Yesterday a volunteering friend used the phrase “wifely duties.” She did so somewhat in jest, but the phrase stuck with me. I certainly think that I have duties to Jonathan, but I shudder at calling them wifely duties. I don’t think these duties have anything to do with me being his wife, or rather, have anything to do with the fact that I’m the woman in the relationship.
I’d like the phrases “spousal duties” or “partnerly duties,” better (if the latter was a real word). I have certain duties to Jonathan because I am married to him, but gender roles or dynamics have nothing to do with them. He has duties to me, but for the most part, I think they’re the same.
The most important duties in a marriage are to love, support, and look after the other person. Beyond that, when getting into specifics, I think it depends on the individual marriage. A duty Jon has to me is to call me when he’s running late from work, because I worry. I don’t have the same duty to him, because he doesn’t worry as much. If I am running late from something I might think to call him, because I want to extend to others the same courtesy as I’d like them to extend to me. As far as he’s concerned it’s not a duty of mine, because it’s not something that’s important to him.
A duty I have to him is to tell him when I want something from him, not to expect him to just know. This is the sort of thing that he should do for me, except that he does (and Jon’s the sort of person that wants things in general less often). It’s something I’ve had to work on, and something I consider a duty to him.
Beyond the general aspects of love and respect that any committed partners should have for each other, I don’t think there are many easily assumable duties that can be applied to specific marriages. It should come down to what one individual requires from another individual. In my friend’s case (though, again, she said it in part in jest), she was referring to a wife providing dinner for her husband. Part of the joke was that the husband returned home from work very late, and yet it was still the wife’s duty to make sure he was fed.
On the days Jon has to work late, I almost always have dinner for him. It’s something that I want to do for the person I love, especially because he’s had a long day. But if I’m not feeling well, or he’s not sure when he’s going to be home, there are some days that I don’t bother. He’s a grown man, and it’s not my sole responsibility to feed him. He can feed himself. He would agree; he never expects dinner from me, and he always thanks me for it.
That’s another duty Jon and I have decided we owe each other: thanking each other for the things we do for the other. We never want to assume or expect, especially about things that would fall along stereotypical gender lines. It also just improves our marriage, when we’re always making sure the other knows that we appreciate what he or she has done for us.
*(The above image by imagerymajestic is from freedigitalphotos.net).