You know the story by now. Girl meets boy. There’s a big wedding. Then the problems start, around half of all marriages fail, and it turns out a lot more aren’t all that happy.
Is marriage the kiss of death to a perfectly good relationship?
Unfortunately the odds of eternal bliss aren’t that good if you cohabitate either. You can’t beat the odds by not tying the knot.
Once upon a time, people walked down the aisle of their local house of worship because the social and economic structure didn’t give them much choice. Marriage was once the only acceptable way to have children. Those needs may be less – but marriage isn’t going out of favor.
When I married my first love, I never imagined that I would be calling her my first wife. No, like everyone else, we both believed that we had the deepest love, the longest hopes, and dreams of a long beautiful and fulfilling life together. But we didn’t need to be married for social or economic reasons. Things got tough, and we got going. Separately.
Did marriage ever really work? Or did people just stick with it, hoping for a few good times in amongst the long years of fading love. And now we don’t need to stay in a disappointing marriage, have we replaced life-long monogamy with an expectation of two or three reasonably long marriages in our life?
These questions were very real for Dr. Harville Hendrix, who was working as a professor of marital therapy at the time of his divorce. He actually managed to make sense out of it all in the end and wrote it all down in the best-seller “Getting The Love You Want”. The book even led to a worldwide approach to couples therapy called “Imago”.
Dr. Hendrix says that although the divorce rate has risen over the last few decades, it isn’t a sign of marriage dying. Instead it just means there are some big changes going on in our society. So if we understand how marriage needs to change to suit our brave new world, then maybe we can enjoy it a lot more too.
So does this mean marital disagreements are as dated as VHS tapes? No, they are actually core to the new marriage. We choose our partner subconsciously in a way that is practically guaranteed to lead us into deep conflict. The reason why is another story. But the deeper the conflict we have with our partner, the more likely it is to be related to some part of us that is hurting inside. It’s often the part of us that holds us back from being fully alive, and being able to express our full potential.
My wife and I often argued about money. I thought I was being responsible. She thought I was just tight and mean. Actually when I checked later, it turned out that practically everyone I knew agreed with my wife – including my ex-wife! And as it turns out my wife had always felt that she was not trusted to be responsible, so my tight-wad financial control was tailor made to set her seething.
But we were married, locked together into a commitment which meant that we either had to work this through, or be miserable. Fortunately Dr. Hendrix rode to the rescue, by providing some great Imago techniques for talking through the issues and get to the real heart of them. The result was that we were both able to leave behind some ghosts from our upbringing, and stretch into a new way of relating to money and responsibility. We learned to love each other far more, and came out of the experience feeling happier and somehow more fully ourselves.
So why get married anyway? Dr Hendrix’s conclusion is because it increases the commitment, and so inevitably brings on a power-struggle. Differences that seemed minor before marriage, suddenly seem terrible once our destinies are bound together. Those differences will exist for any couple, perhaps even more so the more they love each other.
You can choose to look at the power struggle as a bad thing, avoid the arguments, and maybe build a little coolness and distance into the relationship. Maybe instead you enjoy the passion of a good flaming battle of the wills. But you can also use your marriage as the opportunity to grow more closely together, and through that become more complete and alive as individuals too.