The Perfect Remedy For Marriage Malaise


Couple holding hands
Stable, low-conflict marriage, but just not happy? Find out the cure.

Pamela Haag's description of the discontent in her marriage will elicit nods of understanding among many married couples.

She describes hers as a low-conflict, high-functioning yet melancholy marriage. They are efficiently raising children. They are not fighting huge battles, and he's a "great guy," by all counts. But, it still feels like something important is missing.


She says the majority of divorces in America each year are among unions like these: low-stress partnerships filled with a vague discontent.

It's a semi-happy and stable marriage, but is that all there is?

At some point or another, that will resonate with anyone married several years and raising young children, largely because in the well-documented bell curve of happiness within married life, we are in the trough. But do we hide in the hecticness of our schedules, orbit around our children, because we are essentially alone in our marriages? Third Age: How To Keep Turning Him On

Haag's book "Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhouse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples Who are Rewriting the Rules" sets out to put a face on the melancholy marriage and give examples of couples who are redefining marriage so it works better for them. About half the book challenges the notion of the importance of monogamy and rethinking its rules. Actually, it's not exactly a rewriting of rules but a revising of the time-honored hallmarks of ennui in marriage known as taking a mistress or lover.

Haag describes the changing cultural backdrop for today's marriages. Technology makes it easier and more tempting than ever to find excitement or sexual gratification outside of marriage. A number of couples she interviews are able to create an "ethical mistress-lover scenario," in which they have difficult conversations with their spouse and there is no deception and nearly nonexistent jealousy.

She admits in an interview that the "new" open, or polyamorous, marriage is not going to work for some couples, most certainly those who view marriage as a religious institution or covenant. But many Americans don't, she says. They should be able to write their own rules. The institution of marriage needs to evolve, she argues, in order to remain relevant and for people to be able to live more fully within it.

Rarely can the reality of marriage, the compromises, disappointments and underrated warmth of stability, compete with the adrenaline and endorphin hits of fantasy. I'm sure there are couples who make nontraditional arrangements work and are happier for it, but it's an unlikely viable alternative for most couples. Many people lack the sort of ability to emotionally compartmentalize enough to accept such a change. And most lack the courage to suggest it in the first place.

The central observation in her work — that too many marriages get by without much passion, energy, excitement, that which makes us feel alive and connected—is sound. We should expect more from our marriages, she says, and I tend to agree with her.

But there are competing notions of how to resolve the malaise in modern marriages.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
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