Why Ben Affleck was Right (and Wrong) about Marriage


Do you buy into the idea that you have to work at your marriage? Find out why you might be wrong.

Celebrity marriages face all the same challenges that yours and mine do.  They also have some special challenges that most marriages don't.  While stars may get paid a lot of money for their work, it is neither regular nor guaranteed.  They work long, often odd, hours and are often away from their families for stretches of time.  The fact that the world they work in is not grounded in reality also has an impact.

So Ben Affleck's Oscar acceptance speech was not off the mark when he said to his wife, "I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with."

I'm not quite sure why people thought he would be in trouble when he got home.  As someone who works with couples every day, I'm thrilled when marriage gets spotlighted in such a positive way. 

Maybe they have the same problem that I do when people talk about marriage.  The problem I have is with the term "work".  It sounds like you're engaged in something hard or unpleasant.  This is how many people think about marriage and, unfortunately, they are often right.

If you look at the definition of work, it may come close to the mark regarding marriage:

Work:  Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.

Or : an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform someting:

  a : sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result

The problem of "working" at your marriage can be found in its very definition.  The purpose of work is to achieve an objective or result.  But what does this mean in terms of your marriage.  Is being married itself the objective or result? 

I think this is where the problem, and the negative perception of marriage, is.  It is also where all the stuff that makes marriage hard can be found.

The usual story is a couple meet, fall in love, and decide to marry.  Sometimes they even have discussions about whether or not to have children.  They plan the wedding and then head off to their happily ever after.  What they often haven't done is define what that "happily ever after" looks like.  This is where marriage and work start to merge for most couples.

If you haven't defined the objective or result, how do you know what it is going to take to accomplish it?  How do you know when it's been reached or if you are completely off track?  How do you know if you and your partner have the same idea about what the goal even is?

This lack of clarity and explicit agreement is what I believe is at the very heart of most marital challenges.  You each are working very hard to reach your own objective.  The more overlap there is between your differing objectives, the less like "work" your relationship feels.  The less overlap, the more exertion you each put forth but with little to show for it at day's end.

When you take the time to really plan your marriage together as partners, you will be able to move more efficiently and effortlessly as a team.  It won't mean you'll never have any challenges in your relationship, but having a game plan will make them more manageable.

I believe that's what Ben Affleck meant by it being "the best kind of work".  Most of the time the effort should be light and easy so the energy and desire is there when real "work" is required.

If you or someone you know is working too hard on their marriage instead of enjoying it, I am ready to help with expert relationship advice and coaching.  You can get more tips by joining my Free program 10 Resolutions to Make Your Marriage Better this Year.  My goal is to help you have the best marriage possible and proactively address any challenges you may encounter.