Men who have a well-defined sense of personal identity have no problems appreciating or enjoying their wives’ success.

Time was when for a woman to be successful she had to be either single, divorced or widowed. It did not appear conceivable that a woman in the limelight could ever have a happy marriage. Many high as well as low profile marriages were considered to have fallen by the wayside on account of the woman in the relationship being better known than the male. While women had learned to deal with highly successful husbands, men were not considered to be ready to handle successful wives. The blame was attributed to the ‘fragile male ego' that would not permit a man to function from a position of relative obscurity while his woman was in the public eye. However, even in ‘those' days, there have been recorded stories of publicly-recognised successful women who had supportive husbands; apparently all men did not have ‘ fragile egos'.

Changing mores

In truth, it is not ego fragility as much as social mores of the time that dictate how men respond when faced with the possibility that their women are more likely to be better recognised than they. This is why, till even as recently as the middle and late 20th century (and, in some parts of our country, even today), many female careers, whether in the fields of art, literature, industry, trade or politics, were unceremoniously snuffed out by apparently tyrannical fathers or husbands. Today, in the more enlightened 21st-century urban India, ‘snuffed out' is an unlikely option when it comes to women's career choices. And men have had to perforce learn how to deal with their women's successes. And over all they haven't performed too badly.

One of the most important differences between the marriage of today and that of a few decades ago is that traditional roles have become blurred. The male-provider vs. female-homemaker differentiation has long ceased to be the defining plank of the man-woman relationship. Economic necessity combined with the possibility of a better quality of life, has persuaded men and women to learn the value of sharing both roles. As a result, women today have fewer impediments when pursuing excellence in their chosen careers than did their mothers and grandmothers. Which means that at least some women are going to be more successful and better known than their men. Fortunately, today's man is far better equipped to deal with this than were his father and grandfather before him.

Simply stated, it is the manner in which the man is able to deal with his own identity that determines whether he establishes comfort with his wife's high-profile status. Often, many marriages become unstuck when one partner's identity is advanced at the expense of the other's. Which is why, sacrifice has often been a dominant theme in those relationships in which one partner is more high profile than the other. Unfortunately, martyrdom has no place in contemporary well-balanced relationships and it is vitally important that both partners experience freedom in the marriage to advance their relative identities to the fullest possible extent. For this to happen, the marriage space has to be well defined, and ‘ sacrifice' has to assume backburner status. When you carefully look at some of the success stories of couples who have managed to establish balanced equations, it will become readily apparent that both partners have fairly well defined ‘personal spaces' without sacrificing their ‘marriage space' at the altar of success.

Dealing with success

When a man has paid adequate attention to carving out his own identity, even if he is not as much written about or admired as is his wife, he is in a position to actually enjoy her success, than feel threatened by it. Typically, for this to happen, the successful partner's attitude to her own success plays a very important role. If she is able to view her success as a product of a joint effort, and as any successful person will tell you, her position of eminence is the result of the efforts of a team of people who have each played their roles with commitment, then there is no problem. However, if she wears her attainments as a badge of honour and considers herself one notch above her less-celebrated partner, then disharmony is bound to prevail. Put differently, the marriage cannot be seen as a battleground where two competing identities struggle for suzerainty. It has to be configured as a sanctuary where both partners set aside their public personas and relate to each other simply as a man and a woman.

Additionally, the man has to deal with the social response to his wife's success. If he belongs to a social group that is derisive of such a situation, he ends up being the butt of malicious innuendo and back-biting that can ruin his sense of self. If however, he chooses to function in a more broad-based social environment, in the firm belief that his celebrity wife is first and foremost the woman he loves and who loves him more than any other, and only then a celebrity, then he deals with the situation with poise and equanimity. While this may be difficult to do, it is certainly not impossible and I, for one, have nothing but respect and admiration for the many contemporary men who manage to pull this off.

Contact the writer at vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com