|from Arie Hochschild's The Managed Heart|
This may well be how some or many people think about what they perceive as the prevailing marriage style in a society, but I think that it's generally a destructive way, and I'd like to pick apart why.
At the root of this formulation is an idea of a spouse as a sort of exchangeable commodity. For example: "The average wife does more housework than my wife, so my wife should feel herself lucky that I put up with her lower level of contribution to the household. I could find a lot of women who would do more housework than she does, and she couldn't find many men who'd put up with her level of household work."
All of this, however, stems from the idea of the 'average wife' and the 'average husband'. Yet we don't marry averages and generalities. We marry people, particular people with their particular strengths and weaknesses.
If you start comparing your spouse to the average, particularly measuring her weaknesses against the average and thinking how much better off you would be with an 'average wife', you sow the seeds of unhappiness. The 'average woman' is a figment of imagination, easily painted with the qualities you want unattached to the particularities of any real woman.
When I met MrsDarwin, I certainly didn't fall in love with her because she was the average woman. I fell in love with her because of who she was as a person: the books we both loved, the modes of thought and feeling that we shared, the fact that we preferred to spend time together than with anyone else. If I fell in love with her, with her particularly instead of someone else, because of the ways in which she was different from other women, I clearly have no desire to exchange her for 'the average woman' because of some one quality in which the 'average woman' is imagined to be better.
What does it matter if the 'average woman' is more desirable in terms of running errands or sweeping floors? I married my wife because the particular person she is, all qualities taken together, was the person I wanted to spend my life with far more than any other woman that I'd met before (or since.) I believe that I'm lucky to have found her. It would be madness to then turn around and complain that she wasn't sufficiently average in some respect.
It's destructive enough, I'm sure, to be sitting around thinking what it might have been like to have married some other specific person instead of your spouse, but at least in considering a specific person one is compelled to think of that person in whole, the things that you might like along with the things that you would not. The dangerous thing about sitting around comparing your spouse to an 'average' is that it's now possible to yearn for virtues in which you think your spouse deficient without having to pair those with any other specific characteristics.
People are not commodities. There is no shelf of Spouses, Grade A to be selected at the marriage store. In any given person we take the good with the bad, the delightful with the mildly frustrating. It's best that we remember that, and remember why we married our spouses, not start comparing them to some tantalizing "average" set of virtues.