Marriage Today : New thoughts on an old institution

Read Huffingtonpost original article here

I should understand the institution of marriage. Ive had two of my own  over the past 40 years, and I choose to spend hours of my working  day in other people’s marriages/significant relationships. So Im always excited as I begin to notice changes in marriage that my clients bring to my attention . New themes emerge and game is on – I want to know and understand  more how the social, politcial, technological and  economic forces are effecting changes in marriage.

I mean how do you go from being happy with your role as a stay at home mom and wife, (albeit popping valium to be turned on by your  daily Hoover experience)   to  being unhappy and demanding an equal cooperative relationship with your male partner. How did we  as a Western society move from simply accepting that marriage offered us a union between a man and a woman characterised by residential cohabitation, economic cooperation and sexual activity, to expecting same sex people to have the same rights,  to  a marriage that meant not necessarily living in the same bed, house or city   to expecting marriage to be open and consensually non monogamous ?

The most significant change in marriage has been the introduction of the idea of Love. Until the 18th century this was not a reasonable reason to marry. Practicalities dictated the need for marriage . The household was a place where partners were totally responsible for keeping themselves and families literally alive. The primary functions of the marriage revolved around  food, clothing and health care. Two people, plus extended families were essential to the survival of families.

The Industrial era eased these daily struggles to meet basic survival  needs and people could exhale and fall in love. Between 1850-1965 love was  highest on your tick box for choice of marriage partner. Not a man who could literally kill a sheep for you, but a man /woman who made you feel fed though feeling  in love with him /her. We looked to marriage for love, passion and fulfilment of emotional needs. Marriages became , and still remain , love based.

The contraceptive pill, free love, feminism and more comfortable economic lives shifted our tick box list once again. We wanted more from marriage. From 1965 – today we are living in what Eli J.Finkel in his just fabulous book “The all-or-nothing marriage ” , calls, the Self Expressive marriage.

Turn your attention to Abraham Maslow  and his  pyramid of hierarchy of needs. Working from the bottom up, PHYSIOLOGICAL> SAFETY > .BELONGING AND LOVE. > ESTEEM.SELF >ACTUALIZATION.

You can provide your own food and safety, you feel you have  committed and loving marriage your self esteem is your responsibility to gain inside and outside the marriage … but you want more. You want to feel you are living the best life possible, that you can attain self actualisation . And you turn to your partner with a new tick list and say : fill all my emotional and psychological needs so I can experience personal growth and self discovery  in my marriage . Oh and don’t forget the sexual passion, best friend part and co parent as well.

Questions for you :

  1. How willing and able are you to fulfil these  self actualisation needs in your partner ?
  2. How much time do you have for this kind of marriage?
  3. How much are you willing to invest in this kind of marriage ?
  4. Do you strive for “happiness’, or “meaning” in your marriage? “Happiness” has an emphasis on pleasure,  feeling good about yourself , & believing  marriage should not be hard work. or else divorce is an option. “Meaning” gets you to seek self expression, personal growth and so you  endure challenges during marriage

Im going to tell you why you’re struggling with your marriage . You desire this kind of self actualised meaningful  marriage .. but… you don’t have the time to invest in creating it. You have made children the centre of your Universe so the majority of your time is spent around them, more time at work, less time alone with friends and family, and even less time alone with your spouse. Yet you want to be known and self actualised through a spouse who doesn’t get to know you or your needs. You feel disappointed .

Here is the happy news: if you invest time and energy into marriage, you will have a sense of fulfilment undreamt of. Finkel refers to this as “oxygenating” your marriage. Withholding judgement , the reasons you are starving your marriage of oxygen and left  feeling unhappy , disappointed and in flight or infidelity mode are real :

No time: Partners are spending less time  alone together, less time visiting friends together and seldom do they share meals together.  Rather time together is focused on television and children .

Stress : People are individually overwhelmed with their worlds . It is very difficult to be sensitive and consciously present with a partner when you are in a state of stress

Mental Fragmentation : We are chronically interrupted and distracted by social media, multi tasking , to-do lists which limits our ability to be present with a partner

So I ask myself : what is reasonable for couples to expect from marriage today?

I resonate with the thinking of Finkel and the Gottman”s Sound Relationship House which places “dreams” at the top of their pyramid of marital goals.  Expect a lot.. but be willing to invest a lot. No way can you reach your demand for a high return on a marriage, which is  to get to the top of the pyramid where your partner is there to ensure your individual dreams as well as couple dreams ,are self actualised,  if you do not invest into it. And investment means minimising your life,  so there is less stress and noise, unclutter people and work that do not serve you well, Use this time to spend together  to allow your partner to know you and vice versa. Only by knowing each other can marriages be the rich institution it potentially can be.

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