temporary role of housewife.  It is part of what I am starting to identify as the ebb and flow, the rhythm to our relationship.  I'm still working out the nuances of how I feel about it, but the working out has been enlightening, inspiring, opening, so many good things.

For me, the fact that I can see this as temporary is key.  There would be a whole different thought process going on if there was a question of me permanently giving up a career outside the home.  From where I sit, I imagine I would not be okay with it.  But, one of the other things I have learned (slash come to terms with) over the past several months of unemployment is how ideas change.  Opening yourself up to the possibility that you can feel different ways at different times, that you might end up doing something you never thought you would, is liberating -- and a lot less painful than holding firm against the inevitable.

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