While marriage dates back to biblical times, the institution has undergone a dramatic transformation in the modern era. What we call marriage today barely resembles its past profile. Formerly, matrimony was about economic sustenance, partnership, companionship, social status and children. Today, marriage is considered a romantic arrangement, a commitment between two, equal individuals based on love and trust. Spouses are supposed to be confidantes, friends and passionate lovers. There is an expectation that one person will provide what an entire community used to offer. And, for the first time in history, we have linked marital happiness to sexual satisfaction.
Additionally, particularly in the United States, honesty has become conflated with transparency – wholesale sharing – and intimacy requires honesty. Therefore, a secret between two married individuals means the couple lacks intimacy. Secrets are inherently wrong. Intimacy has come to mean "into me see." It is a concept bathed in self-disclosure, the truthful sharing of our personal and private material. The underlying belief is that by exposing one's internal life to another, he/she will feel deeply recognized, known and able to transcend his/her existential aloneness because he/she matters to at least one person. Ours is a culture that believes in the ethos of absolute frankness. Anything short of that is equated to wrongdoing.
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With this in mind, some of our core beliefs about marriage — the assumptions we make and the values we hold dear — really need to be questioned at a fundamental level. What are some of those assumptions and how are they flawed? Let's take a look.
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1. Honesty equals truth-telling and lying is deception. There is a pervasive notion in American culture that lying between spouses is inherently problematic. But could it be an act of caring? What if instead of equating respect with confessional honesty, we equated respect with the preservation of our partners' honor and peace of mind, even if that means telling gentle untruths. After all, isn't this why Sara never told Abraham that he was old and wrinkled? Ironically, this confessional interpretation of honesty disrespects the recipient of the information by failing to consider what it would be like for him/her to live with the disclosure. By contrast, other cultures do consider what it would be like for the recipient of the information to live with the burden of knowing. After all, honesty can be cruel. For that reason, I tell my clients that they should not say things that will stick to their partner's skin. Not everything needs to be said and not everything needs to be known because, let's face it: Truth and hostility often live side by side and not all honesty is salutary. Keep reading ...
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