Are You A Worse Person Since Marriage? I Am

by Caroline

I used to be really, really nice in my teens and early twenties. I’d avoid confrontation. I’d often concede to my friends’/boyfriends’ wishes. I wouldn’t be terribly critical. I was just plain nice.

I’m not quite so nice anymore, particularly in the context of my relationship with Mike. (I’m still nice to my friends.) I often wonder why that is. Why would nine years of marriage make Mike a better person and me a worse person?  He’s thoughtful and is generally happy to let me make most of the day to day decisions about our lives, as well as the bigger ones. He is a great co-parent and relieves me of child duty the second he gets home until that child goes to bed. Of course he has his moments of annoyance, but in general, he’s quite nice and generous to me.

I often worry that I’m not as generous and giving as he is within the context of our marriage.  Not that I don’t adore him. I’m actually quite affectionate usually, and I’m his biggest fan. But I also tend to lean towards being protective of my personal space, of my free time, of my autonomy. I’m very sensitive to criticism and I don’t like him telling me (or even suggesting) what I should do.  If he makes a mild comment about how ‘we’ need to clean out the fridge, I might occassionally get defensive and reply something like, “You mean I have to clean out the fridge. Since when did the fridge become my job?” And if I’m particularly ticked off or feeling put upon, I’ll pull out something like. “It’s because I’m a woman, right? That’s why it’s my job to clean up the crap around the house, huh?”

(I’m not usually that pissy, but that side of me probably does pop out every year or two.)

I’ve put some thought into why I act like this sometimes, and my theory is that it is, at least in part, because of the patriarchal structure of the culture we are both a part of. I’m sensitive of the fact that he was raised in world in which men ‘preside’ over their wives. For years I was hurt and insecure about the temple covenant I had to make about hearkening unto him. Now at this point in my life, I’ve completely eliminated that type of patriarchal thinking from my understanding of God and marriage, but I am still cognizant of the fact that Mike embraces the faith structure that teaches these things to him in the temple. Thus my feelings of insecurity and hurt continue.

To put it briefly, I wonder if the patriarchal structure of the Church enables/ gives space to men to be the generous, the kind, and the giving, because it puts them in a position of power over their wives. When one is in the position of privilege, perhaps it’s easier to be benevolent? I, however, not being in the position of power, am at times prickly and sensitive to him lording his priesthood power over me in any way.

Of course these dynamics don’t hold true for all people in patriarchal cultures. I can think of a lot of traditional marriages where the man is a controlling and unkind jerk, perhaps in part because his culture has taught him that by divine right he’s the boss in his family, whereas the woman is sweet and kind. But I do think my theory might be one explanation for some Mormon women not being quite as nice as their super nice husbands, due to the insecurity they feel from teachings that don’t distribute power equallly to both partners.  

If patriarchal language was completely eliminated from Mormon marriage, would I be less insecure, more giving, and kinder to my partner? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.

Do these kinds of dynamics play out in your marriage/marriages around you?

If married, are you a better person since marrying?

And does my theory about patriarchy leading women to be less kind to their partners at all resonate with you?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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53 Responses

  1. Hokie says:

    (Married 3.5 years, no kids) I am not a better person since marrying. I went to the temple every week when we were engaged, I read my scriptures, I had much more faith, I exercised regularly. Now, not so much. I lived less than a five minute WALK to the temple for three years and hardly went twice a year. I don’t know. Maybe it is just the cynicism that has grown within me as I went from a 19 year old undergrad to a 23 year old grad student. I want to be a good person!

  2. sarah says:

    I was a better person after I got married, for about 3 months. Then I got pregnant and had kids and it all went straight to hell. I’m definitely a worse person since having kids, for the same reasons you mention, as well as the fact that I don’t feel well-suited to caring for people who require so much attention and maintenance, and who whine a lot.

    As for the relationship with my spouse, I feel he does his best to shoulder his share of the burden, both in household duties and childcare, but I still get snippy if my inability to keep the house at least remotely tidy is called into question. I’m at home all day, how can I not keep the floor visible?

    Anyway, as I was reading your post, I was getting some ideas for dealing with the cultural patriarchal attitude, and for gently redirecting thoughts that lead to snippiness. What if, when he says, “Wow, we really need to clean out the fridge,” I say, “OK, how’s Saturday at 3:00?” Take the suggestion literally, and make sure WE do it together. For me, I bet that would also give us more time to talk and be together, while showing our kids that cleaning is not a gender-specific activity. (Although, to be honest, I think my dear husband may actually do more of the cleaning in our house.)

  3. Kim B. says:

    (Married 16 years, 4 kids) When I run into people I knew in high school at some point in the conversation they usually stare wide-mouthed surprised by whom I have become. I think I was known as a kind girl that avoided confrontation. Not so much anymore. While pondering this, I have concluded that I used to pretend that I was nice. I was worried what people thought of me. Would they think I was mean? I was trying to live up to the model the world presented of what “good girls” should act like.

    My husband IS kind, really kind. He gives people the benefit of the doubt and believes the best in people. In my case, because of the acceptance I feel from my husband, it allows me to embrace the ugly in myself. I cannot think of myself in terms of better or worse since marriage since it is such an evolutionary process. It is probably more accurate to say I am more authentic than I used to be.

    I have never thought about this discrepancy in these terms…

    To put it briefly, I wonder if the patriarchal structure of the Church enables/ gives space to men to be the generous, the kind, and the giving, because it puts them in a position of power over their wives. When one is in the position of privilege, perhaps it’s easier to be benevolent?

    Perhaps it is much easier to give kindness when it is not expected of you. I mean, truly, how many church lessons have you sat through where you are taught to be a selfless servant with no needs, which inevitably leads me to feel like I am a horrible person.

    The truth of the matter is even though I may appear scary, angry, and mean at times, I am actually kinder than I have ever been and that is the goal for me. I am attempting to actually become charitable instead of just appearing like I am.

  4. amanda says:

    I was loud, opinionated and obnoxious when I was younger. And I’ve mellowed out quite a bit. I think in large part to my husband. He’s opinionated for me. I don’t have to ever stand up for myself because he’ll jump in there and defend me. So I guess I could say that I’ve become a better person because I’m less confrontational. My husband has become sweeter too, a lot less judgmental. I don’t really know how that works.(!)
    I think it was the opposite for my parents though. My mom had to be the person who was demanding and my dad was always the sweet one, never got in a fight with his kids. I wonder if it only has to do with our definition of kindness? For some reason, I feel like I am equating non-confrontation with kindness. I’m not sure that works.

    And I have no idea about the patriarchy structure-I would think that it might have to do more with the individual personalities of persons. If you are married to a sweet, kind, charitable person who might get walked on, you might be forced to be the blunt one.
    Interesting thought.

  5. Emily U says:

    Wow, Caroline. I feel like you are my cyber twin! I have also been married for 9 years, have 1 child, and am a worse person since I got married. My reasons for not being as nice as I used to be are a bit different from yours, though, so I’ll just comment on your other questions.

    I think your theory about patriarchy makes a lot of sense for someone who views patriarchy the way you do. Since there are so many ways of viewing patriarchy, it probably only explains a subset of people’s marriages, though. My husband was raised in the church, but he feels very ambivalent about the head of the household thing, so our conflicts are never about that.

    I really don’t know if the dynamics you describe are present in the marriages of people I know, mainly because people aren’t usually as honest about what goes on in their marriages as you have been. I definitely get snippy with my husband when I think his expectations of me are unfair. But it’s usually because I think he’s being just plain unreasonable, not because the expectation is rooted in patriarchy.

    It’s funny, I fought with my sisters when I was growing up, but we never argue now. But I do fight with my husband sometimes. There must be something about living with someone that occasionally brings out the worst in us vis-a-vis that person.

  6. Gwen says:

    I do not believe the cultural patriarchal attitude necessary translates to Mormon marriages. Of course there are some Mormon men who are dominant and overbearing towards their wives, and there are also non-Mormon men who are dominant and overbearing. I think that D&C 121 makes it clear that men are wrong (and women for that matter)when they interpret those marriage covenants to mean they can be mean or unkind to their spouses.

    “39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
    41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
    42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—”

    I have been married for about a year and a half, and for this time my husband has been working (sometimes menial jobs) so that I can finish my bachelors degree. He also encouraged me to apply for graduate school, and once we mutually decided that I would put off graduate school for a few years he made me promise to return soon.
    My husband does not interpret those temple covenants to mean that he can boss me around, in fact, he never bosses me around nor does he suggest that because I am a woman I must do certain household chores. We have both been Mormon our whole lives, our parents are Mormon (and their relationships are much like our own), I have several married siblings and they also feel their marriages are quite equal. So no, your theory doesn’t resonate with me or my experience. And I feel like my husband and I put forth an equal effort to be kind to each other and we are both better people because of it.

  7. mb says:

    Married for decades. I’m a better person than when I was single, but it hasn’t been a smooth curve, lots of ups and downs in that slow upward trend.

    I don’t think the patriarchal system in the church is the culprit. If so, all of us would be worse, and not all of us are at the moment. However, I do think that one’s perception of the patriarchal system may play into it. Certainly anyone, male or female, who feels their sense of power, value or approval threatened or questioned by themselves or by others finds it much harder to respond benevolently to others. That’s just basic psychology.

    In the past few months I’ve become keenly aware of how much of my interaction with my husband has been molded by my need to be reassured that I am of value. Failing to see how unconditionally I am loved (by God all the time, by loved ones sporadically) I grasp at reassurances of being valued or appreciated, thinking those reassurances will fill my need for love. In my grasping I become anxious and insecure and read unkind or insensitive meanings into innocent comments and worry about how others perceive me. This past month I have been working to change that, becoming more honest about myself and my motives and more cognizant and appreciative of the sources of love (not approval) in my life. It has been life-changing.

  8. Alisa says:

    Caroline, have you had spy cameras up in my house for the last month?

    Seriously, I don’t know what happened to me one Saturday morning as I came home from jogging and started getting ready to get in the shower. My husband, who had been sitting at the computer, also got up and started heading for the shower (no hanky panky in mind, unfortunately). He then looked at me and said, “Well, I guess you can shower first.” I flew off the handle, saying that he’d had all that time to shower while I was away jogging, and obviously since I undressed first, I should go first. I then went on: that just because he’s the man of the house, it’s not his shower, it’s ours, and it’s first come, first serve. And this was so unlike me: even during the three years I lived with roommates in college, I never got in a fight about using the shower.

    My husband is so kind and mellow. I’m sure he was just confused at where the whole “just because your the man you don’t get to decide the shower order” thing came from. I don’t think he ever really thinks about the temple covenant I was required to make, but I certainly do. A lot. I don’t think it hardly ever crosses his mind. I think I need to sort at who, or what, is really upsetting me, because it’s really not my husband.

  9. Davis says:

    I don’t think that the patriarchal nature of the Church has anything to do with how nice you are. I think that in men and women “NICE” is inversely proportional to “SELFISH”. We all have highs and lows at being both. Blaming our own selfishness on something else is just avoiding the truth.

  10. Kim B. says:

    Every time I attend the temple I feel second-class to my husband. I asked my friend who I consider a very strong woman how she can attend. Her response, “It has no bearing on my reality.” This is true, but there is something unsettling about knowing that although most men do not act on them, the belief that the man is in charge is part of our present covenants as well as our past history.

    Consciously or unconsciously, I think this has to come into play with our relationships. Even if the men in our lives are kind and loving, there is always the fear, the fear that at any point they COULD pull the patriarchal card and find doctrinal or covenantal justification for their actions.

  11. Kristen says:

    I feel like a much better person, as a whole, since getting married. However, I am not defining “better person” as “doing-everything-church-says-I-should” anymore.

    I absolutely feel like the patriarchal arrangement is a wedge in my marriage (six years). And what’s worse is that it took me by surprise! I attended the temple for years before getting married, so I was taken completely off guard by how upsetting and REAL the situation became to me only after getting married. It’s humiliating and puts me at distance from my husband. I feel insecure, like I must always keep my guard up, and never be as fully open and present as I would like in our relationship. And my husband is the most supportive, un-controlling man you’ll ever meet! But I definitely feel like I have something to prove.

    It used to drive me absolutely nuts that my husband seemed so unruffled by it. A true example of privilege. How could I trust someone who swallowed this? But after studying the art (an art he has fine tuned) of simply rejecting things that don’t feel right, no matter who says them, the wedge is starting to loosen. Also, his words, “Well, the spirit tells me are equal, so I really don’t care what anyone else says,” finally resonated deep in my spirit.

    Of course, it helps that my husband gleefully unsettles Elder’s Quorum teachers with questions about how do we reconcile ideas such as men being the final authority in the home with all the other talk of being equal partners with their wives. (The teacher couldn’t come up with an answer. Nor could anyone else.)

  12. Bree says:

    Great post Caroline. I’ve become less nice over time due as much to age as to marriage. I married at 29 and was definitely less nice at 29 than I was at 21, even without marraige. As I got older, I became less tolerant and less patient with adult behaviors I disagreed with. I think I’ve become less nice over time partly as a subconscious fight against cultural norms that I reject. I sometimes wear pants to church, not because I particularly like wearing pants or dislike wearing skirts, but because I know it will really irritate a particularly sexist member of the bishopric, the relief society president and will generally make people in my conservative, suburban ward uncomfortable. (I didn’t feel the need or desire to do things like this in my liberal, urban east coast ward). I’m a bit embarrassed that I’m always trying to be the irritant and push boundaries these days. It’s also interesting that this kind of behavior has increased since I married three years ago. I mentioned previously that the “hearken” covenant was never that problematic for me until I got married. I was able to ignore it until then, because as a single person I didn’t really fit into the patriarchial structure. When I suddenly did fit into that structure things came tumbling down. I married one of the kindest, most patient men on the planet, but we’ve still had several “WE should? you mean I should” -type conversations over the last three years. Unfortunately, my husband has had to bear the brunt of my hypersensitivity to the sexism I observe at church. So yes, I would agree that patriarchy has led me to be less kind to my husband. He has spent a lot of time calming and comforting me after church meetings over the past year, and I don’t particularly like how that has changed the dynamic of our relationship. I do think the changed dynamic is due more to my reaction to the sexist environment we now live in than the marital structure itself, though.

  13. mb says:

    Tithing is a law I live but not because it is celestial. It is one that moves me from a telestial existence to a terrestrial one. I’m working on morphing to consecration, which to me seems closer to a celestial existence. I know some people who are already living it to a certain degree.

    The covenant Bree and Kristen refer to enables one to navigate, fairly smoothly, an initial move to a telestial existence with a minimum of arguing about communication patterns and a general determination to follow the Lord. I can see how it would be useful but I have no particular reason to believe that it is a law for celestial living any more than I have reason to believe that tithing is.
    And just as you are welcome, in the gospel plan, to begin the morph from tithing to consecration and beyond at whatever point you are willing and able on an individual basis, so are you welcome to begin the morph from telestial orders of things to terrestrial to celestial in your relationships as you recognize them and embrace them.

    Just as understanding what consecration is and embracing it is a thoughtful, long-term process so is the understanding of what a heavenly marriage relationship is. All of the information for both of those principles and practices is not just in one place. It is scattered throughout the written and spoken words of prophets.

    It is understandable how some people could mistake a stepping stone for the final destination. It is sad, to me, when they insist that others believe that it is the final destination. It is tragic to me when people do not feel they can embrace the words of prophets discussing the laws and principles beyond a first stepping stone because they feel compelled to believe the words of others (or their own first impressions)that say that the stepping stone is the goal or the ideal.

  14. mb says:

    In that same vein, I have no right to be upset at people who love living the law of tithing just because I understand the joy of consecration. But I am sad when my sisters feel that there must be more to it than tithing , feel conflicted by that feeling, and yet cannot, for whatever reason, bring themselves to feel welcome to pursue the law of consecration.

  15. jane says:

    I think I may have gotten worse. And I do think my resentment over our sexist culture and church is a part of that.

    I don’t believe that women are inferior in God’s eyes. I believe the sexism in our church is a cultural remnant from the long human history of sexism.

    I’m trying to understand how to relate Christ’s teachings to our current predicament. He specifically taught oppressed people to forgive, to pray for their enemies, to go the extra mile to serve the oppressor, to turn the other cheek. He taught that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; he turned the conventional power structure upside down, and declared that the meek shall inherit the earth. What does this mean for us as women in the context of a patriarchal church? Does it mean that I ought to cheerfully bear the current inequality, and patiently wait for all to be set right in the next life? Or can I prayerfully and peacefully try to promote a more egalitarian church right now? How do I learn to truly love and forgive the men who accept what they believe is a divine mandate to preside over me? How can I avoid becoming cynical and bitter in the face of injustice? What does God want from me in this situation?

    I haven’t experienced any real close-up oppression – Both my husband and my bishop are kind, thoughtful, and fairly liberal-minded. But I am very troubled by the institutional sexism that lingers in our church (in the leadership structure, the temple ordinances, the interpretation of certain scriptures, etc.). I’m wondering what the most productive, Christ-like way of responding to this challenge is, and I’d love to hear more from others who have grappled with these questions.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Caroline.

  16. mb says:

    Kristen wrote:
    “But after studying the art (an art he has fine tuned) of simply rejecting things that don’t feel right, no matter who says them, the wedge is starting to loosen. Also, his words, “Well, the spirit tells me are equal, so I really don’t care what anyone else says,” finally resonated deep in my spirit.”

    Well said.

  17. Kay says:

    I have turned into a complete cow since I married 13 years ago. Admittedly some of it is my fault because I struggle with a significant other person having an input in my life. I do not compromise well. I do not like other peoples decisions affecting my life. Maybe I should just never have married? Somedays I honestly think it was the biggest mistake I ever made.

  18. aerin says:

    I find it hard to understand how speaking one’s “truth” is being worse or not being nice.

    I think it can be far worse to simply stuff feelings and resentments – or acting out passive-aggressively. I didn’t realize what being passive-aggressive meant until I was married. I had reacted that way to situations for years, subtly ignoring or attempting to manipulate those around me instead of asking for what I wanted.

    Personally, I would much rather someone spoke up about something I said or did that hurt their feelings (or ask me for clarification) than to silently resent me.

    From my perspective, sometimes acting with love is re-acting with love for oneself, not necessarily what everyone else (i.e. one’s partner or children) want to hear.

    I’ve found that it’s easier for me to be kinder, more mindful and generous when I have my own time, and when I speak up for myself. When I make time for my own interests and do things I like to do.

    As far as marriage goes, I’m not sure how all that relates to what things were like before I was married vs. now. I’ve simply found that the more my husband and I communicate about his (and my expectations) and also both let (some) things go, the easier it’s been. The respect and commitment are there, but the expectations (for both of us) are often very different.

  19. Jessawhy says:

    Caroline,
    Great post!
    Unlike you, I wasn’t very nice as a young person. I’ve always been too feisty and willing to debate with everybody over everything.
    However, Mark was always the social genius, knowing exactly what to say to make people comfortable. So, I’m learning a little from him on how to treat people.

    However, the situation you describe within your marriage fits mine exactly.
    I am crankier and more sensitive. And, even though we go over the balance of powers, etc. it doesn’t help the feeling that Mark has some extra measure of control than I do.

    However, I think this is only one part of all the factors that make for a kinder/meaner me. Staying at home with the kids all day, a messy house, watching my husband put his dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher, at various times it can send me over the edge.

    Very provocative idea, Caroline. I’m interested to hear what the male-feminist husbands lurking around here think of this . . .

  20. Jana says:

    I don’t think I’m any worse since I married, but that’s probably because I’ve been married so long now that:
    a) I can’t really remember my single self
    b) Becoming an adult (meaning: reaching emotional maturity) happened mostly after I married at age 21

    Many of the marriage problems I see are caused by inequality between spouses (irrespective of the sex/gender of the spouse), but even more are caused by one partner’s reluctance to ‘grow up’ and take responsibility for their lives and their behavior. Because Mormons marry so young, I think the latter can be an even greater problem in our culture–perhaps especially for those who had ‘super Moms’ who didn’t allow their kids to make decisions or take care of themselves.

  21. Caroline says:

    Thanks for all the comments! I’d love to respond to every single person, but I’m afraid I’ll have to be selective.

    sarah, Amen about the difficulties of caring for difficult whining little people. I’m sure that’s hurt my temperment to some extent as well. Good idea about the fridge app’t. 🙂

    Kim b, I love your idea about how your husband’s acceptance of you has allowed you to embrace the ugly within. Also about becoming more authentic. I’d say that applies to me too.

    Emily U, My husband is ambivalent about the head of the household thing as well. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he does not incorporate that into his belief structure whatsoever. But even still, I suspect there’s something subconcious going on within me, because I did have to make those promises. Even though I know he doesn’t think of himself as the head of the household, the fact that the teachings surround us just make me feel insecure and defensive.

  22. mr.mraynes says:

    Well, I’ll take jessawhy’s invitation and share my two cents on this. (By the way, very cool post, Caroline.)

    I guess my comment will cover two areas: how marriage has affected me, and how I feel it has affected mraynes.

    As a Morman man, I too have wondered if I am “better” since marrying. Since our doctrine teaches us that marriage is exalting, it is a natural question. I agree with Kristen: I may not be better in the Sunday School sense. For example, before marriage I “religiously” (pun intended) prayed every night before bed. Now, I am less likely to do so because that is my time to talk with mraynes and share our day’s thoughts and accomplishments. Before marriage I had no one but God to do that with–now I have a wife. I say that is an improvement!(I do still pray, but less out of routine). I also spend much less time reading scriptures. Nevertheless, I believe I am a better human being in that I am less selfish, more committed, and unified with my wife. I feel that the old saying “she makes me a better person” really does apply.

    For me, being the “magnanimous” leader of the family simply has nothing to do with it. Doesn’t that bug others here too? I know we have to try to grapple with the old preside stuff, but how about we just agree that it is (well-intendedly) misplaced and best forgotten? I simply can’t conceive of a godly marriage in which either partner individually “presides” in any manner. And such a relationship seems less likely to result in personal betterment.

    Regarding my wife: She has become a more trusting person, more resilient, patient, and honest since we married. Sometimes this results in some honest outbursts, which I always appreciate if they alleviate emotional build-ups and are done with an increased display of affection afterwards. She is just as hard on herself as most of you are; but I as an *almost* impartial observer can say that marriage has improved her character and made her all the more admirable to me.

    I think we see ourselves as “worse” sometimes because, 1. we don’t really remember that well who we were even a couple of years ago, and 2. life never gets easier, only richer and more complicated. I think all of us are better than we were before, if only because today we possess greater experience and wisdom. That is a powerful tool for self-improvement, one that we often employ without even taking note.

    To those who see themselves as “worse,” I humbly suggest reconsidering. Maybe go easier on your present self and a bit harder on your past self?

  23. Caroline says:

    mb, I like your point about the ups and downs. As for the logic that patriarchy must not be to blame since we’d all be worse, I think I’d disagree. It seems to me like patriarchy can have a variety of different effects on different personalities. For some, it might actually make them better (I suppose that’s possible.) For some, it might make them less nice. For some it might make them overly self-sacrificing. I’m thinking there’s a wide range of consequences. Thanks for sharing your story about insecurity and the solutions you found.

    Alisa, I love your shower story!

    Kristen, “I feel like I have something to prove.” I think that plays into me not being so nice sometimes as well. I want to make it overly clear that I’m not going to be his doormat.

    more later…

  24. mr.mraynes says:

    Oh, I never offered my solution to the preside problem. I actually don’t think we have to get rid of the word preside. What needs to change is that the act of presiding should only be carried out jointly by a man and woman married to each other. This is most applicable in families, but the radical in me would like to see the Church power structure adopt this as well.

    Any thoughts?

  25. Deborah says:

    By better do you mean “nicer?” That’s a fraught term for women . . .

    I think one of the hardest parts of marriage, for me, has been letting another person see all of me — the angry, frustrated, annoyed, selfish parts that I so assiduously try to keep from view! I’m dismayed at times when these comes out, but my husband reminds me that I have a weird perfection complex and that “people are messy, smelly, and not always rational so get over it already.” I think it’s been both humbling and helpful, this process. It’s certainly made me more empathetic. So I think I’d say I’m a *fuller* person since marriage, more aware of my flaws but also impressed by our ability to work through things, day by day.

    I can’t speak to the patriarchy angle. We’re interfaith — which poses its own challenges, but that ain’t one of them.

  26. Caroline says:

    Bree, good point about the age factor. I think I’ve become less patient with things as I’ve aged as well.

    mb, that’s an interesting theory about the hearkening covenant being only a lower level, telestial thing. I think that can be a productive way to look at it, though personally, I really can’t see how it’s beneficial to growth whatsoever to create that kind of hierarchy within marriage. If it is just a stepping stone, it doesn’t appear to me to be a very effective one generally.

    Jane, great questions. I personally see Christ’s ministry as an effort to empower the powerless and respect the despised and downtrodden – basically I see him as an inspiring leader of social justice. As a Christian, I feel my duty is to follow his example, and I think that means working with love and charity to question and help change attitudes, systems, and ideas that degrade.

    My favorite scripture: Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” I take that doing justice part very seriously. I think it requires proactive and thoughtful action on behalf of the oppressed.

  27. Caroline says:

    aerin, I love this. “sometimes acting with love is re-acting with love for oneself, not necessarily what everyone else.”

    Mr. Mraynes, I’m glad you took up Jess’ question, and I love your attitude towards the preside idea. I think you and Deborah bring up an important question of what exactly it means to be worse or better. It sounds to me like your development of a loving and intimate relationship with your spouse has indeed made you a better human being, if not better in the letter of the law sense. I also really like what you said here: “I think all of us are better than we were before, if only because today we possess greater experience and wisdom.” As for your suggestion about making preside something husbands and wives do together, that sounds pretty good to me. I’d be thrilled with that change.

    Deborah, that’s a good question about whether or not I’m talking about being nice. I think in a way I actually am talking about niceness – (which is problematic for women, I agree). I guess kind of figure that God’s evaluation basis of each of us will primarily be kindness and charity. So when I’m not “nice” I fear I’m not developing charity like I should be. But perhaps I should tweak that kind of thinking and consider the fact that God also wants us to develop strength, honesty, authenticity, and love of self as well as others – all things that don’t necessarily translate into ‘niceness.’

  28. EmilyCC says:

    Ooh, interesting post, Caroline (as usual!).

    In the secular aspects of our marriage, I think I don’t tend to let patriarchy get in the way much. But, whenever Nate and I talk about spirituality, it gets difficult. I’m very defensive whenever I feel like he’s giving me spiritual advice. I think that is due, in large part, to the fact that I feel like there are all these men in the Church telling me what to do, and I don’t want my husband to be one of them.

    It’s sad, really, because we don’t have many spiritual discussions anymore, but I’m not sure I’m ready to try and remedy that.

  29. JDD says:

    I agree with Davis. It’s really easy to blame our personal failings on outside forces like “patriarchy.” In reality, we should just own them and commit ourselves to personal improvement. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from perfect. I take responsibility for my failings and pledge to try to improve. When I fail, it’s usually because I’m selfish, not because the “church culture made me that way.” If anything, the church has helped make me better than I would otherwise be.

  30. mraynes says:

    Fascinating post, Caroline. I tend to agree with my husband’s assessment of me, I am a better person since getting married. In general I am much more secure and open which were things I really struggled with when I was single.

    I like what Kim B. said about her husband giving her the support to embrace her ugly. I think the same is true for me, having the unwavering love of another has allowed me to question, rage, feel, accept really difficult things. As a result of this I am a much more actualized person.

    I do, however, wonder if I would have a more difficult time with marriage if I were financially dependent on mr. mraynes. I think personally, that would make me feel very vulnerable. I also think that my financial dependence would exacerbate the patriarchy problem and make it more painful. As it is, I don’t feel like I am required to hearken to my husband, even though I know he would never ask it, because I can support myself. I hope this isn’t the case as I probably won’t always be working but I do wonder. Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  31. madhousewife says:

    I’ve been married for 12 years. A few years ago I would have said marriage had made me a worse person. Now I think it’s made me a better person. I also think that realizing that I had become a worse person is part of what made me better–or caused me to work on being better–but the whole experience of being married, even the part(s) when I was a “bad person,” has served to make me wiser and therefore better.

  32. Minerva says:

    For me, I think patriarchy has made me have way too high of expectations for men. I expect men to be completely self-sacrificing, think I’m amazing and wise at all times, etc. I know intellectually that this is messed up, but it’s deep in my psyche. I think that this expectation comes partly from my father, who is extremely self-sacrificing in his marriage to my mother, but I think it also comes from the condescending rhetoric often used in a patriarchal structure. “Women are more righteous than men”; “men may call themselves the head of the house, but we all know who is REALLY in charge at home” etc. And at Church you hear a lot of men talking about how amazing their wives are and how much they’ve learned from them. There’s a strange side of patriarchy, I think, that encourages men to be sort of self-depracating…maybe as a sort of apology for the hierarchy? So I’m dating a non-Mormon boy who was not raised to think women are angelic or with any of this patriarchal baggage…and I find myself really frustrated that I’m NOT being worshipped. So I think partriarchy has a detrimental affect on my relationship although the man I’m with wasn’t even raised in such a structure.

  33. E.D. says:

    I hope it’s okay that I add my comments to this post since I’m not now married, nor have I ever been. But perhaps I can bring a different perspective to your ponderings. I am 47-years old and been working my entire adult life. I am a much different person now than I was 25 and 30 years ago and the change hasn’t necessarily been good. I am not as nice and complacent as I used to be; sometimes I’m downright mean. Since I have no marriage experience, I can’t blame the change on that. I have been a member of the church all my life, but my dad was inactive in the church while I was growing up so I had no example of church patriarchy in the home that I can now blame. Sure, I see the patriarchy in the church organization but I have no bad feelings towards it so I don’t feel comfortable casting blame there. I have wondered how I came to be the mean, apathetic person that I am now (okay, that’s a little exaggeration – I can be nice). All I can say is that a lot of life has happened and I think I have become cynical and wary of other people’s intentions and motives. I do think that I have become a stronger person because, with the exception of God, I have learned to rely mainly on myself. There are many good people in the world, but there’s also a lot of selfishness. It’s hard to know when a person is trustworthy or when they are just using you.

    All of that has taught me that communication is the strongest asset. Be honest and expect it in return. If you aren’t sure what a person is saying, i.e., we need to clean the refrigerator, don’t assume the intent of the statement. As another person commented, take the statement at face value and schedule a time to do it. If you feel like someone may be subtly verbally attacking you, ask them exactly what they are saying. Straight-forward, honest communication has relieved me of unrehearsed hateful verbal lashing out. Though, the straight-forward, honest communication is what is usually construed by others to be mean speech.

    I don’t have the answers to fixing the not being a nice person. But I don’t think the cause can be laid solely at the feet of patriarchy.

  34. D'Arcy says:

    Very, very good post.

    I’m 31 and single. The other day I came across an old boyfriend on facebook. He is now married with three children and living in a small house in a small town in the middle of America.

    If I had married him, would I be meaner than I am now? Or would I have never learned how to stand up for myself, how to find voice to my feelings as a woman in this church? It’s interesting to think about.

    Now that I am very vocal about my issues, about church, about the fact that no one will be “presiding” over me, about the fact that I won’t change my name, don’t want very many children, etc. Well, I feel the men I date get a pretty clear picture of what it might be like to marry me. And oddly enough, many of the non-mormon ones I dated had more problems with it than the current mormon I am dating. That surprised me.

    But Caroline, I could see myself doing that as a wife because I’m already doing much of it as a girlfriend.

  35. MJK says:

    Hokie, your reply (first post) makes me feel sad. You say you are not a better person and then go on to clarify that by saying you do not go to the temple or exercise or read your scriptures. Are those the things that make us “good”?

    I am definitely a better person since getting married. My 7 year relationship with my husband has caused me to grow and mature. Learning to live with another person has made me more patient and kind and thoughtful of others and to learn many more things about life and the world.
    But I am no longer an active member of the church. I don’t think that the one precludes the other.

  36. JM says:

    I’m less “nice” since being married, but I don’t think I’m a worse person. It’s easy for me to be outwardly “nice” at the expense of letting myself acknowledge and express my real feelings, but that’s not a recipe for mutual happiness in my marriage. I’m learning, that, unless I am more bold about expressing my whole range of feelings, I will become a very miserable person.

  37. teancum says:

    I find this kind of depressing, but I am not a better person now than I was as a single person 15 years ago. I came from a family that was quite unselfish. The wife comes from a very me-first clan. Hanging out with selfish people probably should have helped me refine my selfless tendencies, but it has had the opposite effect. I have become increasingly self-protective and competitive to avoid being completely bowled over by my wife and her family. It bums me out.

  38. James says:

    Some interesting thoughts…have wanted to comment for a few days, but life’s been nuts…apologies if this is not responsive to the comments I haven’t been able to read.

    One observation and one rant. First, I’m not convinced that many of us actually become worse people since becoming married (I’ve felt this myself at times). What appears flawless to the naked eye can suddenly appear horribly flawed when scrutinized under a microscope. My feeling is that marriage simply puts us under a proverbial microscope, where (if we’re looking), we and our spouses will become aware of flaws and weaknesses we never dreamed we had. Does that mean worse? Possibly, but I don’t really think so. There’s a reason the marriage covenant is the also the exalting covenant.

    Ok, rant time. The idea that men are nice to their wives because they are put in a position of power over them is laughable. While interesting in the abstract, in my opinion it simply does not hold up to the individual circumstances I see among anyone in my personal circles (and no, I do not live in a cave). I wouldn’t say it could NEVER be the case, but maybe men are kind to their wives because they ACTUALLY LOVE THEM.

    When patriarchy becomes the primary explanation for both as diametrically opposed (such as like legalized marital rape AND nice husbands, to pull a couple of examples out of the air), I’d say you’re wearing the patriarchy-tinted glasses.

    End rant.

    Note: PLEASE do not misinterpret this as bashing or minimizing feminists, women, etc. in general. I have a healthy respect and appreciation for the discussions here (and elsewhere). You all are great!

  39. Alisa says:

    James, I really like your comment, and even “the rant” resonates. I think my husband is nice to me because he is a genuinely nice and loving guy. I wouldn’t want that kindness and love to come from some artificial structure. It comes from who he is. It’s my responsibility to look at how I behave and make sure I’m doing the same (being genuine and all of that).

  40. mr.mraynes says:

    So glad to see another guy shares my view on this. James plus me makes two, and I think he’s right that there are many more who feel the very same way. I say that bodes very well for the future.

  41. Sinclair says:

    Didn’t read all of the comments so please forgive me if I repeat what’s already been said.

    I’m much worse, or feel worse now that I’m married. This is my second marriage and I stopped working when we had our new batch of kids. It’s hard to watch DH go off to his job every day and accomplish tasks, have conversation, gain education and experience in his field while I’m home vacuuming Cheerios and speaking two-year old. While staying home does and hopefully will continue to have more and more rewards (please, someone give me a freakin’ ribbon), I have a lot of resentment towards DH. I feel like I’ve been the one to sacrifice so much while he’s given up very little (save a quiet evening here and there). Because of his work (enlisted in the service) it’s largely my job to be available so he can serve when and where the military takes him. That sucks. Maybe it’s the lack of revenue that I bring in, maybe the notion that there’s something “more” I could be doing outside of daily stroller patrols and diaper duty, and other times I’m certain that it’s the lack of real “me” time this arrangement affords. I can’t really pin it on one thing but being married definitely does not a gracious me make. It’s tough trying to find where I exist underneath these hats I wear (wife, mother,homemaker, etc) since one of them is always on.

  42. Caroline says:

    James, I think you and others like you have a valid point. But I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to suggest that because of patriarchal church rhetoric (i.e. the husband is responsible for his wife’s happiness, if the family fails it’s the man’s fault because of his ultimate responsibility) some men might feel additional pressure to really be loving and benevolent towards their wives. Of course most men are nice to their wives because they love them, but I wouldn’t want to entirely discount other psychological factors at play.

    It seems like some commenters (JDD, Davis, etc.) here are quick to discount external factors that affect the marital relationship. I too believe very much in personal responsibility and owning up to our own faults and weaknesses, but I do think it’s fruitful to look at external factors like economics, patriarchy, etc. and think about how these things do affect the way we treat one another. Of course these things aren’t the whole explanation, but I think one could argue that they might have some, even subconcious, ramifications on our behavior.

    I’ve loved all your comments, everyone. Sorry for not being able to respond to each one of you.

  43. Kiri Close says:

    Truth is: I’ve always been a 1st class bitch (though at times I can be very loving, patient, & polite).

    But since marriage, I’ve turned into a nagging spouse (mainly ’cause someone is always there for me to bother, nag, crush, yell at ALL THE TIME! told ya I was bitch). There are days I wake up & decide to hate on him just because he’s there (LOL! horrible, I know…). It’s really out of privilege, come to think of it.

    However, much of my emotional restlessness has been put at ease because I have sexual satisfactions that come with nuptials. Orgasms really do help! & so does sleeping next to him at night, making out, chatting, —all that marriage partnering stuff.

  44. Kiri Close says:

    & gee! whatta relief it is for me to
    freely fart in front of each other, without him being an asshole about it (no pun intended–lol!)

    it’s unbelievaly how many women have not been allowed to pass gas freely while in the presence of their spouse!! talk about prison.

  45. adamf says:

    I don’t think it’s a matter of being a better person, rather you are the same person in a different setting. Marriage, just like any other difficult interpersonal endeavor, brings out all kinds of stuff. Stuff that was already there, imo.

    Fwiw, my wife is about as TBM as they come, and patriarch plays no practical part in our relationship. Neither of us see how it can.

    Caroline, I don’t know what part of the country you live in, but I totally recommend seeing an couples therapist who does Emotionally Focused Therapy. http://eft.ca/findtherapist.php There are good and valid reasons why you’re “not so nice anymore.” My wife and I have been going for a few months, and it addresses (on a process level) all the stuff you have been talking about. Or don’t go. You are autonomous. 🙂

  46. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Adam. I’ve never done therapy before, but I’d be interested in trying. Seems to me like the vast majority of relationships could benefit with some expert advice on how to interact with one another in healthy ways.

  47. Dora says:

    Hmmm … I tend to see it as refining one’s inner self.

    As a child and young woman, I had great desire to please and make peace. I hated conflict and did what I could to minimize its presence in my life. I would agree where possible, and keep quiet when not.

    Over the years, I’ve come to realize that certain types of conflict are necessary and even beneficial. I’ve become more outspoken and less fearful. I don’t tend to think of this in term of niceness, but in terms of being more authentic. If I had to measure myself against a static image that someone else held in their mind, the colors might be less pleasing, but the contrasts and dimensionality would be more easily understood.

    Being single, I cannot answer to the question of being a better or worse person since marriage. I can only say that I’ve allowed myself to be more fully realized.

  48. Jean Jean says:

    If marriage has “made you” a worse person than you were when you were single, you SHOULD question where this is coming from.

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I do believe that marriage is exalting for both men and women. After all, it’s almost like an internship for godhood, isn’t it?

    My husband has become a much better person (better meaning someone who is progressive) since we’ve been married. I think I have improved myself, if I can say that without sounding too high-and-mighty. Not in the “church” sense of being better (in fact, I think I’m worse in those areas), but I am more aware of my surroundings than I was before.

    Here’s the thing: if you define how well a marriage is or how “good” you are as a person based on number of house chores, I humbly suggest you look for another definition. A house is not a home and a marriage isn’t about dividing a list of chores to do around the house because one person is supposedly more powerful than another.

    Celestial Kingdom works like this: no one gets in alone, no one gets in for free, and no one gets in by thinking he/she is better than his/her partner. =)

    I hope I get in. I certainly don’t think myself as better as my husband, and I know he doesn’t think that way about himself. I also know that together we make a whole, and separate we are just lost.

  49. Caroline says:

    Jean said:,
    “Not in the “church” sense of being better (in fact, I think I’m worse in those areas), but I am more aware of my surroundings than I was before.”

    I like your definition of being a better person. I think I too am better in the sense of being less self-focused and more aware of the problems and struggles of other people.

  50. Keighley says:

    This was an interesting post to me. I myself am
    not married, though I do carry out the marriage
    roles with my boyfriend. His mother passed away
    and now I spend every day there as soon as I’m
    done with work – I cook the dinner and make him
    lunch for the next day. I get up and get him
    water or run and do errands for him. I can see
    how you’d feel the way you do. I also sometimes
    resent that attitude (if we both work, why is it
    always my job to cook dinner? Why don’t I get
    help in that?)

    However, as a recent convert to the church, I
    also notice what a high regard that the general
    authorities seem to have for their wives. There
    are numerous articles on how important and special
    we as women are. I feel that the church doesn’t
    make women subservient to men.

    Eve was created for Adam, not as a slave or
    an inferior, but because he was not complete
    without her. Men may have a sort of higher
    authority over women, but at the same time it’s
    because they have the preisthood and all of the
    accountability and responsibility that comes
    with that.

    I remember a discussionwe had in Gospel
    Principles once about how whena woman brings a
    child into this world, it’s a covenant between
    her and God that she will care for His child
    as He would. Nowhere does it say that a man has
    the same covenant. We are entrusted my our loving
    Heavenly Father to do this – there’s no way we
    are less than men.

    I feel (and yes this is just my opinion so if
    you don’t agree, feel free to ignore) that the
    church, which is overseen by Christ himself,
    tells us we are equal – we are daughters of our
    Heavenly parents. There is no way we are not
    special.

    All that aside, I think that maybe we as women
    don’t feel that the men in our lives fully
    understand or believe that, and that’s what
    makes us feel like we’re underappreciated.

    In your case, maybe your husband is just doing
    as Christ taught Him to – love his wife as
    himself. Maybe it has nothing to do with him
    having some authority over you?

    Anyway I hope you don’t get offended at
    anything I said,and that you get the relief
    you need from your present stresses. 🙂

    P.S. Have you talked to your husband about this?
    And if you’re still active in the church, your
    Bishop?
    you talked to

  51. Caroline says:

    keighley,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not offended at all, I love to hear your opinions. I agree that GA’s think highly of their wives. Very highly. But for me, it’s just fundamentally troubling when men make all policy and doctrinal decisions in the church, and when a woman never, no matter what her calling, has final decision making power. This doesn’t bother most people, but for me, it’s painful. So these feelings don’t come from men in my life that don’t appreciate me (I have the best of husbands)– it’s from a fundamental discomfort with the structure of the church. I want for my righteous female colleagues to have the same chance to lead and preside, in both marriage and church. That seems to me like what Christ would want for all of us.

    But like I said, I’m an anomaly. Yes, my husband knows all about this – he reads my posts. 🙂 I suspect my bishop knows where I’m coming from as well, though we’ve never talked about it. I’m afraid there’s nothing a bishop can say to me to make me feel better, other than that my ward loves me and needs me.

  52. mo says:

    Amen Caroline to all of your comments and article.
    I love your independent thinking. It’s so refreshing. I have found in the church women tend to follow and not lead. Your a leader! I would take you as my bishop!:)

    After a few years of being married I felt a monkey on my back from all of the expectations the church put on me and i thought my husband would expect (because he was born and raised Mormon). Then I realized I could think for myself and believe what I want to believe, and no one was going to tell me what to do or think….even if it’s coming over the loud speaking in the temple.

    After i change my thinking including eliminated the “patriarchal language” from my beliefs, is when i started to be nicer and happier.

  53. Caroline says:

    Thank you, Mo. You’re very generous to me, which I appreciate. I also love hearing about your experience with eliminating patriarchal thinking from your life. Perhaps this happens among Mormon women more than we realize…

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