marriage entitlement

Marriage Entitlement – Part 1
When Your Spouse Takes Too Much Or Gives Too Little

Attitudes of Entitlement

In this blog series we are going to be taking a look at a very common problem in marriage. We are going to be addressing the situation where one spouse feels entitled to either take more than their share of the resources or to opt out of sharing the burdens and responsibilities of married life. We will be referring to these kinds of behaviors as issues of marriage entitlement.

As you probably already know if you have been in a marriage with an overly-entitled spouse, entitlement issues can very quickly begin to unravel the trust that is necessary to hold a marriage together.

Although many people assume that there is nothing they can do to change this kind of behavior pattern in their spouse, the truth is there actually are ways to resolve marriage entitlement issues without having to get into a confrontation or conflict.

You are about to learn that resolving entitlement issues without confrontation does not require you to learn to be more assertive. You will not need to work on setting better boundaries, and you won’t have to resort to threats of divorce.

The secret to resolving marriage entitlement issues without confrontation depends on only one thing. Your very clear knowledge of exactly what a spouse is entitled to in a marriage and more importantly, what they are not entitled to.

The reason that over-entitled spouses are routinely able to take advantage of their partners is that although we may talk about fairness in a general way, we do not often talk about what a sense of fairness in marriage actually looks like on a day to day basis. Instead we are expected to enter a marriage and naturally know where our entitlements or relationship rights begin and end.

If the only resource we needed to share in a marriage was money, we might be able to pull this off. But unfortunately, there are many other aspects to fairness in marriage that require more complexity than it takes to crunch a few numbers.

Most of us are capable of adding, subtracting and dividing in order to come up with a reliable financial plan. But there are few people who know how to figure out the ratio of give and take when it comes to emotional support. Yet this form of division is essential to keep spouses from either feeling like an emotional caretaker or as though they are starving for attention. And how exactly does one go about dividing up goals and dreams? Without this division neither spouse has a shot at individual happiness.

These are only a few of the many issues people struggle with when one spouse upsets the balance of fairness by taking too much or not giving enough. When we take a look at what’s really entailed in keeping a marriage in balance, we can see that although playing fair in marriage may seem like a no-brainer, we need more than a few quick fixes to solve this kind of problem.

In order to give you all of the tools you need to resolve your marriage entitlement issues, this blog series will first take you through the process of learning what your real entitlements in a marriage are. You may have always assumed that each couple works out the rules of how to treat each other in marriage by themselves. But what you might not know is that there are some very important entitlements already built into marriage that both you and your spouse already agree with.

Interestingly enough, these entitlements are not based on any cultural norms or dictated by our present-day society. They are instead based on fundamental rights that all human beings share. Just like we need food and water to sustain our physical lives, human beings also seem to need a sense of dignity and personal freedom in order to sustain their emotional lives.

Although we usually think of human rights in relation to governing large groups of people, some of the same principles apply equally to our relationships with others. The entitlement to personal freedom and dignity turns out to be so important to us that it is the guiding force behind the many of the common rules that we follow in all areas of our life.

That means when we are driving, none of us has any more rights than the next driver. It means when we want services we queue up according to who got there first. In relationships with others, we treat each other as equals. And when things are not equal, we compensate others such as in an employer/employee relationship.

What we call our human rights are actually based on universally-shared character traits. Because these traits are shared by all of us, we don’t experience the need to talk about them very often. Instead we take it for granted that everyone knows how to conduct themselves in a way that doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. But not talking about these basic entitlements also means we lack the language necessary to defend our natural entitlements when another person doesn’t play fair.

Five Entitlements of Marriage

To make it easier to understand your marriage rights, we are going to categorize them into five general entitlements. These entitlements are the principles that we all need to live by in order to preserve our personal freedom and dignity while sharing a life with another person. Once you learn the five entitlements you will be shown how to apply the principles behind these entitlements of marriage to your individual situation.

You will also be learning how to talk with your spouse about these entitlements. In order to give you the most effective tools to allow you to make changes in your partner’s behavior, during this blog series you will be provided with real-life scenarios for many of the common marriage entitlement issues. These scenarios will include suggested language that you can use to approach your spouse so you can resolve your issues without conflict.

Here is a preview of some of the marriage entitlement issues that you will be learning how to resolve throughout this blog series:

Entitlement Issues Regarding Physical/Emotional Needs:

Entitlement to love in a marriage.
Entitlement to happiness in a marriage.
Entitlement to relationships with our extended family within a marriage.
Entitlement to emotional support within a marriage.
Entitlement to physical safety within a marriage.
Entitlement to emotional safety within a marriage.
Entitlement to discussion around issues that affect our marriage.
Entitlement to sex in a marriage.

Entitlement Issues Regarding Sharing of Time:

Entitlement to personal time within a marriage.
Entitlement to quality time with our spouse within a marriage.
Entitlement to spend time with friends outside of our marriage.

Entitlement Issues Regarding Autonomy and Individuality:

Entitlement to making decisions without our spouse’s approval within a marriage.
Entitlement to personal decisions around our health in a marriage.
Entitlement to personal goals within a marriage.
Entitlement to personal spending money within a marriage.
Entitlement to choosing how we maintain our physical appearance within a marriage.

Entitlement Issues Regarding Society:

Entitlement to socially inappropriate behavior within a marriage.
Entitlement to retaining our cultural, traditional or religious customs within a marriage.
Entitlement to maintaining the same lifestyle we are used to within a marriage.

Entitlement Issues Regarding Sharing:

Entitlement to an equitable distribution of the finances in a marriage.
Entitlement to an equitable distribution of the physical chores in a marriage.
Entitlement to an equitable distribution of shouldering responsibilities within a marriage.
Entitlement to equal weight in decision-making within a marriage.

But before you can learn how to resolve issues in any of these areas, let’s first take some time to answer a few questions that people who struggle with issues of marriage entitlement often ask. We’ll start with the question of why it is that spouses engage in over-entitled behavior in the first place.

Why Do Spouses Become Over-Entitled?

Many partners of over-entitled spouses ask themselves what is it about a marriage that seems to able to turn a relatively well-behaved person into someone who acts like a spoiled child. Although it may be hard for very self-disciplined types to accept this, the answer lies in the fact that each one of us actually has the capacity to become spoiled and over-entitled when certain factors are in place.

The most important factor in our ability to act in an over-entitled way seems to be one that most people are not even aware of. As it turns out, the tendency to be self-centered is a normal human character trait. It may not be one that we are particularly proud of, but it’s one we have to live with. Let’s now look at how we learn to override our natural tendency to put our needs before the needs of others.

Chances are you would probably would agree that from the time we are a toddler to the time we reach adulthood we are engaged in a process of learning how to be a productive member of society. But what you may not realize is that even if we were to forget all of the lessons on good behavior that we were taught in childhood, we would still have learned everything we needed to know.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what the reasoning is behind our parents getting us to control our behavior. What matters is that our parents got us to learn the skill of saying no to ourselves every time they asked us for a behavior change. Learning to say no to our own interests is exactly the skill we need to achieve and maintain a fair and balanced relationship.

Although our parents were probably completely unaware of it, each of their requests of us to sit still or say please and thank you or even to finish our dinner before desert actually gave us valuable practice in how to override our self-oriented impulses.

By now you may be asking yourself, if we are all taught how to say no to selfish impulses when we are children, why is it that certain people still end up engaging in entitled behavior in their marriages? Shouldn’t they know better by the time they are adults?

The answer to this question is that although many individuals do put what they have learned into practice in how they treat their spouse, unfortunately there are other people who may not be naturally gifted at controlling themselves. These people, often despite good parenting and plenty of opportunity to practice these skills, just don’t achieve the level of self-discipline necessary to treat their partner fairly without some intervention on the part of their spouse.

But lack of skills in saying no to selfish desires is not the only factor that leads to over-entitlement in marriage. Although we tend to think of marriage as a valuable institution, the truth is that marriage is also a perfect breeding ground for over-entitlement even for those who may possess the skills to resist temptation in other areas of their life.

How Shared Resources Can Lead To Temptation

The reason a marriage can be one of the most tempting setups for over-entitled behavior is because when we marry we are basically agreeing to put both of our individual resources into a communal pot on the table. But unlike a game of poker, the resources we are asked to combine with our spouse are not just financial.

Along with our money we are also expected to share almost every aspect of our life with our partner over an extraordinarily long span of time. Let’s take a quick look at the kinds of currency, both emotional and financial, that we each bring to the table.

Along with an agreement to give our spouse an equal share in all of our earnings, we must offer our spouse companionship for the lifetime of the marriage. We must also offer them emotional support with an agreement to treat their needs as importantly as we treat our own. We must also agree to listen to their problems and try to make them feel better. We also must offer them affection and sex, two very important human needs.

We might even say that we are in a position to make our spouse’s dreams come true. After all, the person we decide to marry is someone who we think of as our ideal mate or at least the person we want to spend our lifetime with. They may have waited many years for us to come along.

So while most people think of fairness in marriage as having to do with physical resources, we can now see that the emotional resources that we offer our partner can be just as valuable. And we will find that spouses can be just as likely to take advantage of our emotional resources in a marriage as they may be to take advantage in areas of finances or sharing chores.

Let’s now see what happens when we take our first good look at this shared pot of resources on the table in front of us. The first thing that we might notice is that we now have the potential to get twice as much of everything. Although we may know that taking more than our share of the resources would probably be considered cheating, most of us would be lying if we said we hadn’t at least toyed with the idea.

After all, what one of us hasn’t had a daydream or two of being supported so we never have to work again? How about the notion of living with someone whose primary role in life is to make us feel good about ourselves?

And who among us wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a free live-in housekeeper or a personal chef? And although it may not be your dream, there are many people who find they cannot resist the idea of being treated like a king or a queen.

As you can see, playing by the rules of marriage is not an easy thing to pull off day in and day out over many decades. So it shouldn’t really be all that surprising that certain spouses may need more supervision than others.

But even though the temptation to take double one’s resources may have a very powerful pull, there is yet another factor which can influence whether a spouse engages in over-entitled behavior. Although we may not want to compare our spouse to a spoiled child, there are some similarities in the ways that both spouses and children may become over-entitled.

Let’s now take a look at what happens when an ordinarily responsible spouse marries someone with an over-relaxed attitude about how much their spouse takes and how little they give.

How Too Much Trust Can Leave Your Marriage Open To Entitlement

It may sound strange to make the statement that a marriage could have too much trust. After all, most of us work very hard to be able to give that essential benefit of the doubt to our spouse. We assume that we are supposed work towards trust, not away from it. And for the most part this is true.

However, just as we do find a correlation between over-relaxed parenting and entitled children, there is also a connection between over-relaxed spouses and their partners with entitlement issues. But before we address this connection, let’s first make it very clear that accountability for marriage entitlement issues rests squarely with the entitled spouse, not the put-upon partner.

If we are old enough to be in a marriage, we should be mature enough to take responsibility for our behavior. There is truly nothing in this unfortunate situation that the put-upon spouse can be blamed for. There is, however, an interesting observation that can be made between what we might call overly-trusting spouses and the presence of entitlement issues in a marriage.

So what exactly do we mean by an overly-trusting spouse? What we will find when we take a big-picture look at individuals from all different types of backgrounds is that peoples’ world view on how trustworthy others are can vary tremendously from person to person.

We will find people on one end of the trust scale who may have had enough bad experiences with untrustworthy people to where their world view has been colored. Despite positive experiences, they will often retain the belief that most people cannot be trusted. These people tend to distrust until a person has proved themselves innocent. Even then the person may remain on probation.

Let’s now go to the other side of the trust scale. There are plenty of people out there who had such positive experiences with trusting individuals that it colored their world perspective. Despite negative experiences, they will often retain the belief that most people can be trusted. They will often trust until a person has proven themselves untrustworthy. And even then they may still give them the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously each of these two world views are on the extreme ends of the trust scale. To be realistic, we could probably say that most people hold a world view that is somewhere between the two. When we closely examine the skill levels of the average spouse, it’s likely that we will find that there is a good proportion who although very well-meaning, will not have quite enough self-discipline to monitor themselves without some guidance from their partner.

What this means is that if you are one of those naturally-trusting types or perhaps someone who grew up in a household or community that had a strong focus on ethics and morals, self-discipline, or even if you are the type of person that enjoys giving so much that you need nothing more than appreciation in return, you may, without realizing it, be setting your marriage up for entitlement issues.

Although it can be very disappointing to learn that most people are far less able to keep themselves on the straight and narrow in a marriage than you might have imagined, you will find that adopting a more realistic view of your spouse can give you the essential awareness necessary to head off entitled behavior before it takes hold.

Let’s now move away from the dynamic of an over-trusting spouse to another factor in marriage entitlement. We are going to take a look at a dynamic of entitlement that occurs when one spouse lacks the maturity necessary to override their selfish interests.

marriage entitlement

Immaturity and Marriage Entitlement

Many people say that we are now in an age of entitlement. This was also known as the “me generation” a few decades back. What these types of labels are usually referring to is a trajectory we seem to be on as a society towards more and more focus on the individual’s desires and less focus on society’s expectations of how we should behave.

Most people would probably agree that this is a good direction to be moving. But these subtle changes are not without their own challenges. In our present-day more relaxed and informal society we have far fewer rules to teach our children. And with fewer rules to abide by comes less practice developing the skills needed to say no to self-oriented impulses.

There are also, of course, several other social factors that may be influencing a lack of maturity when it comes to marriage. Even in these modern times, many young adults seem to be captivated by the combination of royalty and romance.

The same seems to hold true for self-association with deities and more recently with celebrities. It wasn’t too long ago that the term diva was used as an insult. It is now a label that many women are striving to achieve. Those who associate privilege with marriage may be giving themselves the perfect justification to over-indulge in marriage entitlement.

There are also a few women who may still be holding onto the idea that they can remain forever in a childlike role. These women may mistakenly believe that when they get married they will be taken care of in the same way their parents took care of them as a child.

They may be in for a rude awakening when they find out that even if they are not working outside the home, they will still be expected to shoulder their fair share of the burdens and responsibilities of married life.

There is one more factor that we have not yet covered that can lead some spouses down the road of entitlement. This one has to do with the idealization of romantic love.

Does Romantic Love Conquer All

There are some individuals who really do enter marriages with open eyes. They may even have put their partners through a rigorous screening process to make absolute certain that they possess the skills necessary to maintain a productive and healthy marriage. And yet some of them still find themselves with an over-entitled spouse.

The question these individuals often ask is how could a spouse who has been acting in a mature and responsible way for years do a surprising about face and turn into a sulking and demanding child.

In order to resolve the mystery of the spouse who starts out as a mature and contributing partner but who a year or two down the road inexplicably begins to act in a very immature way, we must take a closer look at the science of love.

Most of us enjoy indulging occasionally in the fantasy of romantic love. When we come back down to reality we remember that falling in love is supposedly nothing more than nature’s way of ensuring that we have a lasting bond with our mate. But as those who have been in love will attest, this supposedly chemically-induced euphoria feels quite real.

Although most of us work to keep a clear head when it comes to love, there are certain individuals that may become much more obsessed with romantic love than others. These individuals have the tendency to idealize not only the concept of romantic love but also their spouse.

While in the throws of love they can be tremendously motivated to treat their partners very, very well. However, the higher the euphoria stemming from a relationship with an idealized spouse, the farther they may fall when the honeymoon phase of their marriage finally comes to a crashing end.

They may experience a devastating sense of disappointment when they finally see their mate as the mere mortal that they really were all along. When idealized love has been the main motivator of good treatment by a spouse, its absence can sometimes trigger a strong bout of entitled behavior. Disappointed spouses may use entitled behavior as a consolation prize to make up for the loss of what they thought was a perfect marriage to a perfect spouse.

Now that you have an idea of what factors might have led your spouse into entitled behavior, it’s time for you to get acquainted with the fundamental principles of marriage. Please join me in Part 2 of Marriage Entitlement where you will learn about five basic categories of entitlement that all spouses can agree on.

RELATED POSTS:

Are You Being Blamed For Your Wife’s Relationship Insecurity?

Is Your Spouse On Your Side?

Four Questions You Need To Be Asking To Help Save Your Marriage

A Stress-Free Approach To Resolving Marriage Conflict

If you would like to learn the Nicola Method so you can put an end to the high conflict situations you may be experiencing, click on this link to the welcome page of this website where you will find the resources you need.

If you want to try out some of the basic techniques of this method for free to see if this method is right for your situation, you can learn them from an intro guide flip-book here or a PDF version of the intro guide here.

Visit Joanna on Google+