(Myths: Fictions, Mistaken Beliefs)
--Two Dozen Mistaken Beliefs That Can Ruin a Marriage (Or Make a Bad One Worse)
--By Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D
A marriage license, unlike most other licenses, is not granted on the basis of competence. The holder of a license to practice medicine has demonstrated some knowledge of body ills & cures; a driver's license implies that the person has shown at least minimum competence behind the wheel of a car. If high schools routinely offered courses in "marriage competence," much as they do "driver education," it is likely that more people would know how to develop sensible, workable, & loving nuptial agreements. The question is, who would be qualified to teach these courses? Many marriage counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists & others labour under as many false conceptions as the clients they counsel or treat. Most people don't know how to be married!
Most couples enter marriage with impossible dreams & unrealistic expectations. Whatever else marriage connotes, it is essentially a partnership & an occupation. For some it is a fulltime vocation. If people wrote out job descriptions, fully listing exactly what they wished to give & get from marriage, & if each potential partner studied the other's lists before getting engaged, much grief & many dashed hopes could be averted.
Let me pose a hypothetical situation. John & Mary, in their early twenties, have been going together for two years & are intent on marrying each other. Here is John's job description:
I expect a wife to be a loyal, loving, devoted companion. I want someone who really studies my needs & caters to them. As I see it, a husband should be at the center of his wife's universe. Nobody & nothing should come before her husband. One main reason for marrying is to have someone taking care of all my creature comforts--I do not expect to do any cooking, cleaning, shopping, & so forth. I expect a wife to work at remaining sexually attractive, responsive, & desirable. I would want sex at least once a night. I expect my wife to treat my parents & my sister with the same love & respect that I do. As I see it, the duty of a wife is to build up her husband's ego & self-confidence. At the same time, I feel that the man should be the captain of the ship, he should be the boss, & he should be consulted before the wife makes any important decisions.
Independently, Mary prepares her job description:
Marriage is teamwork, & it consists of two people who are equal partners pulling in the same direction. There should be more "ours" than "his" or "hers." Married people should function as responsible adults, with little mothering or fathering of each other. They should set up their own home & become independent as soon as possible & not lean emotionally on parents or siblings. I would want to be sure that I come first in my husband's eyes. I expect to have help around the house with routine things--we would clean house together, go food shopping together, & operate as a team.
Given even these very brief & general "job descriptions," I think it is obvious that if John & Mary got married, they would soon run into conflict. You might ask how they could have spent two years in close proximity without discovering such obvious differences of style & opinion. In truth I have treated hundreds of married couples who came face to face with widely differing expectations & flagrant incompatibilities only after living together, despite prolonged courtships in some instances.
Everyone considers himself or herself an expert on the subject of marriage, & very strong opinions predominate. When I discuss one or more of the myths that follow, people are eager to take sides--those who agree with me form one camp; those who disagree form another, & the sparks fly!
My points of emphasis throughout this material are grounded in Western, English-speaking cultures. In different areas of the world, the game of marriage is played by entirely different rules. What works well in Seattle might be a disaster in Singapore!
I selected the myths that form the basis of this book from my own case studies. The myths that emerged are the most prevalent I found in my practice (although they are not presented in order of importance). There are many others but I consider this collection to represent the most common mistaken beliefs that result in marital dissatisfaction.
All the people referred to in this book are drawn from actual case histories.
MYTH #1: HUSBANDS & WIVES SHOULD BE BEST FRIENDS & SHARE EVERYTHING
Many people contend that marriage is a relationship that carries the principle of friendship to its ultimate & most intimate degree.
The structure of marriage overlaps with friendship but is not synonymous with it. Marriage is intimate sharing, whereas friendship is shared intimacy. Friends typically do not live under the same roof year in & year out. As such, their shared intimacies are intensive, rather than extensive. Spouses share many daily events in which the feelings of one partner have a direct effect upon the other. Consequently, it is easy to overload the system. Moreover, friendship emphasises the needs & interests of two independent people, while the focus of marriage usually ends up being on the family.
Genuine friendship presupposes a climate in which all feelings & emotions are given ample freedom of expression. There is consistent & unfettered sharing of all that is important. It is easy to know what one's best friend really thinks & feels about the significant aspects of his or her own being, & what each friend really thinks & feels about the other. This is because best friends make themselves transparent to one another; the full expression of each other's genuine thoughts & feelings is welcomed. Best friends do not feel one way & act another. They play no false roles with each other. Anger is not stifled, misdirected, or denied: it is expressed spontaneously & constructively. Sincere friendship is based upon a mutual desire for cooperation rather than competition. Vicarious joy is an essential ingredient--each taking pleasure in the good things which happen to the other.
Does this not also describe the "ideal couple," whose marriage is a testimony to friendship & more? Thus far, what I have said about friendship can apply equally well to a loving marriage. But there is more.
A best friend is, by definition, one's most intimate confidant. The relationship includes a high degree of openness & exclusive sharing. Usually there are no "keep off the grass" signs, no emotional taboos, no unmentionable subjects. Yet in marriage, the continuously close physical proximity & all the shared burdens & responsibilities dictate the need for some degree of emotional privacy. Whereas the ideal friendship is an A-to-Z relationship, the ideal marriage should probably proceed no further than A-to-W. (Also see Myth #4) Unless each partner deliberately preserves his or her individuality & ensures some degree of emotional seclusion, most marriages are likely to self-destruct.
I remember arguing with a friend about the foregoing views. He disagreed with my thesis & asserted that his wife was his best friend, and that he confided in her to the nth degree. "I tell her all my woes. She knows everything about me--good, bad, or indifferent." I warned him that he was making a mistake. I was aware of his talent for self-abasement, his occasional bouts of depression, some of his innermost doubts, & other information at the X, Y or perhaps even Z-end of the range.
As friends, these factors had no negative impact on our relationship, but I advised him against sharing too many unsavory details with his wife. He insisted that the beauty of their marriage was that there were "no holds barred." Their marriage ended in divorce approximately three years later. I recall the look of pain & bewilderment when he confided in me that his wife had said: "I feel nothing but contempt for you!" Perhaps if I had received a daily diet of his self-downing, as did she, I too would have held nothing more than disdain for the man. As his friend, our shared intimacies were always seasoned with enough laughs & light-hearted moments to prevent it from turning rancid.
Two other aspects of the friendship-versus-marriage issue:
1) When imaginary problems & unfounded fears arise, instead of burdening the spouse, one can occasionally turn to a best friend instead. The presence of a confidant with whom to share the dilemma can minimise the needless pressures on the marriage. That's what friends are for.
For example, Bill was sure that he would be laid off at work. Since he & Pam were already in debt, telling her about his fears would serve no useful purpose--it would only heighten her sense of insecurity & place undue strain on the marriage. Fortunately, Bill's best friend Fred was a good listener who managed to cheer him up. Two months later, when Bill was promoted, not laid off, he & Fred had a good chuckle over his pessimistic outlook. Bill was then able to tell Pam how worried he had been that he would lose his job.
2) People who have a same-sex "best friend" can attest to the fact that there is something special about man-to-man, or woman-to-woman interactions that cannot be duplicated between members of the opposite sex.
(Editor's Note: While it is true that it may not always be wisest or best for a husband & wife to share everything with one another, this does not necessarily mean that they can not still be best friends. While there may be some things that would be better shared with a same-sex "best friend" than with your husband or wife, in many respects your relationship with your marriage partner should still be closer & more intimate than any other relationships you may have. After all, Jesus said, "They twain shall be one." And that "As the Lord loves His Church, so husbands ought to love their wives."--Mat.19:5; Eph.5:25.)
MYTH #2: ROMANTIC LOVE MAKES A GOOD MARRIAGE
The lights dim, the curtain rises, a concealed orchestra quietly plays a languorous melody of love as a man & woman stand clasped in each other's arms watching the sun slowly sinking into an iridescent sea. They exchange vows of passionate & eternal devotion. Their commitment to each other knows no bounds. Their love will transcend such prosaic barriers as cultural dissimilarities, parental objections, money, & social position. Love & romance, the greatest of life's gifts, are theirs. They will be united & the passage of time will only intensify their romance. Eventually, they will descend the hill together, silver-haired, but no less deeply & ideally devoted than the day they were wed.
This pretty picture inspires a great number of people, young & old, in our society. In search of romantic marriage, they often end up in romantic--or not so romantic--divorce. Men & women who expect to find marriage a continuation of the ecstasy of courtship are often in for an enormous disappointment.
The thrills & chills of romance are doomed in the face of day-to-day proximity. When romance dies, the couple often feels cheated. As soon as the edge wears off, when the carefree rapture is replaced by the uninteresting routine of daily life, these unhappy ex-lovers declare marriage bankrupt. The divorce court looms around the corner.
Marriage is not a romantic interlude; it is a practical & serious relationship. A person who has been taught to expect unlimited romance will be most bitterly disappointed when he or she fails to find it continuously.
True lasting love is not an instinct or automatic process. Our romantic education today comes from several sources--parents, playmates, books, magazines, movies, television, popular songs etc. Media images emphasise rapture as the index of a successful marriage. The love bond becomes idealised & the partners "worship" each other.
Anyone who understands the meaning of love will realise that this complex emotion requires the passage of time for its development. Infatuation, physical (or even spiritual) attraction is certainly possible at first sight. But lasting, mature love comes from the discovery of qualities that are lovable, & from a shared togetherness that lends fulfillment & mutual enrichment.
Falling madly in love is another phrase that is heard all too often. Many movies aid & abet the delusion that the dream of true romantic love can be attained & sustained. One problem is that people whose major aim is to love & be loved tend to neglect the development of other aspects of their lives. They may neglect the very skills & resources that would enhance their genuine interpersonal attractiveness or "loveability." People tend to grow weary of each other's company unless they have cultivated common interests & values. Romantic love is passionate & fiery. It soon burns out. Conjugal affection is a slow-burning, heart-warming flame that brings security & comfort.
In the early months & years of marriage, partners inevitably discover that their spouses do not have the attributes of their dream heroes & heroines. Most are able to adjust to this reality, but extreme romantics are unable to do so. The male romantic idealist searches fruitlessly for a mate who will provide the tenderness, the security & the solicitude of the ideal mother, as well as the ecstatic sexual joys of a fantasy sweetheart. The romantic woman wants her man to be the ideal father, husband, caretaker, companion & lover, all rolled into one.
In the throes of this all-consuming passion, otherwise rational & responsible people have been known to cast aside, quite recklessly, all obligations to family, friends & society.
Millions of adolescents & adults still read romantic pulp stories that fill their heads with yarns about princes eloping with go-go dancers or secretaries, or the beautiful heiress who marries her handsome chauffeur. Little attention is paid to the fact that people whose backgrounds are extremely different seldom see eye-to-eye on important matters. I have been struck by the fact that when a man whose family has money marries a woman from modest financial circumstances (or vice versa), the difference in their views of money often becomes a stumbling block.
The Cinderella theme is a good fairy story, but in real life, Prince Charming is more likely than not to discover that their unequal stations will cause grief.
While we balk at the idea of abandoning our romantic idealism, much emotional pain would be spared if more people knew how to replace romantic love with conjugal affection as the basis for a truly successful marriage. The affection that enables a marriage to endure is something finer, deeper, & more rewarding than the romantic love of the story books.
Married couples must adjust to daily routines of dressing, eating, working, sleeping & similar habits that call for united schedules, & countless activities that become conditioned to each other. The aim is to build up a "common capital" of acts, habits & experiences that result in a profound acceptance of each other, without the false hopes & impossible illusions of the romantic ideal.
MYTH #3: EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIRS WILL DESTROY A MARRIAGE
Conventional wisdom decrees that a happily married man would not fall in love with, or leave his wife for, another woman. Similarly, no wife would jeopardise a happy marriage by becoming sexually involved with another man. Thus, having an affair is proof in itself that something must be lacking in the marriage.
People get involved in extramarital relations for a variety of reasons, only some of which are a reflection of marital defects or distress. Sexually frustrated husbands or wives tend to seek from others what they cannot obtain from their spouses. In other cases, the problem resides not in the marriage, but in the individual partner. Some people, for instance, are unsure of their own physical attractiveness & sexual prowess, & elect to keep proving their desirability & skill in bed. Other people are perhaps so very highly sexed that few can keep pace with them.
There are both healthy & unhealthy reasons for having extramarital relations.
A man or a woman who, in 30 years of marriage, was never tempted to have an extramarital interlude & had no desire to find out how it would feel to have sex with someone other than his or her spouse, may be suspected of being biologically or psychologically abnormal.
This is not meant to imply that extramarital sex will necessarily enhance most people's marriages. There are those for whom sex outside the confines of marriage would be clearly inadvisable, if not unthinkable, because of temperament, religious upbringing, or social conditioning. I have seen people consumed by guilt after indulging in illicit sex. My advice has been to avoid future liaisons as if they were chocolate brownies laced with arsenic. For some, extramarital sex can be pure poison!
The other side of the coin is exemplified by a true story that goes back to 1960. I had recently launched into full-time private practice, & one of my first patients was a 30-year-old woman, married for five years & mother of a four-year-old & a two-year-old. Anita was thinking of leaving her husband, but before seeing a lawyer, she decided to consult a psychologist to determine whether the marriage could be saved. The major problem, she said, had existed from the wedding day. For her husband, sex once a month--or even once every couple of months--was more than sufficient. She described herself as "hot-blooded," & capable of passionate intercourse every night, if not twice a night.
Full evaluation & possible treatment for the problem would have required meeting with her husband. When I explained the need for couple's therapy, the husband refused to see me. He took the position that there was nothing wrong with him: Anita was over-sexed. Upon hearing this, she decided to sue for divorce.
I cautioned her not to be hasty, & asked several questions. Apart from sexual incompatibility, what was he like as a husband in general? She described him as kind, hard-working, concerned, caring, good-natured, & dependable. What sort of father was he? He was a fine father who helped with the children, spent time with them, loved them & was loved by them. And what sort of provider was her? Excellent! He was vice-president of a large & growing company, drew a high salary, & had several substantial investments. What sort of companion was he? Although he worked hard, he was no workaholic, & he found time for social gatherings, interesting vacations & other recreational pursuits.
When I asked why she was willing to give up so much, & to break up a family, all for the sake of sex, Anita grew angry & snapped at me: "It's all very easy for you to talk! Are you climbing the walls out of frustration?"
Since her husband appeared to have so many positive attributes, such rare qualities, I suggested she consider continuing the marriage while finding sexual gratification elsewhere. "But that's downright immoral!" she countered. Was it, I inquired, more moral to get divorced, break up a family, separate father & children & destroy what sounded like a good relationship? (She had mentioned that the only tensions that entered into the marriage centered around their sexual differences.)
"Thou shalt not commit adultery!" was her fiery retort. But was the intent of the commandment not to preserve & protect marriages & families? Since an outside association might prevent a divorce & preserve the family, the emphasis here was not on ordinary adultery, but on benevolent adultery.
Several weeks later, Anita seduced Neil, her partner in a mixed doubles tennis tournament, & entered into a "hot & heavy affair." Her lover, ten years her senior, had three children & a wife who had been paraplegic since sustaining spinal injuries in a car accident two years previously.
Three years into the affair Anita was back in my office. Some difficulties had arisen when Neil started pressuring her to marry him. I met with the couple & pointed out to Neil that if he abandoned his helpless wife, he would be so consumed by guilt that this would destroy a second marriage. "And if you were not consumed with guilt, I would want nothing more to do with such a cold-hearted bastard!" Anita exclaimed.
In 1980, while carrying out follow-up investigations, I found that their extramarital relationship was still going strong. Two marriages & two families had been saved. Neil's children were all married & he was a grandfather. Anita's son was in graduate school & her daughter, who was engaged to be married, was working in her father's company.
Extramarital sex enhances some marriages, makes absolutely no difference to others, & can also prove to be downright destructive. But it is a myth that these outside liaisons inevitably undermine the quality & security of marriage; nor are they proof positive that "something is wrong" with the marriage.
MYTH #4: IF YOU FEEL GUILTY, YOU MUST CONFESS
This myth is potentially more dangerous than several of the others put together. In Myth #1, I referred to the strain that "total openness" can impose on a marriage: Whereas special friendships can proceed all the way from A to Z, good marriages should probably stop at W. Z-type information can overload a marriage. Revelations about extramarital involvements, for example--be they one night stands or enduring passionate affairs--fall into the Z category.
My observations of clients & acquaintances, close & distant, have led me to conclude that if most marriages are to remain viable, certain matters are best kept to oneself!
A good example concerns a young college professor who had become involved with a female student. Jeff was happily married to Linda, but unable to resist the charms of a particularly attractive sophomore who flattered him, boosted his ego, & finally taught him a thing or two in bed. Their clandestine romance continued over two semesters & Jeff became more deeply attached to his paramour than he had anticipated. Since he truly loved Linda & their two young babies, he decided to terminate the affair. A couple of months later, still feeling sad that a "beautiful relationship" had ended, & also feeling upset & somewhat confused, he consulted a counselor. He was advised to "come clean" & tell Linda what he had been doing.
Jeff followed his counselor's advice & told his wife about his love affair. He "owned up," & Linda reacted with what only can be described as "psychotic fury." The poor fellow found himself the recipient of such a vicious vendetta that his needs might have been better served had he cut out his tongue. By the time Linda & her influential father were done with him, Jeff had no wife, no girlfriend, no job, & no access to his children.
Many men have told me of a fantasy of a devoted & totally faithful wife who not only condones extramarital escapades, but actually applauds them. If things go wrong with their mistresses, they want to be able to turn to their wives for solace. I have treated many a man who was crazy enough to try to put this fantasy into operation, & felt extremely put out when his wife was unsympathetic.
Here is a typical example: Kate & Joanne had been best friends since high school. They both got married in college & their friendship continued unchanged. Four years later, Kate got divorced & Joanne & her husband Stan both gave her the emotional support she required. Soon, Kate & Stan got closer, & they added sex to their good friendship. A few weeks later, Stan told Joanne about his sexual involvement with her best friend, fully expecting her understanding & approval. Instead, Joanne reacted tearfully & angrily, insisting that she had been betrayed. Stan was astounded. As he expressed it to me, "It's not as though I had gone out & picked up a stranger!"
If you feel guilty over an affair, it is best to come clean & confess the whole thing to someone other than your spouse (someone you can trust to keep a confidence).
MYTH #5: HUSBANDS & WIVES SHOULD DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER
The "total togetherness" myth is one of the most prevalent. It probably springs from the romantic fallacy (Myth #2) in which the ideal matrimonial union consists of two separate individuals merging into one ecstatic entity. The two "love birds" go everywhere together, do everything together, share everything together. To have a noteworthy experience without the other is unthinkable. They stop functioning as individuals, & interact only as a couple. When discussing these matters with my clients, the following diagrams have proven useful:
In my opinion, most married people have transferred responsibility from their parents to their spouses. When six-year-old Pat asks seven-year-old Kim if he can come over & play, little Kim appropriately answers, "I'll have to ask my mommy." When 26-year-old Patty asks 27-year-old Kim if he would like to go bowling, or to a football game, it strikes me as absurd for him to say, "I'll have to ask my wife."
I am not advocating an irresponsible, couldn't-care-less attitude. Clearly, an effective partnership implies that the other person will be given due consideration. Thus, when Sam announces to Suzie that he is going bowling with the boys, & she says, "Did you forget that we promised to visit Aunt Tilly in the hospital?" Sam explains to his friends that he won't be joining them that night, not because his keeper won't let him out, but because he had made a prior commitment. Similarly, if Suzie feels like spending time with her friends, or seeing the ballet, she states her intentions, & certainly does not ask if Sam will grant permission, or "let her go."
People have countered by explaining: "When I say, `I'll have to ask my wife,' I don't mean that I need my `mother's' blessing. I just don't think it's good to make unilateral decisions in marriage, so we first check things out with each other."
Of course major decisions that have an impact on the marriage in general or on the spouse in particular are best made jointly. To avoid all unilateral decisions, however, is to stop thinking independently.
"My husband doesn't allow me to go out at night." "My wife won't let me join a health club." "She won't hear of me playing golf on weekends." "He doesn't let me play tournament bridge." These are literal quotes, culled from my case notes on people who were in marriage therapy precisely because one or both parties exerted undue pressures to remain a twosome, & granted one another very little freedom of movement. No wonder many people perceive marriage as bondage & remain terrified at the prospect!
Some people feel guilty when they do things, or go places without their husbands or wives. "I don't think it's right or proper for a husband to go one way & a wife another. If they want to act like single people, why did they get married?" This statement came from 44-year-old Alf who insisted that his wife should go boating with him. Marie preferred reading a book on the beach while he was out on the boat. She said, "I get seasick. I'm not stopping him from going on the boat. Is it asking too much for Alf to do what he enjoys, while I do what I enjoy? After he docks the boat, we can always have a drink on board & then go out for dinner." Alf found this unacceptable. "All the other men go out with their wives. I like doing things as a twosome."
Steve had similar ideas, but in his case, he believed in having family togetherness. Also a boating man, his picture of family solidarity was that of Janet & their two sons on board while he steered his $96,000 vessel around the bay. His wife & their younger son enjoyed swimming, surfing, or merely taking long walks on the beach. So why not go boating with the older boy, while Janet & Billy did their own thing? "That's not my idea of fun or a family outing," Steve explained.
Alf & Steve both used coercion on their marriages. It is not a good idea to bring pressure to bear on one's marriage partner. Most people strongly dislike being pushed & pressured into something they'd rather not do. The inevitable resentments that arise tend to create marital strife & tensions. Alf & Steve did not even offer acceptable trade-offs. They could have said something such as: "It's important enough to me that you do this, that I promise to get tickets for three Broadway plays over the next two months, & I will take you out to four fancy restaurants between Labour Day & Christmas."
I'd like to mention one other case before turning to the next myth. A couple consulted me because their marriage was on the rocks; the husband had already spoken to a lawyer. The wife was extremely distressed & described herself as depressed & anxious over the impending breakup of the marriage. They had four children ranging from 10 years to four-&-a-half. Husband Jason explained his position as follows: "I don't know what it is. I'm very confused. I love Laura & the kids, but everything is just too much for me. I feel I've got to get away before I go crazy or have a heart attack."
The main problems became obvious to me after seeing Jason & Laura individually. The marriage had much to commend it, but Laura was overwhelming Jason with togetherness. She was a great planner who loved to orchestrate her family into a team that, as her husband saw it, placed too many demands on his time. Step one in saving this worthwhile marriage was to exclude daddy from various parent-child activities.
Step two came from Jason: "I feel the need to spend one night a week away from home. I'd just like to check into a motel, alone, take some paperwork from the office, a good book, have some dinner, go to the room alone, relax, take a hot bath, watch some TV. My wife & kids can have me six nights, but I want that seventh to myself." Laura was not exactly thrilled at the prospect & suspected that he was really devising a scheme to spend that night out with another woman. As far as I could determine, he was truly interested in solitude, rest, peace, & some private emotional & physical space. I stressed that by insisting on seven out of seven, she might end up with zero, but by agreeing to six out of seven, the marriage might be saved, & its quality could very well be enhanced.
That was over ten years ago. It worked, & has kept on working. The slight adjustment in the amount of togetherness versus aloneness prevented a basically good marriage from turning bad. Laura still suspects that on his night out, Jason probably spends time with another woman: "I'm not absolutely sure of this, & what I don't know can't hurt me, but I must admit that he's been infinitely easier to live with, & that we have a very good marriage."
MYTH #6: YOU HAVE TO WORK AT MARRIAGE
We are told that good things do not come easily. We are supposed to expend effort to gain something worthwhile. Things that are achieved too easily will not be valued, wanted or respected. These clichs have a profound effect on the attitudes & values of many people in our society. While they probably hold up on the athletic field, their extension into the domain of human relationships has had some unfortunate consequences.
Can a good marriage be attained & maintained without ongoing effort? Surely not! Do you not have to strive & keep on striving for anything worthwhile? Isn't marriage hard work?
Marriage calls for adjustment--& readjustment--which is different from work. Two people from different families, with unique combinations of genes & chromosomes, varied social & psychological experiences, join in holy matrimony & adjust to one another's idiosyncracies. This leads to a basic truth. All good marriages are based on compromise.
In a happy, successful marriage, people share each other's lives; they don't run each other's lives. It helps to be a good negotiator. Thus, it is no myth to assert that a good marriage requires some effort. When does effort become hard work? Perhaps the following case history will bring home the difference.
Maurice & Carol's whirlwind romance resulted in marriage within three-&-a-half weeks. Their problems surfaced on the honeymoon. He discovered a fondness for sailing & she found that boats made her seasick. She wished to socialise with other couples; he wanted her company alone. He wanted to make love in the early morning; she was a "night person." Six months later their catalog of personal differences had escalated from minor skirmishes to major conflicts. They often felt hurt, angry, & misunderstood by each other. Like many couples, they fought, but they also had good times of joy, laughter & happiness. After 14 months their daughter was born. By their third anniversary, Maurice & Carol's marriage had grown so stormy that the topic of "divorce" became a reality rather than a casual threat. They were disagreeing & exploding at one another even in public. But before consulting lawyers en route to the divorce court, "marriage counselling" seemed a more logical & constructive step. They telephoned for an appointment.
I saw the couple a few times & then met with Maurice & Carol separately for two sessions. I pinpointed their main areas of disagreement, their faulty tactics for dealing with conflict, & their ineffective methods of attempting to resolve their differences. We dwelled on constructive methods of reaching specific agreements, avoiding hidden agendas, & forming open negotiations.
Carol pinned the following list on the bulletin board in the kitchen:
1. Never criticise a person; only criticise a specific aspect of his/her behaviour.
2. Don't "mind-rape" (that is, do not tell the other person what you think he/she is thinking or feeling).
3. Avoid saying, "You always..." "You never..." Be specific.
4. Avoid right-wrong, good-bad categories. When differences arise, look for compromises.
5. Use "I feel" messages instead of "You are" messages. For example, say: "I feel hurt when you ignore me!" Do not say, "You are selfish & inconsiderate for ignoring me."
6. Be direct & honest. Say what you mean & mean what you say.
7. I'm okay, you're okay. I count, you count.
Carol made two additional copies of these "Seven Basic Ground Rules." Maurice kept one in his wallet & Carol put the other in her pocketbook.
Our weekly sessions enabled the couple to implement these guidelines & to develop additional do's & don'ts for a successful marriage. After four months Maurice & Carol stopped fighting. No harsh words passed between them. Carol reported: "We've hardly fought over the past five or six weeks, & we have managed to compromise & negotiate right down the line." Maurice agreed. He added, "We debate rather than argue, & we draw up contracts with each other whenever differences arise." Carol remarked that they had never related so well--not even during their brief but romantic courtship.
At this juncture it appeared that counselling had been a success. Quarrels & combative dealings had been replaced by discussion & fair play. Carol commented, "But it's such hard work!" Maurice looked at me & said, "Well, I guess a good marriage is something you have to work at. They say it's like a garden that must be watered & weeded & fertilised. Good marriages don't just happen. They are created. Right?"
Before I could say anything, Carol spoke up: "When we first came to you about four months ago we were in a canoe about to plunge over the rapids. You gave us paddles. Now we have rowed pretty far upstream. But the current is so strong that we dare not relax & enjoy the scenery. If we stop paddling, even for a few minutes, we will be swept downstream & go right over the rapids!"
I looked at Maurice. Our eyes met & then he looked away. Carol stared at the ceiling. She seemed deep in thought. I had spent more than a dozen hours with this young couple, & now we had reached a turning point. They were excellent clients who had carried out their assignments & had made enormous progress. Now they were questioning the results. They were afraid to ask the basic questions that were implied by their remarks. "Is this all there is to marriage?" "Have we gone & traded our noisy battles for hard labour?"
I decided to be completely outspoken. "Well, perhaps the two of you are now ripe & ready for an amicable divorce."
Neither Carol nor Maurice seemed taken aback by this comment. If anything, they both appeared somewhat relieved that I was willing to stop touting the virtues of togetherness & endless compromise. As Carol put it, "We have to haggle over almost every decision." Maurice loved watching television; Carol hated it. She loved ballet & opera; he found them boring. He liked softball, bowling, handball; she liked tennis & swimming. Thus, practically every separate or mutual activity called for some form of negotiation or compromise. "I'll go to the ballet if you are willing to go to a movie." "Why don't you play tennis while I go bowling?" As we discussed additional likes & dislikes it became apparent that Maurice & Carol disagreed about almost everything. They had different tastes in clothes, people, art, food, politics & religion. Yet sexually they had developed a sustained & satisfying relationship. "The only place we really agree is in bed."
Despite these vast differences, marriage therapy had enabled Carol & Maurice to live together without colliding. They handled their disagreements maturely, rationally & quite sensibly. But now I saw why they both found their marriage so enervating & tedious. They did not have a marriage. They had a well-functioning uphill partnership. They had sex, but they were not lovers. They did not have companionship or mutual happiness. In one another's company they experienced a few harmonious situations but remained feeling desperately alone.
Maurice asked: "But shouldn't we stay together for the sake of our children? You know what happens to kids from broken homes!" I pointed out that I have treated dozens of adults whose problems stemmed from the fact that their parents had remained married "for the sake of the children." Many adult patients have said: "I wish my parents had gotten divorced, I'd have been much better off." It is not a good idea to raise a child in an atmosphere of tension & guarded affection, or worse, in a household where parents create strife & conflict. An amicable divorce, wherein the children have easy access to both parents, provides a much healthier climate for psychological growth.
The decision to get divorced seldom comes easily. Carol & Maurice spent the next couple of months thinking it over. They called for an appointment. "It's no use," Carol reported, "although we're still getting along just fine, we really don't have enough in common to make it work." I said that a good time to implement an amicable divorce is when the marriage is relatively smooth rather than stormy. "It's so much easier to be fair, rational & open-minded about divorce settlements when you are friends rather than foes." Maurice said, "Actually we make a good couple of friends but a rotten pair of spouses." Eighteen months later, Maurice & Carol's divorce was granted.
Almost five years have passed since I last saw them. I tracked down Maurice at his place of work for a follow-up. He married about seven months after the divorce, & Carol remarried a few months after him. They each had another child. Maurice said that his second marriage was most rewarding. "I learned from my mistakes the first time around, & as far as I know, Carol is also doing just fine." Their daughter, now seven years old, enjoyed "mothering" her respective half-brother & half-sister. "I'm pleased to report that she is really a happy child...I know we did the right thing."
What Can We Learn from Carol & Maurice?
Some authorities believe that almost any two people can make a go of marriage if they follow basic ground rules.
Avoid: Labeling; blaming, judging; accusing; fault-finding; demanding; ignoring; attacking.
Include: Praising; complimenting; listening; discussing; thanking; helping; forgiving.
By adhering to these guidelines, a successful, happy marriage is almost guaranteed. Not necessarily! While radical behavioral scientists object to intangibles such as "love" & "physical chemistry," most of us realise that there is a vast difference between a peaceful & friendly coexistence & a successful & worthwhile marriage. Even after doing all they could to make it work, marriage therapy merely converted Carol & Maurice's abrasive & offensive relationship into a tiring armistice, replete with negotiations over trivial decisions. Yet they remained fundamentally incompatible. Like-minded interests & mutual agreements were almost nonexistent.
Marriage requires a partnership, teamwork, common goals, & respectful dealings, but it is far more than the sum of these parts. Without love, affection, attraction, caring & understanding, plus some consensus in matters of taste & interest, marriage is as arid as the sands of the Sahara.
MYTH #7: A HAPPY MARRIAGE REQUIRES TOTAL TRUST
Anything taken to excess tends to be unfortunate. If one is too tall, too thin, too clever, too fussy, the implication is that one would be better off with less of that particular attribute. Being too trusting, for example, can prove disastrous.
Shirley had been married to Don for nearly twelve years. She had no reason not to trust him or to suspect that he was involved with another woman. Suddenly, this very astute wife noticed two tell-tale signs. Don, who hardly ever watched anything but market reports & football on TV began to develop a taste for evening soap operas. A conservative dresser, he came home with three outlandish ties. "To me, this added up to the beginnings of an actual or potential affair. The time to act was now, so that I could stop it before it got started, or before it developed into a heavy romance." Shirley's investigations & observations pointed to a petite young receptionist who had recently joined Don's company. Shirley considered confronting the young receptionist, but decided that it would be better to discuss the matter with Don. It appeared that the relationship was still in the stages of an early flirtation. The receptionist finally lost her job, but Shirley's absence of total trust possibly saved the marriage. She & Don then worked with me to upgrade the quality of their relationship.
Good marriages tend to be based not on total trust, but on a tinge of insecurity. To be absolutely certain of a spouse's fidelity, loyalty, or devotion, is to take the other person too much for granted. Too much certainty breeds a subtle lack of respect. It is more realistic to believe that one's partner is a faithful fallible human being who can succumb to temptation under certain circumstances. Unless one exercises a certain degree of vigilance, it is possible to be usurped or replaced.
The "market value" that one places on one's husband or wife is another important factor. If you regard your spouse as too homely to attract another worthwhile person, your total trust & complete security will not generate very much respect, excitement, or satisfaction. On the other hand, if you consider your spouse quite capable of attracting members of the opposite sex, & liable to respond to these overtures if neglected or mistreated inside the marriage, you will likely increase your own attentiveness & displays of caring & affection.
The "tinge of insecurity" keeps a marriage viable, meaningful, even exciting. It prevents one from taking things for granted, growing fat or sloppy, paying more attention to the job than necessary, or displaying disrespect. What is more, it fosters & maintains the level of love & affectionate caring that makes marriage worth preserving.
MYTH #8: GOOD SPOUSES SHOULD MAKE THEIR PARTNERS HAPPY
One of the most unfortunate errors that many people make is to accept & assume responsibility for other people's feelings. "It's my fault that Herman is unhappy. I just don't know how to be a good enough wife for him." "I would do anything to make Martha happy, but whatever I do seems to have the opposite effect."
The Happiness theme is an astonishing burden that many people place on themselves & others. Parents often feel guilty if their children are not happy, & children feel that they have let their parents down if they fail to make them proud & happy. The concept of "happiness," one's own or someone else's, is a standard that is often used to determine personal worth. One immediate problem is that the term "happiness" is rather vague. In some contexts, it implies the absence of pain, depression, anxiety, or other negative physical or emotional states. Here, we are told what to avoid, not what to seek. One of the major drawbacks to this idea of happiness is that emotional upsets, disappointments, & frustrations are an inevitable part of life.
When happiness is defined as a state of contentment, fulfillment, or achievement, people often start wondering, "Am I really happy? Are other people happier than I am? If I am not happy, who is at fault?" Preoccupation with happiness often leads to unhappiness. The reality is that happiness will not be achieved when it is pursued directly. The pursuit of happiness for selfish reasons can only lead to frustration, if not unhappiness.
It has been said that happiness lies not in doing what you like but in liking what you do.
Of course, the actions of others may place obstacles in one's path. It is easier to be happy around a loving, good-humoured, & supportive partner, than with one who is aggressive, spiteful & hypercritical. But to say, "My spouse makes me unhappy with carping criticism" is inaccurate. It would be more accurate to state: "I make myself unhappy over the fact that my husband puts me down in company," than "My husband upsets me by putting me down in company." We upset ourselves over other people's actions. It is not the actions themselves that create the unhappiness.
If someone has the mind-set that happiness is in the hands of another, the tendency is to sit back, wait, & expect large portions of happiness to be dished up as if it were apple pie. The expectation that happiness will be manufactured or delivered by someone else creates a state of passivity or even lethargy--two definite factors that often lead to depression. Another confounding fact is that some people seem incapable of joy or happiness. This brings to mind the case of Lionel & Jean.
For 15 years, Jean ran herself ragged trying to make her beloved Lionel happy. She catered to his every whim. But Lionel remained unhappy. He said to me: "I wish that Jean were more stimulating, more exciting, more fun to be around." I inquired how stimulating, exciting, & how much fun it was to be around him. "That's beside the point," he said, "The trouble with Jean is that she is too easily satisfied. She's content to sit at home, to read a book, watch TV. I crave excitement." In truth, Lionel was a malcontent. He had a talent for finding fault with virtually everything & everyone (including himself). Yet Jean blamed herself & said if she were a better wife perhaps Lionel would be a happier man. It took years to convince Jean that it is impossible to make anyone happy, least of all Lionel, & that she would be doing herself & her husband a favor if she allowed Lionel to attend to his own happiness. As Jean stopped taking total responsibility for Lionel's happiness, she became more relaxed, more outgoing, & less anxious. When Lionel found that Jean no longer accepted the blame for everything that went wrong in his life, he started occupying his time more productively as well.
It is not up to your spouse (or anyone else) to make you happy, nor should you permit anyone to undermine whatever fun, joviality or buoyant feelings you can inject into your life.
(Editor's Note: Although the author is correct in stating that we should not assume that our happiness lies in the hands of another, it is not a "myth" that a good spouse should try to make their partner happy. For when we truly love someone, their welfare & happiness is our concern, & we will prefer their happiness to our own, & therefore enjoy doing what we can to make them happy.)
MYTH #9: IN GOOD MARRIAGES HUSBANDS & WIVES `LET IT ALL HANG OUT'
Bert finally agreed--very reluctantly--to pay me a visit. Valerie, his second wife for the past 8 years, had already met with me three times to discuss her depression, her problems at work, & above all, her abuse at home. I had asked her to bring Bert in to tell me his side of the story.
After stressing that he was not "nuts," & that he had come to see me solely to assist Valerie with her hangups, Bert invited me to "fire away with any questions." I asked him about some of Valerie's claims: Was it true that he often yelled at Valerie, & in a fit of temper had punched a hole in the wall, thrown a colour TV set through the window, & hit Valerie in the stomach? Had he really flung a cup of hot coffee at his 14-year-old stepson, fortunately missing the boy but staining the new wallpaper in the kitchen? Bert looked very matter-of-fact, shrugged his shoulders & said, "Well, you know how it is, Doc. If a man can't let down his hair at home & blow off some steam, he's likely to end up with stomach ulcers or have a heart attack."
Bert was expressing the sentiments of many who believe that home is the place where you can "let it all hang out." The work place is seldom the proper place for full self-expression. At work, most people find it necessary to be on their best behaviour, to display tact & diplomacy, to curb their tempers, & to think twice before reacting. Thus, home becomes a haven for spontaneity, the place to release pent-up emotions that accumulate in other settings. This mistaken idea can result in behaviours which have dire consequences.
Marital freedom is not an invitation to attack each other's sense of dignity & self-esteem with emotional napalm.
In certain Mediterranean & Latin American cultures, volatile, strongly expressive behaviours are the norm. Yelling, screaming, & other high decibel performances have a very different impact there than is true for most members of society. There, it goes in one ear & out the other; here, it is perceived as an assault, as something to be reckoned with.
The wife of a prominent surgeon made a tape recording of one of their marital spats & brought the tape to me. I heard her husband deliver the following speech: "You are an ignorant fool. You come from a background of uneducated peasants & basically, you belong in the gutter. You are not only stupid, you are also evil. You are a rotten mother, you never should have had children. Whether you know it or not, everyone who meets you soon gets to despise you. I wish I could find one redeeming characteristic, but you have none. You're a frumpy, boring, dowdy, little bitch & I wish that you would do me & the whole World a favour by dropping dead!"
What had provoked this intemperate outburst? She had questioned his judgement. The details are unimportant; the fact was that she had dared to insinuate that he had shown a lack of prudence & discretion towards a member of her family. As always, within a few hours, he grew exceedingly contrite, begged her forgiveness, & said he hadn't meant a word of what he had said.--But the fact remained that he had said it.
I have seen mutually destructive battles in my office, between otherwise refined professional partners, that make some of the more explosive scenes from some soap operas pale into insignificance. The vast majority had never allowed themselves to exhibit such behaviours to friends, colleagues, or even other family members (excluding children). Isn't it remarkable that people often treat perfect strangers with courtesy & kindness, yet they heap abuse on the people closest to them? I tell couples: "Treat your spouse with at least as much respect as you would afford a perfect stranger."
Displaced aggression is responsible for a large percentage of unhappy marriages & eventual divorces. Instead of tackling the source of their frustrations, many people reach a peak of unexpressed irritation, & then go home & kick their dogs, beat their children, & abuse their spouses. Many see nothing improper or shameful in doing so; after all, they were merely acting natural, being themselves, letting off some steam!
Attacks generate counterattacks. People who resort to the aggressive maneuvers we have been discussing, usually get back in some form what they have been dishing out. The most common retaliation is "passive-aggressive" behaviour, in which the injured party avoids open warfare. Rather than going toe-to-toe with the attacker, this person goes underground & becomes a saboteur.
Nora, for example, felt extremely angry when Marv lost his temper or was overly critical of her, but she would never oppose him directly. After one of his typical outbursts, she "accidentally" burned his dinner, "lost" a cigarette lighter to which he was sentimentally attached, "forgot" to pick up his shirts from the laundry, & managed to get back at him in three or four indirect ways. One way or another, most people end up paying for their aggressive behaviour.
Intimate relationships require the same courtesy, civility, & respect that we are apt to pay to total strangers. Politeness, tact, good humour, & pleasing behaviour all help to create a relaxed & loving home atmosphere. And these factors are under our control. We decide whether to be kind or unkind, even-tempered or cranky. The path of wrath almost invariably exacts a steep price.
Another popular myth related to this area of relationships is that true love means never having to say you are sorry. In truth, unless husband & wife are each willing to acknowledge being wrong & are ready to apologise for their errors or lack of consideration, their marriage will be characterised by resentment, tension, & even hatred. If you've done something for which you're sorry, by all means say so.
MYTH #10: GOOD HUSBANDS DO HOUSEHOLD REPAIRS; GOOD WIVES DO THE LAUNDRY
There is much talk today about equal rights, the collapse of rigid sex stereotypes, & the emphasis on individuality. Nevertheless, I am sure that if we had a hidden camera monitoring the activities of husbands & wives in every home, we would still find mostly men, & few women, wielding the power tools, hammers & nails, hacksaws, lathes, crowbars, wrenches, screwdrivers, & similar paraphernalia. Conversely, many of these tool-brandishing males, when asked to run a load of laundry, probably gawk at the washing machine as it were some alien device about to explode.
If my point is somewhat overstated, some of the following case histories will nonetheless show how marital distress often comes from clearcut his-&-hers household expectations & demarcations.
Keith was responsible for more than 50 people at his place of work, & put in long hours. On weekends, he wanted nothing more than to relax & spend time with Avril & their four-year-old son. Avril had taught English & mathematics at a junior high school, but after her son was born, elected to be a fulltime housewife & mother. In her book, a good husband was not one who sat around relaxing & watching television on weekends. There was plenty of work to be done around the house. A "good wife" reminded her husband of the chores that required attention. It was not unusual for Keith to be presented with a list of 40 items which Avril expected him to complete before Monday morning!
Keith was more than willing to pay someone else to perform the household services. "I can well afford it," he said, "& whatever it would cost would be worth it. I work hard enough during the week. I feel entitled to some rest & relaxation on weekends." Avril strongly disagreed, insisting that "a man should show some pride & interest in his house, & unless he attends to things himself, how can he really appreciate it?" She added: "My dad had a motto: `Never call an outsider to do an insider's job.' It's Keith's responsibility to do the manly things around the house. I'm not asking him to cook or do the laundry."
I tried, to no avail, to persuade her to modify her rigid thinking.
The discussion then focused on the grass in their back yard which Keith mowed on Sunday mornings. When the grass had been cut, Avril would invariably find fault with Keith's performance. The edges were not straight, or he had left a zig-zag pattern in the middle, or some other criticism would be levelled. I asked the obvious question: "Avril, why don't you cut the grass yourself?" She threw a withering look at me & flatly declared: "That's not my job!"
Sad to say, I made no headway with this couple. I expect they're still arguing over "whose job it is!"
Taking out the garbage seems to be primarily a masculine prerogative. I recall a couple for whom that simple chore served as the center of a tremendous power struggle. Corrine felt strongly that this was something her husband should do to "pull his weight around the house." Tim did not object but insisted on doing it in his own time. Corrine, a fastidious individual, felt that the trash should be transferred to the outside garbage cans as soon as the inside receptacle was full. Typically, she would carry the garbage herself as far as the outside door. She was unwilling to walk the extra ten feet to get the garbage out of the house. On several occasions, while Tim & Corrine locked horns, the garbage stayed in the den, propped up against the outside door for more than three days!
MYTH #11: HAVING A CHILD WILL IMPROVE A BAD MARRIAGE
In general, children tend to consolidate & enhance a good marriage. In a bad marriage, this extra burden usually serves to make things worse.
Most people will admit that being a good parent is not easy. The responsibilities of good parenting are enormous. The advent of a child can bring to light hidden conflicts & significant differences of opinion in couples who had previously functioned harmoniously. If marital harmony is to prevail, husband & wife must agree on such matters as care & discipline of children, their education, the location of the home, allocation of various items in the family budget, & similar personal matters.
The sociologists who study unhappy couples have suggested that the majority of families "muddle through." Most people seem to regard tension, arguments, & unpleasantness as both normal & inevitable. In fact some have declared that if family members don't clash with each other, & don't have an occasional brawl or melee, something must be seriously wrong. Nonharmonious functioning is, alas, held up as the norm!
Occasional brief & petty quarrels are indeed "normal" enough & are not grounds for concern. Certainly, when first married, some clashes may be expected. Initial adjustments & constant readjustments are necessary for two unique people from different homes to learn to live together harmoniously. Rifts between husband & wife can harden into permanent friction, however, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.
Is there really much chance that tension between husband & wife is likely to be dissipated by the birth, or adoption of a baby? Temporarily, the infant may serve to distract the parents. But the unheeded tensions will surely surface sooner or later with the added burden of caring for a totally dependent being.
Men & women of today are governed by a sense of individualism. Yet successful parenting calls for husbands & wives to willingly sacrifice many of their own egotistical desires. Harmonious family functioning calls for a "we," in place of an "I," point of view. The advent of a baby is a point of crisis that places new demands on a marriage. If the couple has built up habits & responses that are inadequate for the new situation, family disintegration is virtually inevitable.
MYTH #12: MARRIAGE SHOULD BE A 50-50 PARTNERSHIP
Equal rights, equal opportunities, equal pay & equal time have become catchwords. Equality & democracy are viewed by many as synonymous & highly desirable. Unless things are shared equally--divided right down the middle--it is assumed that exploitation will result.
However, misapplication of the idea of 50-50 divisions, & the notion that joint participation is necessarily fair & desirable, has led many marriages astray. The point that some couples overlook is that while people may be equal to one another, they also differ from each other. Thus, under given circumstances, 60-40, 70-30, 75-25, or any other combination may be far better than 50-50.
Here are some cases in point:
Harold prided himself on not being a male chauvinist, & he was quick to notice even tacit hints of male chauvinism in himself & in others. When he married Marge, he insisted that they divide all household chores down the middle. "After all, we both work, we earn equal money, we both come home tired, so I'll fix dinner one night & you do the cooking the next night." On the face of it, there seemed little wrong with Harold's proposal. What could be fairer? But Harold forgot to factor in one significant reality. He was a lousy cook! Not only were his best-intended concoctions often inedible, but the time & hard labour that went into his preparation of even the simplest meals (not to mention the waste!) rendered Harold's 50-50 idea excessively cost-ineffective. All the more so since Marge loved cooking & had the talent for whipping up exciting, nutritious, & delicious meals with hardly any effort. Clearly, Harold had not taken into account some key factors in their specific relationship.
Ken & Jodi ran into a different problem. Their four-month-old baby was not a good sleeper. Little Lisa needed to be fed & changed at least twice during the night. It seemed eminently fair in Jodi's mind for Ken & her to take equal turns attending to Lisa. They both worked hard. Jodi was a caseworker at a community mental health center. She often found her work tedious & demanding. "I work just as hard as Ken (a surgeon), so it's only fair that he get up for Lisa one night & I attend to her the next night." Thus, Jodi was proposing the same 50-50 division of labour that Harold had come up with. Of course, the case of Harold's low C.Q. (Culinary Quotient) versus Marge's genius C.Q. cannot be equated to Ken & Jodi's situation--Ken was no less capable than Jodi of changing diapers & holding a baby bottle!
Ken had his own side of the story: "I'm usually at the hospital preparing for surgery at 7:15 a.m., & unless I get a good six or seven hours of solid sleep, I feel foggy & uncoordinated." Jodi considered this a "cop out" & asserted that her work was just as important & just as taxing as Ken's. I argued that while the work of a surgeon may be no more important than that of a caseworker, it certainly is more exacting. "He's got life & death in his hands," I protested, "& if his mind is fogged up & he feels uncoordinated because he was up tending to the baby, his hand could slip."
The solutions for these two couples were relatively simple. Marge did all the cooking, but Harold did all the food shopping. Jodi attended to the baby five nights, & Ken got up for Lisa Friday & Saturday; Ken willingly took care of the household laundry--washing, drying, sorting & packing. For these couples, unequal trade-offs promoted a sense of balance & harmony.
There are many couples who take on decidedly unequal tasks simply because they prefer it that way. I have a good friend, an accountant & a gourmet cook, who shoulders nearly all of the household responsibilities. He waits on his wife, & has perhaps a 90-10 partnership in the running of the home. That's the way he & his wife want it, & it works for them. Conversely, I know couples who have a "traditional" marriage in which the wives cook, do all the cleaning, the laundry & all the marketing. There is more than one right way for couples to deal with each other.
When you truly love someone, you enjoy doing things for that person; it is a pleasure, if not a delight, to be able to make life a little easier & more pleasant for him or her. Thus, when I see husbands & wives waving their tally sheets, counting points, shouting "You owe me!" I sadly realise that sooner or later, unless things change drastically, they will probably be employing divorce lawyers.
MYTH #13: MARRIAGE CAN FULFILL ALL YOUR DREAMS
Even in this age of enlightenment & emancipation, there are many people who consider marriage a crowning achievement, a notable sign of success. To be married carries a special status in the minds of these individuals. It proves their basic worth; it shows the world that somebody wanted them enough to "tie the knot." These sentiments, because of social conditioning, are probably held more often by women than by men. The term "bachelor" does not have the same demeaning undertones as "spinster" or "old maid."
Betty espouses views that are typical of many women who have consulted me because of low self-esteem. She described herself as "a loser." Attractive & well-groomed, she had many women friends & several men who were her "pals," but since her divorce six years ago, there had been no meaningful man in her life. At 39, Betty held a highly responsible, well-paid executive position, & was being groomed for a company rank occupied by fewer than 5%--men or women. But in her own eyes, none of this meant anything. She irrationally blamed herself for the failure of her marriage &, far worse, in six years she had not developed an enduring relationship with anyone she considered suitable for remarriage. Thus, in her eyes, her other achievements amounted to zero. Because she had not remarried, she considered herself "a nobody."
Fran was especially bewildered. At 42 she was the familiar victim of "a younger woman." Her husband had become involved with one of his secretaries & had left Fran eight months ago. "I have been programmed to be a wife, " she said, "& that's all I know." Here again, marriage was supposed to fulfill all her dreams. "It's all I ever wanted; I was perfectly happy."
What help is there for the Bettys & Frans of this world? The solution lies in enabling them to develop a well-rounded outlook, in which marriage is only one ingredient (& not absolutely essential) for a happy & fulfilled life.
A wide variety of interpersonal skills is necessary if one is to develop into a well-adjusted person. Sympathy, genuine affection, the capacity for friendship & companionship are necessities for enduring positive relationships.
Work & other outside responsibilities & stimulation can prevent domestic burnout. True, there are men & women who find gratification in fulltime housework. There is nothing wrong in being a "homebody," except when it renders one vulnerable in the face of family disruption, as with Fran.
The marriage-as-total-fulfillment fallacy is clearly related to the myth of romantic love, but has some distinctive features. When one makes marriage essential for life itself, emotional blackmail is a frequent occurrence. "I can't live without you. If you leave me, I'll kill myself!" Too many of these marriages remain glued together, not by love, caring, or happiness, but through guilt & fear. The spouse becomes transformed into the partner's "emotional oxygen," without which life cannot be sustained. Such people tell their mates, "You mean everything to me; you are my whole universe." This unhealthy dependency fosters resentment--on both parts. The dependent partner resents his or her "saviour" for being indispensable, while the "stronger" person feels trapped, angry, & often anxious.
Mature love never transforms the other person into "emotional oxygen." A mature person's message is: "I can live with or without you. I much prefer to live with you because I love you. I hope that you feel the same way about me." Immature attachments lead to a very different statement.
To keep someone trapped in a loveless marriage is not a good idea! Yet many people for whom marriage is everything insist on remaining in the relationship, despite the knowledge that they are not really desired, loved, or respected by their spouses. Such marriage-as-an-end-in-itself relationships usually lack mutual happiness, health, togetherness, love, kindness, genuine caring, & joy.
A good marriage is one highly important, desirable component of a fulfilling life, but not absolutely essential. The view that marriage in & of itself is everything is a false conception that can bring only pain & disillusionment.
MYTH #14: TRUE LOVERS AUTOMATICALLY KNOW EACH OTHER'S THOUGHTS & FEELINGS
This is another belief related to the romantic fallacy (myth #2). Notions abound in which true compatibility involves "being of one mind," or "on the same wave length." Words are superfluous. As the pulp magazines so often put it: "Their eyes met across the room, & instantly they both knew what the other was thinking & feeling." True love gives one the powers of telepathy!
As is true for each of the marital myths, there is some grain of truth that has become magnified into the whole truth. Good friends, lovers, spouses, even work associates do best when each person understands the other to some degree, & is sensitive to the other's feelings, opinions, & preferences. Thus, one might learn to read one another's reactions quite accurately.
Nevertheless, one is also likely to misread another's thoughts & feelings. A typical dialogue:
Adam: Why are you angry?
Sue: I'm not angry. What makes you think I'm angry?
Adam: Oh yes you are. You can't fool me. I can tell when you're angry.
Sue: No, really. I'm not angry. I'll swear to it.
Adam: Who do you think you're fooling? Come clean! Own up to your feelings. Stop lying!
Sue: (Beginning to feel angry) I'm not lying to you! I'm telling you that I'm not angry.
Adam: Then why are you raising your voice? Come on, own up to your feelings. I can read you like a book.
Sue: Look, I hate it when you start questioning my honesty. That makes me angry.
Adam: Aha! So you admit that you're angry!
Variations of the foregoing theme are almost endless. I have seen this scenario enacted between friends, lovers, spouses, enemies, & between therapists & their patients. The theme, "I know you better than you know yourself" is nonsense.
The preceding dialogue would be inoffensive if, instead of saying, "Why are you angry?" Adam had inquired "Are you angry?" or had stated "You seem angry." Unless he had very good evidence, definite & clearcut facts that negated Sue's denials, Adam should have given at least the benefit of the doubt to her statement that she was not feeling angry. Here is a basic rule: Never tell someone else what he or she is thinking or feeling.
How often I have heard people claim: "I shouldn't have to explain it to him! If he truly loved me, he would know it without being told." "My partner should know what I want. If I have to tell, then it's no good."
This unfortunate myth is especially prevalent in the area of sexual intimacy. "If I have to tell my husband how I like him to behave in bed, it takes away all the pleasure. Besides, if he really loved me, was tuned in to me, it would be unnecessary to tell him what to do. He would just know." "When a woman is really in love with a man, she can sense exactly how to please & satisfy him. If she has to be shown how to turn him on, or told what & what not to do, she is not for him--& vice versa."
Poppycock! Human beings are the only animals that can communicate through spoken language. No other species is capable of saying, "Darling, will you put your hand there & press a little harder while rubbing my back with your other hand?"
It certainly is rewarding to be able to predict the way a loved one will respond to a given event--& then to do or not do something, so that the end result is pleasant for both partners. "How did you know that I was wishing for a cassette player?" "It was very kind of you to realise that I would want to visit my aunt in the hospital, & to leave the office early to bring the car home for me."
If each act of concern & consideration, each gesture of caring, every act of generosity must be explicitly coaxed out of one's partner, the quality of the alliance is undermined.
But the converse is also dangerous. "If you really loved me, or truly cared for me, you would have done this, or not done that, or thought of doing the other thing." Beware of this type of reasoning! Instead, tell your partner, "When you do X...., or you don't do Y..., I feel unloved." When expressing a gripe, instead of telling the other person why he or she performed the action that displeased you ("You did that to deliberately hurt me!), the following format is strongly recommended:
"When you do X...., in situation Y...., I feel Z..."
For example: "When you call my sister stupid & dumb, while we're visiting my parents, I feel embarrassed & sorry for her, & I feel annoyed with you for putting her down."
Say what you mean, mean what you say, & don't expect your spouse to read your mind.
MYTH #15: AN UNHAPPY MARRIAGE IS BETTER THAN A BROKEN HOME
There are few things more unpleasant than a loveless marriage held together by fear, guilt, or duty. I have seen the outcome of empty, hollow marriages that endured only because of social pressure, obligation, or "the sake of the children." I have a saying: "When it is for the sake of the children, the children will be forsaken!" When children are the only glue that binds a marriage, their emotional needs are usually neglected.
Some women put up with endless friction, abuse, tension, & downright misery for economic reasons. Living with a husband whom she despises may be difficult, but it may be even harder for her to find employment without experience or training beyond that of a housewife. Often, she rationalises that she must remain there to protect the children.
David, a 30-year-old computer programmer, had consulted me for help with his anxiety, depression, & sexual problems. He was fine during casual sex, but as soon as a relationship grew "serious," he would become impotent. His story was typical of hundreds of case histories I have heard over the years: "One of my earliest memories is that of my mother & father yelling at each other. You can't imagine how many nights I was awakened by their shouting & screaming. It used to terrify me. It was horrible! My dad usually took out his frustration on us kids, & my mom walked around looking so unhappy, so miserable. When I was nine or ten I asked her why she didn't get a divorce. As the saying goes, `At first I was afraid that my parents would separate, & then I was afraid that they wouldn't!' Later, she let us know that she had endured the marriage for our sakes. I wish she hadn't. I'm sure that my brother, my sister & I would all have been happier in the long run if my parents would have split up. Two of my friends' parents were divorced. I loved sleeping over at their homes. I never brought my friends home. I was too ashamed & too uptight that mom & dad would start arguing."
Broken homes have been blamed for delinquency, drug addiction, prostitution, & crimes ranging from petty theft to first degree murder. "I don't want you to have anything to do with Johnny," warns a sanctimonious mother. "He's from a broken home." A broken home conjures up images of neglect, confusion, abandonment, rejection, disapproval, & innumerable other hardships. "Broken homes cause broken hearts," one of my clients informed me. When the choice is between a "broken home" & an "unhappy (but intact) home," many people choose the latter. I question their wisdom.
Unfortunately, many automatically equate "divorce" with a "broken home" & all its supposed defects & miseries. They assert that it is a telling sign of personal failure, & an inevitable trauma for the children, maintaining that "an unhappy home" is preferable to "a broken home." Yet, if intelligently orchestrated, divorce need not be a bitter crisis or devastating to children.
I am inclined to save marriages wherever feasible--especially where young children are involved, & where I believe that the couple is capable of relating harmoniously. But when all efforts to rectify the situation fail, & chronic unhappiness & extreme dissent prevail, I do not hesitate to recommend a constructive & amicable divorce. This results, not in a "broken home," but in two well-functioning, but separate abodes. The following case underscores this point.
Gloria & Hank had seen a marriage counsellor & two psychiatrists during their seven-year marriage. Their two sons were six & five. They described themselves & one another as "fantastic parents" despite their inability to get along together. Gloria ran her own lucrative small business, & Hank, who came from a wealthy family, had a high-paying position as vice-president of a large corporation. "We have every reason in the world to be happy," Hank explained. "We love our children, we live in a magnificent home, we drive expensive cars, take frequent vacations--it all sounds like a dream. Most people would gladly trade places with us. And yet we just don't get along."
Sex was a constant problem. "It was okay during the first couple of years," Hank alleged. Gloria snapped, "It was never okay!" Hank looked hurt & said, "You keep changing your story." Gloria impatiently explained, "I am not changing my story. It was tolerable for the first year or so, but it was never okay." This was typical of their interactions. "What's the main problem with sex?" I asked. Hank answered. "She's never in the mood." Gloria ignored his remark. "I experience a lot of discomfort," she explained. "Except with Derek!" Hank retorted. "Oh boy! Let's not get into that again."
"Who's Derek?" I asked.
It transpired that Derek had been Gloria's lover for the past two years. Their casual affair had intensified & they were now heavily involved. Her relationship with Derek only came to light after finding out Hank was having an affair with Gloria's best friend. Derek told Hank that he wished to marry Gloria, to which Hank replied "Gloria can leave any time she wishes, but she leaves without the children." Hank threatened to get "the best lawyer that money can buy" & to fight Gloria "to hell & back" for custody of the children. "I'll never give up my kids!"
I met with Hank privately & tried to persuade him that he was entitled to a woman's love & attention. "Why continue living with Gloria's indifference & constant rejection?" He kept repeating, "I'm not stopping her, she's free to go whenever she likes. I'll gladly give her a divorce. I've even offered her a large cash settlement." He remained adamant about the children. "They stay with me...I'm not going to become a weekend father or some sort of Santa Claus to my kids."
Gloria's friends had advised her to battle it out in court. "No judge will award Hank the custody of the children," they said. But Gloria was unwilling to take the chance. "And besides," she added, "I don't want to go dragging my children into court." Derek offered to reason with Hank, but they ended up in a brawl which only made matters worse.
I met with Gloria & Hank & drew them a verbal portrait of what I saw happening over the course of the next few years unless they resolved their impasse. The tension & destructive feelings between them would inevitably intensify & spill onto the children. How could we prevent this & guarantee four winners instead of four casualties?
To emphasise the destructive consequences of their current situation, I dubbed it "The Game of the Four Losers." "First, let's stop asking what is best for Hank & Gloria. Let's really consider your children. What is best for them?" I hinted that they were both clinging to their children for selfish, if not spiteful, reasons. I stressed that as two caring, loving parents, mutual & easy access to their offspring was a necessary part of any constructive plan.
If Hank & Gloria had consulted separate lawyers, inflammatory & adversary interactions would have been almost inevitable. Divorce counselling vigilantly short-circuits the bitterness, the animosity, & the ill-will that most people consider inevitable. It took more than two months for Hank, Gloria & me to arrive at an agreement that the three of us considered equitable & in everyone's best interests. Lawyers were then consulted to draw up the final papers. Gloria's lawyer said, "I can get you a better deal than this. You're selling yourself short." She told him, "You don't know what you are dealing with. Please don't make waves. Believe me, I know what I am doing. Just put it through as it stands."
Gloria married Derek as soon as the divorce from Hank was finalised. I was last in touch with them about three years after the divorce. Hank had not remarried but was living with a woman. I expressed pleasant surprise when Gloria mentioned that Hank & his girlfriend would be joining her & Derek in taking the children on a trip to Disney World. "That sounds too good to be true," I said. Gloria quipped, "Oh, but we are the products of modern divorce counselling!"
MYTH #16: A HUSBAND'S AMBITION COMES BEFORE A WIFE'S CAREER
One of my colleagues, an accomplished professional woman, had been invited to participate in an international conference that could have opened new doors of opportunity. Madelynne was exhilarated at the prospect. Nevertheless, she turned down the invitation when she learned that her husband would be out of town (at a rather mundane business meeting) & that their daughters, ages ten & eight, were in a school play, & expected at least one parent to be present.
What would justify this decision? Why did her husband's business activities take precedence over Madelynne's professional ventures? Why didn't he offer to forego his trip so that she could have attended the conference? Would it have damaged the children if both parents were away, leaving them in the hands of a capable friend or relative?
Many in our society are still victims of the widespread view that the pursuit of a profitable & truly productive career is an exclusively male prerogative. There are still those who firmly believe that women should not aspire to any role or function other than that of wife or mother. Everyone's psychological well-being requires that he or she be engaged in rewarding & pleasurable activities. Women do not thrive on a life of passivity & dependence.
Both men & women are capable of nurturing & attending to their partners, being caretakers & helpmates, & maintaining viable professional identities. It is my impression that many women--but not as many men--also are capable of having a family & a career, without neglecting either. And why might this be the case? As some studies have shown, our society tends to condition & train boys to be independent & individualistic, whereas girls learn how to connect emotionally with others. "Masculinity" is still equated with a quest for power; "femininity" ties in with loving & caring. Thus, "career women" often manage to combine "masculine" autonomy with "feminine" warmth & love.
The main point that I am emphasising is that it is an error for women to downplay their careers for the sake of their mates--& end up resenting them for it. It is even more serious when husbands fail to recognise the importance of their working wives' careers & automatically assume that their own careers are more significant.
MYTH #17: IF YOUR SPOUSE WANTS TO LEAVE, HANG ON & FIGHT
Early one morning I received a telephone call from the wife of an acquaintance. "I don't know what to do & to whom to turn," Vickie said, her distress coming through clearly. I asked: "What's wrong? What's happened?" Straining not to cry, she answered, "Two days ago, Gerald told me that he is in love with another woman & wants a divorce. Since then, I've been unable to eat, or sleep, or do anything except cry. I'm taking Valium & am walking around in a daze. I don't know that to do." As we talked, Vickie told me that her husband had been involved with another woman for ten months & planned to marry her as soon as he & Vickie were officially divorced.
I offered Vickie some sound advice which I was sure she would not follow: "Have Gerald & his girlfriend move in together," I told her. "Permit them to live with each other fulltime for three months. If possible, try to have zero contact with your husband during these ninety days, but see to it that you date other men. When the three months are up, meet Gerald for dinner & inquire if he is still so enamoured." I explained that by removing the barriers & allowing the lovers to experience uncumbered togetherness, much of the romance would die a natural death (see myth #2). The best way to get to know people is to live with them for a few months; it is also the best way to destroy illusions!
As expected, Vickie did not follow my advice. Instead, she put up a titanic struggle: Hysterics, impassioned beggings & pleadings, threats of suicide. This only made her less attractive & less desirable in her husband's eyes, especially compared to his paramour, who was at all times composed, but nevertheless deeply concerned. Next, Vickie launched an attack on Gerald's lover, which (he subsequently mentioned to me) only made his wife appear "doubly pathetic." In the end, Vickie lost the battle. By putting obstacles in her husband's path, she had increased the allure of his great romance, & had diminished her own value.
By contrast, a female associate had handled the identical situation entirely differently. When Elizabeth's husband revealed his undying & eternal devotion to another woman & asked for a divorce, all she said was, "I'm really going to miss you!" This was stated quietly, without rancor, but with obvious feeling. There & then, her husband realised his folly & capitulated. In this case, the begging, pleading, threats & recriminations came from his lady friend when she was informed about his change of heart!
The breakup of a marriage is almost always a serious matter, & it is easy to understand why people are so often reluctant or unwilling to let go. Half a loaf may be better than no bread at all, but is half a slice, or perhaps just a few crumbs, sufficient to sustain emotional life? If one of the partners genuinely wants out of the marriage, but stays in because of pity, fear, money or guilt, what sort of union do they end up with?
MYTH #18: DEAD LOVE CAN SOMETIMES BE REKINDLED
I have met many people who remained in marriages that were emotionally barren & spiritually dead, where any form of love, affection & caring had long since dried up. Those who finally terminated these oppressive unions often described the experience as "coming out of a damp, dark hole into the soul-warming sunshine"; or "being able to see again after being totally blind."
What had kept these desolate, futile marriages alive?
If there is at least a measure of companionship in the marriage, some vestige of conjugal affection or sympathetic understanding, it is understandable that people might shun separation & divorce. Most adults recognise companionship, affection, & understanding as the ingredients that maintain the viability of marriage. Yet there persist those unhappy arrangements in which husband & wife despise each other & find virtually everything about the other person irritating, if not infuriating.
In Myth #17, I described situations wherein one partner wished to leave, but the other wanted to preserve the marriage. Here, I am referring largely to those "gruesome twosomes" who both agree that "love is dead," but who vigilantly avoid doing anything about it.
Gordon & Mary had been married for 19 years; both described the last 17 as "dreadful." They ran into problems within the first six months but thought nothing of it. "After all," Gordon correctly observed, "there is no family that has absolutely no problems."
Indeed, if only those couples who had zero problems remained married, the divorce rate would be one hundred percent! In successful marriages, however, husbands & wives have either learned how to adjust to their problems, or have developed methods of solving them as they arise.
As I listened to Mary & Gordon's account of their marriage, it was obvious that, far from adjusting to or solving their problems, they each had developed defenses that escalated every minor difficulty into a major crisis. Finally, after years of profound unhappiness, this childless couple decided to get a divorce. I was consulted to mediate their divorce settlement prior to their consulting separate attorneys.
The following dialogue ensued:
Me: What took you so long?
Gordon: Yeah, that & inertia.
Mary: I must own up to something else--sentimentality. I'm not talking for Gordon, strictly for myself. I kept thinking that things would get better.
Me: By themselves? Why did you think that matters would improve?
Mary: I'm still speaking of myself. During our courtship things were great, at least that's how I remember them.
Gordon: That's true, they were great back then. I'd say that we continued to get along pretty well for the first year or two after we got married.
Mary: Yes. It was no bed of roses, but it was probably as good as most, & a lot better than some.
Me: And then what?
Mary: If it is possible to fall out of love, just as it is possible to fall in love, I'd say that's what happened--I fell out of love.
Me: Was this sudden, or did it develop gradually?
Mary: You may laugh, but it was very sudden. Don't ask me when or where or why, but I do remember arriving at the conclusion that I not only no longer loved Gordon, but that I was not longer in love with him.
Gordon: I can relate to that. As we have told you, it's not as if we beat each other up, or threw things around. Instead, we both got into smoldering hates that ate us up. I have ulcers & she has migraine headaches. But I can remember reaching a point where something snapped inside of me & I absolutely knew I had stopped loving her.
Mary: Obviously, we thought about getting a divorce, & once or twice, we even made preliminary contacts with lawyers.
Me: And then?
Gordon: Like I said, inertia.
Mary: It was more than that. My best girlfriend is divorced & she was always telling me about the jerks out there. There's an old saying, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." And besides, I used to think that we could rekindle some of those old feelings. It's hard to give up hope.
Me: So after many years you finally give up hope?
Mary: Let me ask you a question. Is it possible to revive a dead marriage?
Me: Is it possible to revive a dead horse, or a dead bug? Dead is dead! You can't rekindle a dead fire. If the fire is dead, totally out, you have to build a new fire. You can only revive, resuscitate, reignite someone or something that has some life left in it, some spark, some glowing ember.
Gordon: I think you're right.
Mary: Are you saying that you can never get back those old feelings?
Me: Well, I think you can speak from personal experience. You tried. Did you succeed?
Mary: I see what you mean.
When love totally dies, it remains dead. Trying to bring back that which is dead is like giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a corpse.
(Editor's Note: When a relationship has soured, dried up & been in a state of spiritual deadness for a long period of time, it certainly is almost impossible to rekindle it back to life. But if there is the will in both partners to make it work & it is the Lord's Will that it work, & they turn to the Lord for help, "the things that are impossible with man, are possible with God, for with God nothing shall be impossible!"--Lk.1:37; 18:27.
MYTH #19: COMPETITION BETWEEN SPOUSES ADDS SPARKLE TO A MARRIAGE
Competition between husband & wife makes about as much sense as tossing bricks through one's living room window. Competition is corrosive; it insidiously gnaws away at the very fabric of togetherness & trust that forms the basis of any good marriage. A competitive attitude tends to diminish the unity, joint striving, & common goals that characterise the interactions of successful couples.
Good marriages rely on cooperative, collaborative, & unified levels of functioning. In highly competitive relationships, the partners are vying for leadership, functioning like rivals instead of teammates. When marriage becomes a contest, a one-on-one tournament, it is common to find strife & conflict, if not cut-throat tactics. It is absurd for husband & wife to expend energy against one another instead of pooling their resources & responding to outside challenges as a twosome.
Competition is highly touted in our society. "Without red-blooded American competitiveness, where would our great country be today! Be number one! Get to the top! Be the best! Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!" As some psychologists have pointed out, we actually get mixed messages. On the one hand we are exhorted to win, to get ahead, to compete; yet we are also told to be good sports, to cooperate & be effective team members. Hence confusion: To compete, or to cooperate?
The tennis court & the bridge table often provide fuel for ferocious flames when husband & wife play on the same side of the net, or at opposite sides of the table. A bad play can arouse such an ire in the partner that only a rhinoceros in the agonies of protracted labour could bellow any louder. You would imagine that someone's very life was at stake! We have all seen couples emerge from these recreational pursuits with fire in their eyes & hate in their hearts. This kind of competitiveness is most unfortunate, yet not nearly as bad as "ego contests."
Couples who get into an ego battle will show hostile competitiveness not only when engaging with or against each other in games, but also during ordinary conversations with friends (when they try to outshine each other), when dealing with their children (from whom they each attempt to extract more love & credibility), & in all situations involving money, security, & status.
Couples involved in ego contests are constantly trying to persuade themselves & their partners that they are equal or superior. Such couples disagree about virtually everything--how to elect a president, invest money, raise children, wash windows. Their interactions are like a constant fencing competition; they dare not drop their guards. Every situation poses a threat & calls for bargaining & jostling to gain the upper hand.
This constant struggle requires each party to perpetually insist on his or her rights. Fighting is continual; they keep on competing & they keep on losing. They seem unable to trust anything that comes from the other; even signs of affection are viewed suspiciously, "Who does he think he's kidding?" "She only wants to `take me for a ride!'"
If a husband or wife are not a collaborative pair, the main purpose of being married is violated. A marriage worth preserving must reveal evidence of sharing, of coalition, & of the capacity to seek team solutions when disagreements arise.
MYTH #20: YOU SHOULD MAKE YOUR SPOUSE OVER INTO `A BETTER PERSON'
After marriage, many a spouse undertakes to educate & remodel the other. "After Mel & I are married," confides a young fiancee to her friend, "I will make him over into a new man." Perhaps Mel is quite content with his "old self" & has no wish to be remodeled. Even worse, Mel himself may have intentions of transforming his bride into a "new & better" woman!
George Hart came from a good family, a well-to-do family, but one that was not as prominent as his fiancee's. When the pending marriage between George & Selma Ritter was announced, several people told Mr. & Mrs. Hart that their son was a lucky man. Mr. & Mrs. Ritter were less than ecstatic, but knew better than to oppose their daughter's strong will. Nevertheless, they did tactfully comment that young George was "an uncut diamond." They stated that he required "considerable polishing" before he could really become George Ritter-Hart. Selma agreed fully, & reassuringly told her parents that George was an apt pupil.
Prior to the wedding (under Selma's direction), George's entire wardrobe changed, he sported a new hairstyle, shaved off his moustache, & began to drive a different car. He became, in Selma's words, "much more elegant." While dancing with her new son-in-law at the wedding ceremony, Mrs. Ritter expressed disapproval concerning his friends. She was especially irritated at the fact that George's best man was of a different religious persuasion. She said, in effect, "In this family you either shape up or ship out!"
While Selma had appointed herself George's counsellor, educator, & advisor on their second date (he had ordered the "wrong" wine at a restaurant & had mispronounced some French words on the menu), the remaking of George really started in earnest after the marriage.
First, his "lower class friends" had to be phased out; second, Sunday morning touch football, or volleyball, or baseball (which he looked forward to each week) had to be given up for certain "household responsibilities" (see Myth #10).
"You are a married man now," Selma would remind him, "You have a wife to whom you are answerable." Watching football, boxing, or similar sporting events on television were not befitting his new status. His taste in music had to be upgraded--in fact, George's entire level of artistic appreciation called for refinement. Sex was always on Selma's terms & remained within the strict confines of propriety--pretty much "lights off & hands off."
By the time I met George, four months after the wedding, he was unhappy & confused (to say the least). When I completed his life history inquiry, it seemed to me that for George, life with Selma held about as much joy as incarceration in Turkish prison. "What attracted you to Selma?" I asked. "The Ritters, as you probably know," he said to me, "are a hotshot family. I foolishly went for the glamour, the symbols, the external trappings of success." I asked if Selma would meet with me so that we could try to determine whether or not to salvage the marriage. Selma refused. "Ritters don't believe in that sort of thing!" The marriage was annulled.
The arrogance of those people who insist that their view of the World is the one & only "right way" is exceeded only by those who are also determined to inflict this view on others!
The idea that it is a husband's or wife's right to educate & make over the other person goes hand-in-hand with the notion that "things will get better after we are married." Things that are bad before marriage tend to get worse afterwards. A person who is short-tempered, selfish, sexually unresponsive, & personally intrusive but who promises that things will get better "after we are married," should be viewed with extreme skepticism & suspicion by any would-be partner.
The moral of the story? Get married on the grounds of compatibility & caring, where common interests, attitudes, & feelings may call for slight adjustment but no major changes. And leave "rescuing" to lifeguards, firefighters, & emergency medical teams.
MYTH #21: OPPOSITES ATTRACT & COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER
It is not uncommon for an outgoing, vivacious, & extroverted person to attract someone who is more intellectualised, controlled, & introverted. Insecure folks may seek "strong silent types" who can offer stability & security. Steady, highly controlled persons tend to view more spontaneous potential mates as warm, vital, fun-loving creatures, who can offset the serious side of life.
Such opposites are sometimes drawn to each other's different styles of living. As friends & lovers, for a short time, they usually relate well, & do in fact find a complementary relationship which tends to neutralise some of their own inadequacies & liabilities. But if they marry, their different outward styles often clash, & bring them face-to-face with the fundamental differences between them. Her flamboyance & flirtatiousness become sore points; his staid & predictable behaviours create boredom. He withdraws & she feels rejected; she frantically attempts to regain her ground, but he feels criticised & withdraws further. A power struggle could potentially take place, & both resort to tactics that undermine the true intimacy they each desire.
Polar opposites may find one another enjoyably different & alluring for a limited time. Long-term relationships usually flourish when similarity rather than dissimilarity prevails.
When people with opposing views & dissimilar tastes spend much time together, certain clash-points are inevitable.
Picture a couple wherein one member is fond of talking, of sharing feelings & ideas, while the other is a very private person who enjoys solitude & wants to be alone.
Or think of a gregarious person who loves being with other people & seeks out the company of many different types of individuals, married to a loner who basically distrusts & dislikes the vast majority of other people.
Or take a fiery, passionate, highly-sexed individual married to someone with a low sex drive.
Consider a miser being attracted to a spendthrift & marrying that person.
At face value, how much marital bliss would be likely to ensue in each of the instances mentioned?
Happy marriages require that basic similarities outweigh dissimilarities. Tremendous clashes arise over different philosophies of child-rearing, & many a divorce has resulted from differences of opinion in this regard.
The "opposites attract & make good marriage partners" myth probably arose from the fact that some differences can be enriching, stimulating, even exciting & fascinating. But it is a quantum leap from the fact that slight differences can prove beneficial to the notion that polar opposites make good marriage partners.
MYTH #22: COUPLES SHOULD NOT REVEAL PERSONAL MATTERS TO OUTSIDERS
It was several years ago that I first realised the full implications of this myth. A good friend was confiding in me about his marriage. He revealed that although he loved his wife, he found her hard to get along with. He referred to her moodiness, & to the fact that she was often unappreciative; he added that she tended to keep track of all her complaints & that she was sexually inhibited.
Hearing all of this, I suggested that perhaps marriage therapy might be advisable. "I'm afraid that's out of the question," he said. After a few seconds he elaborated. "Rose is dead set against all forms of counselling & therapy. She feels that people should not discuss any personal matters with outsiders." He then went on to say that if Rose ever found out that he had told me intimate details about their relationship, "All hell would break loose--it would be worse than World War III." I have since discovered that this attitude is anything but rare.
Over the years, individuals deeply distressed about their marriages have consulted me only after making absolutely certain that their spouses would never find out that they had spoken to a therapist. They referred to several common themes: What is between husband & wife should not leak outside the marriage. What is between husband & wife is no one else's business. Revealing marital secrets to anyone is a gross betrayal.
These secretive people are reflecting beliefs that are widespread in our culture. There is a tendency to be over-zealous about privacy. The script is: "Keep all your opinions to yourself; reveal as little as possible to others." A young man informed me that his father's oft-repeated motto was, "Even a fish would not get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut!"
One underlying reason for keeping others at a distance is the fear that to be totally known for oneself automatically guarantees dislike, if not contempt & ridicule, from others. Moreover, many people believe that if outsiders (& that means any & all other people) gain access to intimate & personal facts, they will use such information destructively. Thus, people put up phony fronts & hide behind facades. Their hearts could be breaking, but no one would guess it from their glistening veneers. Their authentic selves remain hidden behind several masks.
As I think back over the years of my own marriage, when differences arose between my wife & me, we often discussed our hurts or annoyances with mutual friends. Most of them reciprocated. We might have been out for dinner with another couple, or in the company of a few couples, & asked for permission to bounce around some feelings or opinions. Each presented matters from a personal point of view & usually lively discussion ensued. Although these friends were not psychologists, psychiatrists, or trained marriage counsellors, I found it enormously helpful to get their input, to see things from another's point of view. Significantly, there were two couples who never revealed their own hangups, who were willing to listen to us & to the others who self-disclosed, but who kept their own interactions strictly private. I think there is some connection between their close-mouthed, self-contained posture & the fact that both couples ended up divorced.
By opening up to outsiders, distressed couples make it possible to find constructive solutions to their problems.
MYTH #23: DON'T HAVE SEX WHEN YOU'RE ANGRY
I have left one of the best (worst?) myths for second to last. In many distressed marriages, sex is used as a weapon, a battering ram; it serves as a wedge that drives the couple further & further apart. I have treated many people who foolishly use sex to manipulate their partners. I have lost count of the number for whom sex was at the core of issues concerning power & control. Perhaps the most prevalent theme was that unless everything was going well, unless there were no bad feelings, no ongoing tensions, sexual intercourse could not take place.
One young couple who consulted me were having just such marital & sexual difficulties. Abby was one of those people I have just described--sex was totally outlawed if she was in any way, shape, or form annoyed with her husband. If Robert wished to go to bed with her, he had to be on his best behaviour. I asked a blunt question: "What would he need to do in order to get laid tonight?" Abby answered in a very matter of fact tone: "Well, I need some help with the house. He could start by vacuuming the living room & den; I've been asking him for months to fix our back fence; & then there's his closet that needs tidying up & sorting out." She would have continued, but I interrupted her by pointing out that if he performed all of those chores, he'd be too tired for sex!
Several myths seem to be intertwined with the main one we are addressing. One myth that relates to the one I am emphasising is that sexual relations between husband & wife should always be a special, deeply erotic & yet affectionate & highly satisfying union. This would be tantamount to insisting that every meal should be an gourmet delight, served only on the best china & crystal, with soft music, & subdued lights. To grab a quick sandwich would be unthinkable! The person who will eat only in four-star restaurants & nowhere else might go hungry most of the time & become seriously undernourished. If every sexual encounter has to be a four-star performance, the couples will miss out on those delightful "quickies" & less elaborate sexual activities that tend to promote intimacy, caring, & physical relief. Those who want nothing but perfect sex usually end up feeling frustrated & starved.
Some couples wait for anger to subside, or spend hours trying to diminish emotional hassles by talking about their feelings (thereby often only increasing their levels of distress).
There are many couples, however, who find their sex diminishes anger. When they are upset or annoyed with each other they go to bed & "work it out" sexually. These partners never allow the pressures to stand in the way of gratifying sex & often find that things fall into perspective--post-orgasmically. I am not suggesting that there is no room for the discussion of feelings in a marriage. Obviously, couples do best when they communicate freely & when they share & air their grievances. I am objecting to those diatribes that so often go on tediously hour after hour, frequently adding up to no more than filibusters designed to avoid sexual intimacy.
Some people subscribe to the "don't go to sleep angry" myth. In an attempt to "make up," they often end up fighting into the early hours of the morning. I say that after a good night's rest, it is amazing how rapidly one can clear up misunderstandings.
A related myth that seems to underlie most of the issues is that love & good sex go together. In truth, many have found that despite great love & affection for their partners, sex was less than satisfactory at times, whereas with someone else--where love was not even present--sex was great.
Love messages & sex messages are not synonymous. Those who are deeply in love may, at times, find themselves concentrating so much on the affectionate component that their sexual impulses become "diffused" & result in decreased erotic stimulation.
Those who absolutely insist that sex & love must go together, & that anger, resentment, or irritation must be cleared out of the way before loving sex can ensue, will find themselves shortchanged.
MYTH #24: BE SATISFIED WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT
I am convinced that there are countless marriages which can be significantly enriched & enhanced, transformed from wearisome unions into something quite vital & enriching. People who believe that nothing can be done to improve matters are usually incorrect. One of the most gratifying aspects of my own professional endeavors is the number of floundering marriages (that probably would have continued to flounder, or may have come apart) that I have helped to become relationships well worth preserving.
A Case in Point: Simon & Cindy had been to two marriage counsellors. Their 10 years of marriage had been turbulent. Marriage counselling had only made matters worse. "The first counsellor we saw was a very sweet person, but all she did as far as I could tell was sit there & cluck sympathetically. The second counsellor seemed to encourage us to fight in front of him. He gave us padded bats & had us hit each other. I think this only made us feel even madder at each other."
As Cindy was telling me about these experiences, Simon was nodding his head in agreement. Then he spoke up:
Simon: Yeah, your colleagues are real jerks. So why should I believe you're any different? As far as I'm concerned, you're guilty until proven innocent. Frankly, I think you shrinks are all a bunch of yo-yos.
Cindy: Simon, how can you insult the doctor like that!
Me: He has every right to be skeptical & challenging. In his shoes I would feel the same way. But I have known Simon for about ten minutes whereas you, Cindy, have known him more than ten years. So let me ask you something. I pick up a lot of anger in him, & I would say that his style stinks. Is that true of him in other situations, or only in here with me?
Cindy: You hit the nail on the head. That's what I've been living with for ten years. He doesn't know how to come across like a human being. Why do you think so many people hate him? Why do you think he has trouble with his boss at work? He acts & feels & thinks like a five-year-old. The trouble with him is that inside he doesn't feel like a man, he sees himself as a kid. And he is a total putdown artist!
Simon: I've heard that one before.
Me: Excuse, me. Cindy, how do you know that Simon feels like a child & thinks like a five-year-old? Has he told you so?
Cindy: It's more than obvious.
Me: Are you ready for Rule Number One? Here it comes: Never tell another person what he or she is thinking or feeling.
Simon: Are you kidding! She's such a goddam mind reader that if you took that away from her she would be speechless.
Me: Simon, do you really feel more like a boy than a man?
Simon: I guess sometimes.
Me: Like when?
Simon: I dunno. I guess when I feel on the spot, sort of intimidated.
Me: Do I intimidate you?
Cindy: He's intimidated by his own shadow!
Me: Hold it! I see part of the trouble here. Cindy, Simon, both of you are what Cindy called "putdown artists." You are both on the warpath, both attacking on all fronts. A marriage implies that you are in the same boat, but you two are punching holes in the bottom of your boat. If you really want it to sink that's alright with me, but if you truly want this marriage to work, you are both going to have to patch up those holes pronto! This translates first & foremost into being nice to one another, talking respectfully, not mind-reading.
Simon: Wouldn't that be a change!
Me: Well let's do it, starting right now. Let's continue discussing your feelings & your clash points like three civilised adults.
It took me over a year to help Cindy & Simon become capable of routinely dealing with each other in adaptive, cooperative, mutually respectful ways. If Cindy or Simon had really felt that no changes could occur, that they might as well settle for their tense & hostile marriage or get a divorce, they would not have consulted me. Fortunately, they were not willing to "be happy with what they had." Despite two fruitless prior experiences with marriage counsellors, they cared enough about their relationship to give it a third try & came up winners.
...AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT
Here are some major points I hope you'll remember:
--In most successful marriages, the partners do not live "in each other's pockets" but allow a good deal of mutual freedom & space.
--Successful partners aim for conjugal affection rather than romantic excitement, & are sufficiently respectful of one another to realise that it takes some effort to keep their mates interested (without succumbing to the notion that this necessarily calls for "hard work").
--Intelligent marriage partners are not complacent; they live with a tinge of insecurity & perceive one another as capable of attracting & being attracted to other people.
--Happy marriages are based on a capacity to negotiate & compromise.
--In successful marriages there is no mind-reading (i.e., telling the other person what he or she is thinking or feeling), & there are no attempts at reconstructing one another (i.e., trying to "make your spouse over" into a better person).
If a marriage is to succeed & keep on succeeding, unity across several dimensions is essential.
--Unity of goals. Compatibility requires some similar attitudes, at least on the crucial aspects of life together.
--Unity of togetherness. The way people budget their time has a strong impact on a marriage. No two people have identical personalities, & it is therefore essential for couples to learn how to subordinate some of their individual desires for the sake of each other. If compromises are not forthcoming, clash points can be guaranteed.
--Unity of outlets. Some agreement is necessary on recreational, educational, religious, & economic activities. The more similar the couple's interests, the easier it is for them to reach mutually agreeable goals.
How is your marriage? Marital relationships are complex institutions. In order to improve the quality of a marriage, it helps to take a systematic look at how it is functioning. Over the past five years, I have used the following questionnaire as a general guide for working with couples in my practice.
MARITAL SATISFACTION QUESTIONNAIRE
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
pleased half yes/half no not pleased
After each question please write down the number that most closely approximates your present feelings about your marriage or your spouse.
(1) Pleased with the amount we talk to each other
(2) Happy with the friends we share in common
(3) Satisfied with our sex life
(4) In agreement with the amount of time we spend at work & at home
(5) In agreement with the way we are spending money
(6) Pleased with the kind of parent you are (This refers to the way your spouse interacts with the children.)
(7) Of the opinion that you are "on my team"
(8) Pleased with our leisure time together (i.e., sports, vacations, outings, etc.)
(9) Basically in agreement with your outlook on life (i.e., values, attitudes, religious beliefs, politics, etc.)
(10) Generally pleased with the way you relate to members of your own family (This refers to your spouse's parents, siblings, etc.)
(11) Satisfied with the way you relate to members of my family (This refers to your own parents, siblings,...)
(12) Pleased with your general habits, mannerisms, & overall appearance.
Add up your total score.
84 & more means that you have a VERY GOOD marriage.
Between 72-83 reflects SATISFACTORY to GOOD feelings & interactions.
A score of 61-71 suggests that you need to make some basic changes.
Below 60 indicates a POOR level of marital satisfaction.
When making use of this questionnaire in my practice, I pay attention to both the overall score & the individual scores. Each partner may have scored the marriage in excess of 84 points but may reflect one or two items in the 3, 2, 1, or even zero range. Clearly, any item that is in the "not pleased" zone calls for specific attention.
In the following section, I've described three procedures which my clients have found valuable aids for relationship improvements.
The Triple-Increase Technique
Here is a technique that many marriage trainers have found extremely effective, & one that you & your partner can readily use without aid of a professional. The husband is asked to make a list of 3 specific behaviours that he would like his wife to increase; the wife is asked to compile a list of 3 things she would like her husband to increase.
(The requests are expressed in terms of increases rather than decreases so that they come across more positively.) The difference is evident in comparing the following two questions:
"Why don't you stop biting your nails so that your hands wouldn't look so ugly?"
"Why don't you increase the length of your nails so that your hands will look more attractive?"
When compiling the list of 3 behaviours, couples often start out far too vague & general. Statements such as "I would like him to increase his level of communication," or "I would like her to increase her concern & caring," are too nebulous. They need to be expressed in terms of specific behaviours. For example: "After dinner, I would like to increase the time from five minutes to fifteen minutes for us to sit & chat." "When I get home from the office I would like you to increase the number of times I am greeted with a hug & a kiss." Here are the lists drawn up by one of my couples in treatment.
I want Martin to increase:
1) The amount of time he spends helping the children with their homework.
2) The number of days he gets back home from work before 6:30 p.m.
3) The number of times he is willing to cuddle without having to have sex.
I want Clara to increase:
1) The number of times she cooks a hot meal for dinner.
2) The occasions that she invites my parents to our house.
3) The amount of time she keeps me company in my basement workshop instead of watching TV.
After each partner has compiled the list, the next step is to inquire if the specific items are acceptable to the other partner. If not, they have to be modified. When the couple agrees that the specific requests are reasonable, the focus then shifts to the implementation of each item. In the foregoing case, Martin would be asked to specify exactly how much time he is willing to devote to helping the children with their homework. He then is asked to write down his pledge: "I agree to spend 30-40 minutes, three nights a week, helping the kids with their homework." "I will be home before 6:30 p.m. at least twice a week."
Sometimes, couples prefer to make trade-offs. "If you get home from work before 6:30 p.m. at least three nights next week, I agree to invite your parents round over the weekend."
The main point about the triple-increase technique is that it provides six important behaviours that get written into the marital script. This generally results in increased levels of satisfaction.
The Doctor Prescribes...
Here is another simple tactic that has proved effective with many of the couples I have seen in marital therapy. I call this prescribed dinners. Typically, I tell my clients to set aside one evening a week in which they go out for dinner--just the two of them. It need not be anything lavish--a simple diner or hamburger house will do. The point is that they are to view this night out as a regular appointment, a definite commitment. They would have to have an extremely valid reason to cancel or postpone any prescribed dinners. I tell them: "Over dinner, I want you to imagine that you are out on a date, or that you are in the midst of courtship. Thus, you will try to be as pleasant & as stimulating as possible. This is not the place for quarreling or for discussing problems. It is time for mutual enjoyment & support." This tactic is especially good for busy professional couples whose marital discord stems primarily from the fact that they are both too busy to spend sufficient time together.
Here is a powerful technique that has worked wonders with many of my clients who were willing to use it regularly. It is especially valuable in those situations where one or both parties feels misunderstood. Many couples have complained to me that they feel improperly heard by one another. "Brian doesn't hear half the things I tell him!" "Zelda doesn't really listen when I talk!" This fundamental lack of communication is frustrating in itself, but even worse, it often breeds additional resentment & misunderstanding.
Here is what I recommend in these instances:
Set aside at least three, separate, half-hour-long appointments with each other every week for the next month. These sessions are to be taken very seriously & must be viewed as high priorities. Ideally, to derive the greatest benefit from this exercise you need five things--a quiet room where you will not be interrupted; an automatic timer; pencil, paper, & a coin.
Flip the coin to determine who talks first. Set the time for five minutes. During these five minutes the talker discusses whatsoever he or she pleases. The listener may not interrupt. He or she may take notes in preparation for clarification or rebuttal, but no verbal output is to occur until the five minutes elapse & the bell rings (unless the other person does not require the full five minutes & says "I'm through for now.").
When the timer goes off, the talker is to stop immediately whatever he or she is saying. At that point, the listener paraphrases (repeats back the essence of) the speaker's message. If the speaker is not satisfied with the listener's feedback, he or she says, "You haven't got it quite right," & proceeds to explain to the listener where he/she went wrong. The listener paraphrases again & again until the speaker is fully satisfied. Once the speaker feels that he/she has been properly listened to & understood, he/she says, "That's right," or "Thank you, you heard me." The timer is then set for another five minutes, with the previous listener now doing the talking under the same ground rules.
In a typical half-hour session, each person usually has two separate five-minute opportunities to speak. If the paraphrases are brief & accurate, couples may take a few extra minutes & each have three talking & listening periods. At the end of the session, it is important to hug each other & to drop any further discussion of the issues that were raised until the next preset appointment.
One purpose of having these dialogues time-limited is to avoid the lengthy nit-picking debates in which certain couples indulge. On the other hand, I have noted that many people tend to require less time to speak & be heard after adhering to the basic rules for several weeks. After a while, only one party may feel the need to speak & be heard on a given occasion, & a 3-minute "speech" followed by a 30-second paraphrase may suffice to keep open the channels of communication.
A Final Note
All good marriages are based on compromise. In a happy, successful marriage, people share each other's lives; they don't run each other's lives. Above all, please realise that marriage is not a romantic interlude; it is a practical & serious relationship. And a genuinely good marriage is more than precious--it is a joy to behold!