Thursday, September 2, 2010

Single Lady "Shoulds"

Unless you've been living in a tent this past year, you undoubtedly have heard a very popular sung by Beyonce called, "Single Ladies."  The chorus features the following lyrics:

Cuz if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it

The song is both defiant and reactionary.  It celebrates a woman standing up for herself, but at the same time reinforces a conservative notion that the goal of a relationship should be marriage.  Without realizing it, this fabulous singer has offered up a wonderful example of why "shoulds" in relationships are toxic and destructive.  

At the beginning of the piece, we find Beyonce in a club after a painful break-up.  She is apparently nursing her wounds after this relationship of three years when another man catches her attention ("I’m up on him, he up on me").  The rest of the song is directed toward the man she broke up with, who presumably is pretty upset she's up against anyone at a club. She responds by asserting her right to look good and go out ("I couldn't care less what you think, I need no permission."), and then to call him out by singing the aforementioned chorus.

As I mention in Absolutely Should-less, "shoulds" are ineffective motivators for change.  They may inspire short-term results, but they do not create or sustain interest or motivation in maintaining behaviors.  Translation?  You may "should" a guy into putting a ring on it, but that symbol won't make him stick around.  Isn't it possible that the man in the song had some intimacy issues he could have worked out in therapy? Does Beyonce think she can change his desire to marry by calling him out and embarrassing him at the club?

So what's the answer? When you are in a relationship, be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want and what you do not.  If marriage is authentically right for you then you have a right to ask for that, but your partner has a right to not want that without being shamed and humiliated.  By effectively communicating your truth to others, you get to experience deeper and more respectful relationships, and well as less "shoulds" about the "ring on it" in the club.  Wouldn't that be preferable?

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

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