I recently read an article at Apple News by Mandy Len Catron, in which the author offered the following hypothetical for the reader’s consideration, “What if marriage is not the social good that so many want it to be?” The writer’s sample size for assessing the virtues and vices of marriage was noticeably small, citing only herself and her boyfriend Mark. The article primarily focused on the restrictive nature of marriage relationships.
Given that I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and work primarily with individuals, couples, and families to explore, restore, and enhance relationships across a broad context, I was tempted to dismiss the article off-handedly. However, given that I frequently quip that one ought to be able to understand and clearly articulate an opposing argument before advancing a refutation, I determined to give the author a fair reading and try to shed more light than heat on the subject.
She offered the following for our consideration:
“In the months after Mark moved into my apartment, I enjoyed the coziness of our shared domestic life. I liked having another person to help walk the dog and shop for groceries. I loved getting into bed with him every night. But when I looked at my life, I was surprised by how it seemed to have contracted. I didn’t go out as much. I got fewer invitations for after-work beers. Even my own parents seemed to call less often. When invitations did arrive, they were addressed to us both. We hadn’t even discussed marriage yet, but already it seemed everyone had tacitly agreed that our step toward each other necessitated a step away from friendship and community. I was happy in our home, but that happiness was twinned with a sense of loneliness I hadn’t expected.”
While I would empathize with her loneliness, I would encourage her to consider first of all, what love is, what she expects from it, and what she expects to give. I would propose that while marriage does, of necessity, limit one’s freedom to engage in non-couple extra-curricular activities to some degree, both in terms of variety and frequency, it also affords benefits and opportunities that are frequently missed by single persons. Social Anthropologists have identified two foundational elements necessary for the development of complex societies, agriculture and relational unions such as marriage. Primitive societies built protective barriers or walls around their homes or villages to protect those living within their community. In contemporary society, monogamous marriage includes social boundaries for the protection of the marriage relationship and as a foundation for the family.
Perhaps the question the author might have considered is not so much which is an intrinsically preferable state of relationship, but rather how does one create the greatest satisfaction in their relationship across multiple contexts. One thing is clear; those who are continually chasing the “in love” phenomena, the “hopeless romantic”, really are hopeless if they imagine an endless honeymoon following an initiatory puppy love phase. Rather than viewing marriage as a game of chance, couple’s who actively work for a better quality relationship report greater satisfaction across a broad range of factors, including but not limited to an increase in communication, shared emotionality, sexual satisfaction, assurance of commitment, and not the least of these, that elusive quality we embody in the word “love”.
Several years ago, my wife and I were shopping at a local upscale grocery and decided to eat in their restaurant. While we were eating our dinner, an elderly couple sat in the booth across from where we were seated. The couple appeared to be in their eighties. Although the woman was spry and quick in her step, the old gentleman was noticeably limited as evidenced by his slow gate with his walker. They ordered the fish special with salad bar, and when they went to get their salads, she placed a tray on his walker and assisted him in getting his dinner. They returned to their booth and talked and enjoyed their dinner together. Then it happened … the old lady said, “I think I would like some more of that jello desert.” She started to get up when her husband interrupted her and insisted he would get her dessert. My wife and I watched as the old gentleman moved slowly but intently across the cafeteria with his wife’s tray perched on his walker to the salad bar where he scooped up a hearty portion of the desert for his sweetheart. Then with a beaming smile he shuffled back to the booth and set the treat down in front of his very appreciative wife.
My wife reached across the table and squeezed my hand and said, “That’s love.” In closing, I would propose that ultimately, success in marriage is much more than finding the right person. It’s a matter of being the right person.
In future posts, I will be offering relationship topics on the following:
Lasting love vs. merely being “in love”
Securing and maintaining relational boundaries
Successful negotiating in relationships
How to change your partner without them knowing it is happening