What Is This Thing Called Marriage?

What Is This Thing Called Marriage? – 03/08/07 – 11:00:45 AM

The issue of expectations around marriage is examined in two recent articles in the Q Section of the Raleigh News and Observer. Single Living for a Majority reports that a recent survey found that 51 percent of women (a majority) are living without husbands for probably the first time in our history. A Nation Divided by Images of Wedlock tells us that, according to Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, marriage has changed from an expected social institution to one of a voluntary lifestyle choice based on self-fulfillment. There is an increased emphasis on being established before getting married.

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, highlights a society that puts too high an emphasis on marriage, placing it as the pinnacle of adult life instead of one of its foundations. It is a sacred state which cannot be attempted unless the conditions are perfect. He states people don’t want to marry until they are financially secure and emotionally mature. They don’t want to marry until they can afford to have a white-dress wedding and time to plan it. They don’t want to marry until they are absolutely sure they can trust the person they are with.

On the other hand, there is the view represented in the movie Jerry McGuire of needing a partner to be complete. This perspective of marriage includes partner as soul mate and source of happiness. The expectation is one of always being in love, always happy, and always together. Any problems which exist magically disappear on the day of the wedding and love keeps them away. It is the idea that you will be able to change your partner to your way of thinking and behaving once the ring is on your finger.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they are based on unrealistic expectations. I have discovered over the course of my practice that the further expectations are from reality, the greater the disappointment when things don’t go as planned. Marriage has become a fragile entity because too many demands are placed on the relationship. It is colored by habits, expectations, and unspoken understandings of how married people are supposed to act. When it falls short of that blissful dream, it breaks apart in hurt and anger and the conclusion your partner wasn?t who he/she purported to be or didn’t really love you the way you believed. What is rarely examined is whether any relationship can hold up to unreasonable burdens being placed on it.

Marriage is a living entity that grows and changes with time and circumstance. It is not some static concept that, like Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, becomes rotten and intolerable over time. This often desired union must be allowed to have both the flexibility and strength to respond to the changes that life brings. If it does not, it will either become brittle, shattering into pieces, or become stagnant, unable to adapt to the challenges of life.

Perhaps now may be a good time to examine your own ideas about marriage. Whether you are, may be, or used to be married, what are your expectations? Realistic Not quite Or needing some adjustment? In future articles I will be addressing how one’s expectations can hinder the closeness, security and joy we desire in our marriage. For more information on building strong relationships, please visit my website (www.balancedfamily.com).

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