Monday, January 20, 2014

Alpha Spouse & The Martyr

So spouses, partners, significant others…there’s a can of worms for you. They are the one person in the world that can make you believe in your heart of hearts that you are not alone. And they are the one person in the world who can make you feel in your heart of hearts that you are completely alone.

And I have a good one. A really good one. He’s truly a good man. A prosecutor with the DA in one of the most horrifying units, not a big drinker, not a philanderer, very funny, not an asshole, he’s a good man. I know he’s got my back, and I have his. I love him, and yet…sometimes he’s just wrong. When there’s something to be wrong about, it’s him who is wrong. Which means, that from his perspective I am just wrong. And of course he’s wrong about that too.

So how do you parent with someone when you disagree? When, really, he’s just wrong.

Seriously, I’m asking the question.

So let’s figure this out. There’s this whole united front theory. You have to present a united front when parenting. Otherwise your clever clever children will quickly divide and conquer. (Why my children can’t employ their velociraptor cleverness to actually do the thing for which we are desperately trying to present a united front for is another post.) This means, that when you disagree with your co-parent someone has to compromise. And let’s face it the alpha spouse wins that rock paper scissors nine times out of ten.

Yes, the alpha spouse. Even the most evolved marriages have them. Most marriages are in fact made up of an Alpha Spouse and a Martyr. Sometimes you switch roles, but that’s usually when the alpha spouse really just wants to win again and beat you at martyring.

I am not the alpha spouse. And, as mentioned before, my husband is a good man. He is also a lawyer. He is paid to persuade. And win. On the other hand, I am an actress. I study human nature and their objectives and tactics. So, I (sometimes) get paid to play a part. So when I have to be part of a united front in which I do not fully believe, I play the part of a believer. And, sometimes, when we are deciding on our united front, I play the part of the alpha spouse.

It ain’t a perfect system. It’s not always like this though, often we agree. And when that happens, it is a miraculous blending of two into one and I am not alone. And when it doesn’t happen…well it sucks to feel so alone in a crowded room.

And yes, we talk about it. I express what I feel in brave moments, he tells me how he’s feeling in sensitive guy moments. And sometimes we both do it in delightfully passive aggressive ways. But yes, we communicate. We try to hear and adapt and hope that we are inching ever closer to a consistent balance. Yes, balance, not equality, because I’m not sure total equality is possible. At least not in marriage. Because when the scales are tipped one way, as can happen when one of you gets a promotion, or is fired, or has a shitty day, or the best day of your life, there needs to be counter balance or else the see-saw slams to the ground and someone’s butt gets bruised.

But often things are left unsaid. Not because we are cowards, or not reflecting on our marriage, but because we’re tired and Teenager #2 has wrestling practice and Teenager #1 has a chemistry exam, and there’s nothing for dinner, and we can’t afford another pizza, and someone’s toothbrush fell in the toilet and we don’t have time to be united and sensitive and balanced. We don’t even have time to be married.

And suddenly love looks entirely different than before kids. Love looks like a dishwasher full of clean dishes, or a gas tank re-filled, or a bed made, or underwear actually making it to the hamper. And you realize, they really do listen sometimes, and you remember you are not alone.


  1. Mary, you rock. Thanks for writing about this sometimes-touchy subject. I too have a good guy as a partner, and am lucky for that. But there's a lot of parenting to do to get a kid through the day, and we aren't always in sync and you do feel so alone when you're not both on the same page. I guess it would be creepy if you were always in agreement, and I often feel that our differences and coping with them make us better parents. (Well, that's what I tell myself when the near-14yr old is driving me crazy)