ConNotes #1: Husband and Wife

September 22, 2008

As my wedding swiftly approaches, I often find myself contemplating the nature of marriage. Family members and friends are quick to tell me that my life will be irrevocably altered by this union, and many of them imply that the alteration will be for the worse rather than the better. “He won’t hold the door for you anymore when you’re married,” they say, or “Don’t get used to him complimenting you like he does – marriage will change that.”

My fiancée and I have cohabitated for five years and we’ve been friends much longer, so it’s difficult for me to see our relationship undergoing any dramatic transformation simply by changing our referential titles to ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ But then, when I more closely examine these words, it occurs to me that I do not have many positive associations with them. Both ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are loaded with unpleasant stereotypes in my mind thanks to my exposure to broken relationships in the media and in my own household growing up. Recognizing my own negative interpretations of these words helped me identify the power that these titles hold over the people they are bestowed upon. Someone’s notions about a particular role in a relationship can shape how that relationship develops. This may be how many people come to see marriage as the genesis of spite or frigidity: they are influenced by their unconscious associations with their title as ‘husband’ or ‘wife.’ On the reverse side, the power of these words may also be the key to nurturing very successful relationships, especially if the people involved can harness that power and make it their own.

How have your perceptions of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ shaped your perceptions of marriage? What does it mean to you to be a husband or a wife? Do you adulate or condemn marriage, or something in between? Remember: this isn’t about right or wrong. This is about sharing your interpretations and reading those of your fellow word watchers. You never know: you might learn something.



  1. If you’ve been together that long, and have already experienced living together, then not much should change. I got married four months ago. We’d been living together for a year and dating for eight years. So we pretty much knew what to expect from each other.
    I tend to think of marriage in positive terms, because my parents had a strong marriage and that was a very good influence on my life. To me, husband and wife are words that signify a commitment that really goes beyond words. I know that it often tends to not mean that, but that’s what it means to me.

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Brian.

    I was amazed at how these simple words meant something different to each person I talked to. One friend felt that ‘wife’ implied submission and ‘husband’ dominance because of her religious upbringing. My partner, on the other hand, was raised in a home where wife and husband meant equality, passion, and great friendship. To my parents prior to their divorce, husband and wife implied a kind of grudging tolerance of your partner.

    Obviously, I plan to adopt my partner’s interpretation of the words for our own marriage rather than my parents’ or my friend’s!

  3. I have surprisingly few slanted connotations associated with these titles in my mind. Given my rather negative upbringing in regard to the concept of marriage, I would expect to have more negative associations. I think that the root of my objectivity in relation to these particular words likely stems from both my feminism and my sense that my experiences as a child were not representative.

    I felt from a very young age that the negative examples of marriage provided by my mother and her partners were not healthy or “normal.” I made such a conscious effort to remind myself not to take those examples to heart that I think it must have applied to the related terms, as well. That is, I tried so hard to keep marriage from being tainted for me that I likewise kept the words from being tainted.

    In addition, because of my feminism, I have always felt that despite what expectations society may put on marriage, there is no reason that it should not be a respectful, happy, equal partnership. So, to me, marriage is like so many other things in life: a neutral concept that society has burdened with assumptions. And as with other things, I’ve done my best to keep society’s assumptions from becoming my own. Certainly, I have not succeeded utterly–that would be nigh impossible. But, in this case, at least, I’ve done all right.

  4. Hi Shelle,

    Keep coming back…your comments are so insightful and relevant. Your input is always appreciated.

    Marriage is a social institution, and social institutions can be difficult to alter on a large scale. Fortunately, this particular institution has only two active members and everyone else is an outsider. The partners in a marriage have the option to choose how to shape their relationship and their future together. Outsiders will still perceive the couple according to their own schema regarding marriage, of course, and their actions will reflect that; if the spouses aren’t careful, those actions could influence their own perceptions of themselves and their marriage.

    The deciding factor, though, is each individual’s recognition of those assumptions you’ve discussed, and his or her choice on how to handle those assumptions. I think being aware that husband and wife can be buzzwords is the first step to avoiding the stereotypes. Good on you for breaking free from the negative influences around you and being able to separate them from reality at such a young age. My parents’ bad influence was sort of insidious – I didn’t recognize how they had shaped some of my notions about marriage until I was considering it for myself. Of course, knowing what I know, I choose to have our relationship be reflective of only one thing: our relationship!

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