The Marriage Paradox

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dead rose by wolfman570
(Image/wolfman570 – Flickr)
They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back home.

Her mother was mildly amused, but mostly incredulous and discouraging.

“Keep seeing him if you have to. Live with him. I don’t care, but don’t marry him,” the mother said. “I understand what you see in him. I get it. I do. He’s the opposite of your father. He’s a romantic. But he’s also very fragile. I saw that when his father died.”

She paused for a moment, accepting her daughter’s angry glare.

“Don’t do this. You’ll regret it and you’ll only hurt him in the end. What you love about him now, you’ll hate about him in a few years. You may not realize it but you and I are a lot more alike than you think.”

“You’re wrong,” the daughter said. “You and I are nothing alike.”

“Really? Just wait,” the mother said. “We all eventually turn into our mothers.”

Why Do We Marry?

The first time, I mean.

Is it because we love someone so much that we can’t stand the idea of living without them?

Is it because we love how they make us feel? Or how we feel being seen together?

Is it because we love what they do for us? What they provide?

Is it because we want to have children, and we identify who we think will make the best mother or father to our future kids?

Here’s what I feel sure about: Pretty much NO ONE gets married, spends a lot on the wedding, pools their financial resources and material possessions, and has children together with the intent or expectation that it’s going to end in horrible pain, and potentially cost a lot of money, and in the BEST of cases, costs half of your children’s lives, and in the WORST, costs much more time than that OR involves unsupported parenting to children whose other parent is almost never around.

The most generous divorce stats say that marriages end about 40 percent of the time, but I still like to say marriages fail “half the time,” because it feels truer and because I don’t think marriages are successful simply because two miserable people who hate or cheat on one another haven’t technically divorced.

Therapist Lesli Doares said it best during my first interview with her on her podcast radio show, discussing HuffPost content. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like: “They have a section for Weddings and a section for Divorce, but there isn’t any information about actual marriage.”

Even the most beautiful, inspiring and successful marriages feature two people who will be sure to tell you how hard it is: “It wasn’t always easy! We didn’t always like each other, but we always loved each other!”


We mostly suck at it. It’s mostly hard. So, why?

What other Important Life Thing do we collectively fail at more than marriage?

Another Tragic Ending

More time passes for the young couple in the movie I’m watching.

After a few years together, the lustful, feel-good stuff had disappeared, and her husband hadn’t written the next Great American Novel and she started to lose faith in him. She started pushing him to go back to school to study something more financially sustainable.

After growing up in a wealthy family and unquestioned financial security, she was dissatisfied with the couple’s humble apartment. She wanted more. And she was afraid she’d never have it if she stayed married.

Her: “You have to realize this isn’t working. We’re not right for each other. I wish we were, but we’re just not.”

Him: “What do you mean, we’re not right for each other? We’re perfect for each other.”

Her: “No. We’re not. We would be if we didn’t live in the real world. I need a life that is more structured and I need a future that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be but I just can’t.”

Him: “But you are. You are. Just stop.”

Her: “I really wanted to be this person that you thought I was. I really did, but I’m just not that person. I just don’t have your kind of faith in things. I’m cynical. I’m pragmatic. I’m a realist.”

Him: “No, you’re just afraid. We’ve been through this so many times.”

Her: “No, I’m not scared. I’m unhappy. I’m just really, really unhappy.”

Later, she meets a guy in one of her grad school classes and develops a close enough relationship with him to ask him to drive her to an abortion clinic where she terminated an early pregnancy she hadn’t yet told her husband about.

We see the crying, confused, scared young woman, wet from the rain, clinging to this other guy while sitting inside his parked car outside of the clinic.

And then through the windshield, we see the husband, headlights shining on him, standing in the rain, taking in the moment, and his wife sees him, and cries even more.

End of scene.

End of marriage.

The Paradox: Because We’re Human

Some people believe the easy answer is to simply not get married and discourage others from doing so. Great. Have fun with that.

I admit to being as cynical about marriage as I’ve ever been, but I still believe the world needs marriage.

And even if you disagree, I hope I can appeal to your inner-pragmatist, because regardless of how good of an idea you consider it to be, 95 percent of adults are either married, formerly married, or plan on marrying in the future. The simple math is that almost everyone gets married anyway.

But why?

Everyone will have their own individual reasons for doing so, but I think the simplest explanation is that everyone thinks they’re supposed to.

I think the majority of people in the world do almost everything they do because that’s what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.

From our earliest memories, we saw married people, families, or young people dating and exploring the possibility of marriage. We see those same stories play out in novels, on TV, and in music.

And marriage crosses religious and cultural boundaries, so we see it everywhere. All over the world, you’ll find countless examples of two people who felt attraction for one another (or part of an arranged marriage) and now live in a committed partnership that both people expect will last the rest of their lives.

People get married because, for them, getting married is a personal goal.

People get married because they want to have a family and believe that’s best accomplished with marriage as a foundation.

People get married because they feel social pressure to do so.

People get married because they’re afraid of being alone.

People get married because they believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and they REALLY want to have sex and not feel shitty about it.

People get married because they want a financial partner.

People get married because they want to be with someone who makes them feel safe, or special, or a bunch of other good things.

And, of course, people get married because they love someone more than they love themselves and crave the opportunity to love that person every day for the rest of their lives.

Why do people get divorced?

Because their expectations weren’t met.

Someone broke a promise, or someone FELT like a promise was broken.

Two people failed to communicate in ways the other person could understand well enough to adjust whatever behaviors or mindsets needed changed in order to save it.

Because their feelings changed. About their spouse, or maybe about someone else they should have never gotten so close to, or maybe just about themselves.

People get divorced because they were dishonest with themselves before and during marriage.

People get divorced because human emotion is very powerful, and we pursue what feels good and avoid what feels bad, which means our marriages are screwed once bad feelings seep in.

People get divorced because of hedonic adaptation. That’s the psychological phenomenon we experience when awesome things stop feeling awesome once we get used to them. Hedonic adaptation is why we get sick of eating the same foods even if they’re delicious, or hearing the same songs even if they’re amazing, or why we feel dissatisfied with our homes, cars, clothes, paychecks, and everything else as we get used to them.

The people who made us feel the best we’ve ever felt stop making us feel that way. Because they change AND we change.

The people who made our bodies tense, our hearts race, our privates scream to touch theirs… they become the people that bore us sexually.

Maybe because of emotional reactions to their behaviors. Or maybe just because we’ve known them long enough. You know the phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m pretty sure that was coined by someone who never got tired of having sex with the same person because of how rarely he or she got to see them.

People get bored and angry and disappointed and resentful and ashamed and feel shitty. About their partners. But maybe mostly about themselves.

It’s so hard when you realize you’re not the person you wanted to be and your life hasn’t turned out the way you’d expected.

It’s so hard when you wake up in a shit-festival of a marriage, and your life doesn’t feel like your own, and Jack and Nora are sharing their amazing-looking photos from another fucking vacation where everything about the photos represent everything your life is not.

It’s so hard when you see people in love on TV, while your spouse ignores you but lights up for other people. It’s so hard when you hear about good things happening in your friends’ marriage when your spouse is ignoring you sexually in favor of late-night internet porn or romance novels and detachable showerheads.

It’s so hard being an adult.

Because you thought you’d wake up one day and FEEL like how you imagined all the adults to feel when we were kids. When we’d finally have our hormones under control, and mature into the kind of person who always did the right thing and made a lot of money and could buy and do anything we wanted.

It’s so hard being an adult because it’s so damn disappointing when you realize you made all that shit up in your little-kid head and none of the adults actually knew what they were doing either. They just faked it the best they could for our sake just like we’re doing now for our kids.

We tried the best we could to be who we thought we were supposed to be.

So we got married. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But there was so much we didn’t know.

Like how this thing that was supposed to make us feel good could make us feel so bad.

We didn’t know what we wanted back then isn’t what we’d want later. We didn’t know people would start acting differently. We didn’t know the holidays wouldn’t feel like they did when we were kids. We didn’t know how to imagine life without the people who die, or move away, or just stop calling.

We didn’t know so much would change.

We didn’t know so much could change.

People don’t know what to expect.

We say “I do” with the best of intentions only to realize everything we signed up for is some bullshit we don’t actually recognize. Because our partners have let us down. Or because WE let us down.

People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.

But maybe we can change that.

With so much at stake, I think we have to try.

43 thoughts on “The Marriage Paradox”

  1. I understand that at one time it may have been a journal of sorts, however, you may want to consider replacing “journal” with “soapbox” at the top of your blog. Journal hasn’t been applicable for quite some time.

  2. I believe in marriage , personally. I believe in it with all my heart. NOT because of my disappointing, unhappy decades long marriage that ended in an ugly, painful divorce… NOT because I am surrounded with blissfully happy relationships … NOT because I am young and idealistic and believe that love conquerors all …

    I am not young … I am not idealistic … I do not believe in soul mates … but I DO believe in marriage. I believe that two honest, mature people CAN pledge to face life together, and then do so … holding on through good times AND bad … successes and setbacks … be one another’s cheerleaders and safety nets (imperfectly, of course, because we humans do not do ANYTHING perfectly) … I believe in marriage because of the POSSIBILITY of being able to build that kind of a passionate friendship that endures and grows and thrives over time, through all the twists and turns of a lifetime.

    I believe in marriage because I believe in God, and I believe that marriage is ordained of God … I do not believe it is merely a cultural or societal norm … and even though my own marriage failed … or rather, to be honest, my ex husband and I got lazy and began to care more about other things, let our insecurities and selfishness derail our efforts and we both stopped focusing on working to build a mutually satisfying relationship as we changed and grew, so WE failed our marriage … i still believe that it IS possible to build the kind of union where you are each other’s best friend and you have each other’s backs …

    And I won’t stop trying to build that …

    1. somecallmejack

      “or rather, to be honest, my ex husband and I got lazy and began to care more about other things, let our insecurities and selfishness derail our efforts and we both stopped focusing on working to build a mutually satisfying relationship as we changed and grew, so WE failed our marriage”

      *sigh* I have more to say about this when I get a few minutes but this really brings on a huge load of empathy. Working on that, we are. Living alone would be so easy but to borrow a phrase from Richard Schwarz, who would serve as your (my) tor-mentor? Pretty hard to grow up meaningfully living alone…

    2. somecallmejack

      Sue, consider picking up the ebook (pdf) copy of Richard Schwartz’s _You are the One You’ve Been Waiting For_ at the store at The chapter on courageous love will totally lift your heart. Your dream does not have to be a dream, but it is not easy, either.

      Matt, I hope a product reference is ok…if not, please edit or delete, no hard feelings!

      1. Please. Share anything you want. Always.

        If it’s genuinely designed to help people, it’s always appreciated.

        Thank you for being considerate.

          1. somecallmejack

            Yes, but the pdf version from the publisher at that website is only $20 (and the paperback is only $25). Amazon pricing is so…random!

      2. Thank you for the heads up, somecallmejack! I will definitely look for it!

        1. somecallmejack

          I’m only on chapter 4 as of this morning. “Courageous Love,” as described in chapter 3, would sustain life all by itself without needing food or water…or at least all the life I really want…

  3. I know that movie…it was intense. And depressing. As was this post. I agree with all of it…I just don’t know how we change it. Especially when I think about how everything i do sets an example for my daughter…

  4. I’m curious if you find the divorce of the couple in the movie to be primarily due to the behavior of the husband. From what you wrote about it, I don’t.

    1. We’re given very little information about the day-to-day in their relationship, but the implication is that her mother was right. That the wife’s perception of her husband changed throughout their short marriage, and things she once found attractive turned into things that looked and felt unreliable and unattractive.

      I would characterize her behavior and decisions as fickle, and if we are in the business of “blaming” someone, I guess I’d point fingers in her direction for not being more responsible in communicating honest wants and needs.

      What I mostly thought this was, was an example of how human beings cycle in and out of certain emotions, and how those powerful swings regarding how we feel often have a great impact on our behaviors, moods, and by proxy, our relationships.

      It begs the question as to whether our “feelings” should be the driving force behind our decisions.

      In the context of marriage, I don’t think so. But simultaneously we need to be mindful of how powerful these emotions can be so we can speak and behave accordingly to our partners.

      As a work of fiction, it doesn’t really portray real marriage, and she’s not a particularly sympathetic figure.

      1. Certainly, emotions are significant in our relationships. In this case, it seems the wife’s emotions (“I’m just really, really unhappy.”) were a major factor in the divorce. I am unwilling to make the supposition that her unhappiness was due to her husband’s failure to recognize her emotions, validate them, etc. Although you belittle the movie as a “work of fiction”, perhaps it reflects reality better than you typically seem willing to believe.

        1. I did not belittle the movie as a work of fiction.

          I minimized your comparison of that particular on-screen marriage to the difficulties of real-life marriage discussed here because we literally NEVER see them “being married.”

          Cinema is almost always that way. It reinforces that marriages end because of physically and verbally abusive men, or scheming wives, or sexually unfaithful spouses. The big, dramatic stuff.

          But in real life, MOST OF THE TIME, two well-meaning people marry with the best of intentions and make a God’s-honest effort to be good to one another and make their marriage last forever.

          And then, much of the time, a million tiny little moments occur that slowly chip away at the integrity of the marriage. Little mistakes and missteps and misunderstandings by both parties. And they build and build and build.

          And THEN, when we’re hurt, angry and resentful… when some major Life Thing occurs like a scary medical diagnosis, or a significant financial problem, or a death of someone very close to one of us….
          That tends to trigger the final descent.

          All the trust and goodwill and foundational steadiness that once existed is no longer present… and MOST of the time it’s these common, clueless, unintentional but nonetheless shitty husband behaviors eroding the trust and security their wives feel about their relationship and future.

          And in this moment of grieving a major loss, or fear of financial insecurity, or of facing a major illness without a reliable partner… The love dies.

          It dies. It’s what happened in my house.

          And that EXACT story has been told by — I don’t know — 15,000? 25,000? — wives and husbands in these blog comments and emails.

          I’m not blaming tobacco farmers for causing cancer. People must still accept responsibility for their personal choices, including who they marry, and how they speak to and behave toward that person.

          But it’s still accurate to say that tobacco farmers and tobacco companies make and distribute products that harm people.

          It’s not blame. It’s not hate. It’s not mean-spirited. It’s not unfair. It’s not anything except objectively true.

          Now just maybe there are tobacco farmers who grow tobacco to be used for other things besides chewing or smoking it. I’m not a tobacco expert. And in those instances, those conscientious and responsible tobacco farmers may gripe because this observation they perceive as criticism of the industry doesn’t apply to them.

          Fine. Awesome.

          But I think I’m maybe a little tired of your less-than-kind suggestions that the premise I put forth about substandard behavior by married men (many of whom aren’t even aware of the damage they’re causing) is NOT the significant force that it is in breaking up today’s families.

          Just because other things also happen does not mean this story I tell is not the primary contributor to this marriage problem we collectively face.

          It seems as if you think I’m needlessly hard on men.

          Let’s not blame anyone. Let’s just tell the truth, and then collectively solve the problem.

          50 years ago, 42% of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes.

          Today, 15% do.

          All it took was truth, effective communication, and time for a generation to grow up behaving differently.

          I believe this will happen with human relationships too.

          More courageous people. More positive examples. And more time.

          1. ” Just because other things also happen does not mean this story I tell is not the primary contributor to this marriage problem we collectively face. It seems as if you think I’m needlessly hard on men.”

            Nor does it mean that your “story” is actually the primary contributor. I think your “story” has some validity, but is probably not the primary contributor, and certainly should be extended to both sexes, not just men.

            In order to remove any possible doubt, I absolutely think that you are needlessly hard on men. You and the rest of the collective “experts”. Note: I expect you will deny you are an “expert” but, in effect, you do present yourself as one, albeit one without formal credentials.

            “It’s not blame. It’s not hate. It’s not mean-spirited. It’s not unfair. It’s not anything except objectively true.”

            I am sorry that you find my “suggestions” to be “less-than-kind”. I consider them to be objectively true and they are not intended to be hateful, etc. I suspect you have personal, subjective reason to find them objectionable.

            As to the evidence for the objective truth of your “story”, I am not surprised that your blog would attract others who agree with you, providing their own divorce as an example. In other words, what you perceive as “objective truth” is based on a biased sample, whose observations are quite subjective.

            “Let’s not blame anyone. Let’s just tell the truth, and then collectively solve the problem.”

            A fine idea fully dependent on recognition of truth in its entirety, objectively and not just subjectively. Without agreement on truth, I doubt a solution will result.

            Digressing, I suspect that the fact that taxes on cigarettes have increased greatly in the last 50 years just might be another significant contributor to the reduction in smoking. In other words, it took more than “truth, effective communication, and time” to motivate people to change.

          2. I know what confirmation bias is.

            The Gottman data backs me entirely on this point, sir.

            I AM the common divorce story. The tiny details change from couple to couple, but the reason people find this is because they all have the exact same story.

            I’m not out there marketing or advertising. They’re typing questions about their marriages into Google, and landing on one of the posts here. Some percentage of them read a lot and stick around. Others decide it’s garbage and find something else.

            I think you make an excellent observation about the rising cost of cigarettes over the past 50 years. I think there’s little doubt that too played a factor.

            But then you’d be ignoring all of the other changes society has made just like the cigarette-smoking one.

            There are fewer workplace accidents than ever (as a percentage). There are fewer traffic fatalities (as a percentage) than ever.

            Medicine has gotten better. Technology has gotten better. Engineering has gotten better. Material science has gotten better. Service reliability has gotten better.

            Over and over and over again, we see incremental improvements being made to things when human beings collectively work to solve problems or achieve common goals.

            That’s all I’m talking about here.

            I do not find your comments or disagreements “objectionable” in the way I use that word to describe things. I am objecting to them because I disagree. And I have like, 650,000 words or something, providing all of my reasons for thinking what I think.

            If you’re going to disagree (which I encourage — I know you’re not a troll, nor mean-spirited, nor anything but a smart person who disagrees with some of the things I think and feel), then I’d encourage you to do the thing you just did with our cigarette conversation.

            Again, I think you were ignoring the larger symbolic point, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that economic factors certainly played a role too.

            If you’d like to talk about all of the reasons you believe the common marriage fails in 2017 that differ dramatically from what I write about here, I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.

            I’m not committed to being right. I’m committed to asking good questions and letting the best ideas win. Always.

          3. It will take some time to provide reasons that I believe are significant in marriage failures today. I want to look further into the Gottman information and theory. A quick initial look has me doubting that it supports your view as well as you think it does. It’s possible that I may not follow through on this, so please don’t be disappointed if that happens.

          4. Fair enough. I wasn’t challenging you. I was asking for more and better information if it’s out there.

            I also think it’s likely you interpret what I write as being harsh and finger-pointing toward men/husbands in a way that simply isn’t the case.

            I’m not likely to stop discussing this nor reading about it, so there will, God-willing, be ample opportunity later.

  5. “People don’t know HOW to be married when they decide to get married.”

    THIS. Even if you grew up with a good example like I did, you still, on some level, have no clue what you are doing! I think our society does not focus enough on level-headed partner evaluation. Yes, the spark is fantastic, but it is unsustainable. Butterflies in your stomach won’t be good for anything but nausea during the tough times if there isn’t something more substantial as well. And assuming you can ‘fix’ the issues you think a prospective mate has is the start of a recipe for disaster. Maybe relationship skills should be added to basic school curricula 🙂

    I am curious about something, though. Do you think the lack of good examples is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome? Or could the vast array of ‘I really don’t want to be like that’ examples help a little by highlighting things to avoid? Because from the comments on other articles (always scroll through because the discussions are fantastic!), it seems a lot of people haven’t ever seen a good marriage (as in, both people work well together and still are honestly fond of one another after a couple of decades) and that plays into a ‘do they even exist?’ kind of viewpoint.

    1. good questions…! I think there is a lack of good examples, but also, when we see examples of good marriages, we don’t usually ask “but what makes them good?” I think that’s what we have to pick apart…for me, one of the conclusions I’ve come to is that before people get married, it is important for each person to identify their values and make sure those values align with their partner’s. you can have all the chemistry in the world, and even have the same goals, but if your values don’t align, there will be significant problems

    2. somecallmejack

      I totally agree that young people, and honestly most older people, have no idea how to be married, and sadly (as the numbers show) many never learn, or learn too late to make their first marriage work out.

      And, as an opinion, yes, I do strongly think that lack of good examples is a huge obstacle.

      Speaking from experience and observation…YMMV.

    3. So I typed out this long response and lost it… I’ll try again 🙁

      I think you’re right. I think even when you have a good example, you still have zero idea what you’re doing and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that what children see is a very surface level of what it takes to be married. They don’t see the hard lessons and they don’t learn from the things you learned. Here’s my example:

      When I was a young kid, if my mom would go away on a rare weekend away, she’d prepare everything ahead of time. Food, laundry, etc – it all was set up ahead to make it easier on my dad to have us all (very traditional family structure).

      When I was a newlywed, about 6 months in, I was preparing to go to a woman’s retreat and I did the same thing for my husband. Because that’s what wives do ,right? I made him a bunch of food ahead of time so it would be easy for him (even though we had no kids).

      I mentioned it on an online forum and I was totally blasted by these women for doing that. At first I thought they were just being bra-burning feminists but then ten years later my marriage collapsed and I realized they were right all along.

      Me doing things like that – always doing a zillion things for him to make his life easier – was actually contributing to the unhealthy parent/child dynamic we ended up with.

      And here’s the clincher – my mom brought it up in conversation randomly about 6 months ago. She started talking about how she used to prepare all these things ahead of time but then she realized that it was actually a bad idea for them because Dad needed to be able to do his thing and to be responsible for all the aspects of us when she was gone and that she deserved and needed the ability to just be able to leave without preparing EVERYTHING ahead of time and to know/trust that he’d be ok… so she stopped doing it. She stopped when I was about 10 but apparently I didn’t notice.

      I kept thinking the entire time she was telling me – I wish so bad I had known of that lessons she learned, because I could have really been able to learn from it myself. So what I remembered as her “example” was actually before she learned a marriage lesson.

      I don’t know if there’s an easier way to communicate these things to our children. I don’t think it’s always appropriate to talk about the intimate things with marriage and what you learn about it with your children, so I don’t know if there’s a good answer.

      1. So true Bethany!

        Though the way I see it, prepping everything before leaving has a few factors behind it. Not wanting the KIDS inconvenienced is probably a big one. Some of the ‘clueless dad’ stuff (whole separate kettle of fish for some other time!). The example we grew up with. And for me, acts of service is one of the things I like to do to express affection.

        My husband has gotten pretty good at kicking me out the door. I let him know what kinds of things are in the fridge/pantry and if anything is already on the menu, but I’ve gotten better at not arranging every detail before heading out.

        Any ideas on how to communicate to the kids about all the underlying work it takes to maintain a good marriage? We’ve never been able to come up with much by way of specifics.

      2. Excellent post. And I agree, its hard to know how much of the nitty gritty to discuss with kids, but our examples speak volumes (I’m speaking as a parent here). Looking back on my own parents’ example, my mom used to tiptoe around my dad (as did I). she eventually became empowered and quit, but by that time I was scared to death because she was not catering to him anymore, so i went into overdrive. she never talked about how/why she changed, so guess what…? I’m just like her…not blaming her–my actions are my own responsibility, but I never “unlearned” the tiptoeing part when she changed her ways–I felt a little like she abandoned us kids to deal with him ourselves. sometimes the example alone doesn’t get “into the bones” and we need to talk about it

        1. These comments are, honestly, very painful, because I totally empathize with the dilemma. If I could do anything to help our two kids avoid the trainwrecks that we’ve engineered, I would; I value their happiness even more than mine or my wife’s. But on top of everything, there’s the issue of not knowing what they need to hear or learn. My/our histories and dents and wrinkles, and our struggles together, are personal to us, in the sense that they probably won’t happen in their lives. And there’s another big issue I’ve discovered – even witnessing all our struggles as he grew up and after a lot of open discussion with me about them, our older son (28, got married last year) sincerely believes that he and his bride will duck that stuff…that love is all you need…BTDT. Some things you can learn, some things you have to experience?

          1. at least you don’t have to feel guilty about spoiling it–I took the pressure off 🙂 I actually don’t think anything’s spoiled though…most of what you shared can be ascertained from the trailer!

  6. Well done, Matt. You put a lot of “supposed to’s” in there. You have to slay all those dragons, there just aren’t any “supposed to’s” in the world. That speaks to seeking the approval of some imaginary group of people we don’t even know. Then it creates envy and resentment and entitlement. It’s a blight all over the Western world right now.

    I don’t think there is a marriage paradox. We’ve just gotten selfish,we now think marriage is all about making ourselves happy, finding fulfillment, entitlement, status. People get married these days thinking they are going to gain something. We don’t think of sacrifice,service to another person, but that’s what love is really all about.

  7. somecallmejack

    This comment, like my life and marriage, is really more a work in process or a stone on a journey rather than a definitive statement – I don’t have enough training or insight to do that. But I do have enough years living to have a few thoughts…

    I love your writing, Matt, but I don’t think people actually get divorced (or most people don’t) for the reasons you list above.

    I think people bust up relationships because way down underneath they find that the person or people in their lives are continually reviving old wounds and hurts and fears, rather than helping to heal them.

    I think that’s what was going on with the dishes in the sink. No one would get divorced because they had to put some glasses and plates in the dishwasher. They get divorced because of what the glasses and plates in the sink mean to them. They stand for, they remind you, they bring back your fear, that you are – something, fill in the blank: unloved, unworthy of respect or care, they you are not a priority for the other person.

    And there are a host of these. What you do brings back old attachment wounds, like fears of abandonment, for example.

    I have been down so many roads on this journey, and I have read so much, and worked with three therapists. I think most of today’s therapeutic models look in on the same central issues, but lots of them take pretty narrow views, and to me don’t really address the real issues. Schnarch wants me to be a rugged individualist. Johnson wants me to open up so my spouse can solve my needs and salve my wounds. And to one side of relationship therapy but very relevant, gifted writers like Brown and Neff want you to just become or find some source of compassion for yourself and others. I don’t think these are really reliable.

    What I am coming to believe is reliable is something I never thought I’d give any credence to: reaching inside, not to change yourself but to accept your many parts. I am finding Richard Schwartz’s internal family system model very helpful for this. It is helping me to identify and understand and accept my many selves. And it’s helping take the pressure off of trying to get my wife to change, or getting me to change, or leaving me with only the option to shut down and get distant as a coping strategy.

    You can see some of this in Margaret Paul’s inner bonding, in Terry Real’s inner child work in relational life therapy, in Hendrix and Hunt’s imago therapy, and in Katherine Woodward Thomas’s source fracture wound concept, but I personally like the way Schwartz develops this.

    So, at least right now, I think we split up because we have old wounds…that we think our partner will save us from…and when they don’t, all those ancient injuries come screaming back like demons from Hell…and we just don’t know what to do. Change her – can’t. Change me – doesn’t really work if I don’t get at the underlying hurts. Change the marriage (by stonewalling) – kill the marriage. But I think that as I get inside and ask what’s going on there I can understand and show some compassion for myself. Then I don’t have to get my wife to heal things in me that she has no power to heal, and I can bring understanding and tolerance and compassion and support to her as she deals with her old wounds (or, in both of our cases, our not-so-old wounds that we’ve inflicted on ourselves during our marriage).

    Too many words as always. Could say more – time to click ‘post.’

  8. You know Matt, a real force working against marriage right now are those red pills. I’m sure you know who they are when the drop by. I often watch you give a well thought out defense to one of their complaints, likely wasted on them because they are all about ideology. You learn to recognize their phrases and it’s just like talking to a bunch of robots. Anyway, those guys are out giving one another advice, which is basically never listen to your wife and be an arrogant waste of space. That kind of flawed thinking has spread all over the place.

    You said, “We say “I do” with the best of intentions…” Flat out, those guys do not. They perceive women as the enemy. You say of marriage, “But maybe we can change that…” I’m thinking maybe we shouldn’t try to change anything at all accept perhaps ourselves. There is nothing you can do to teach a man like that how to love. You cannot reach their heart. So if men are going to continue to act that way, continue to teach one another how to NOT to care about women, there is no marriage paradox. Divorce him. He’s nothing but an energy drain.

  9. Well done and so true. Some folks endure all sorts of experiences in order to remain in a marriage. Others are brave and pack up and leave. I admire their bravery.

    1. somecallmejack

      But the other side of that is that I think that way too many people give up and quit too soon, and that’s unfortunate (or worse), inflicting a lot of needless damage on everyone in a large circle around them and doing nothing to avoid cyclical repetition. 🙁 I’m not telling anyone how to live, just cautioning that our disposable society doesn’t really provide any good models or advice for people who want to persevere and grow themselves (and their marriage) up.

      1. Absolutely and you are correct about folks that divorce without trying to work on their marriage or to become a better person and partner in marriage.

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  11. Well….a few years in, I asked my then-spouse why he had decided to ask me to marry him.

    His answer: “It seemed like the right time in my life to do so.”

    Nothing about loving ME, wanting to be with ME. Just an accidental happenstance.

    From the “I shouldda known” file….

    1. somecallmejack

      Sadly, I think I can beat that.

      I asked the same question six months or so back after +35 years, and was told “I don’t know…because it was logical?”

      Well, crap, did I marry a Vulcan?

      And the answer turns out to be: yes. No emotion, no feeling.

      The weird thing is that she asserts that she’s much more committed than I am.

      The question I keep asking is: to what? To what, because the question definitely isn’t: to whom?

      I go back and forth between trying to be sure I’ve exhausted the solutions and just plain being exhausted. But now that I think of it, that shouldn’t surprise me?

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Matt Fray

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