The objective of this article is to point out some of the pitfalls involved in the breakup of marriages.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
The Art of Feeling Married
Summary: Back several generations the most important value in marriage was staying together. That value has fallen by the wayside in many families as couples fight to prove that they are right and fantasize about how their lives could be “happier” with someone else. The fight to be right makes the marriage impossible as does the fantasy, once it begins, that there is someone “better” out there than the marriage partner. These disconnects may lead to feelings of a lack of partnership which leaves some partners at risk for infidelity. The infidelity occurs when people are not feeling “married”. Once things get to this point, it is possible, but more difficult, to save the marriage.
Once upon a time, marriage was seen as “forever” and divorce was rare. Women took great pride in being “good” wives, raising fine children, and winning blue ribbons at the county fair for their jams. Life was not very complicated. Men were proud to be “good providers” and proud of staying married to one woman. Things have changed in many households.
Today, there is the illusion for some people that if they are not happy, leaving their families to find “individual” happiness is the ticket. If either marriage partner begins to think, even for one minute, that he or she might be happier married to someone else, in that one minute that partner begins to think about getting unmarried to the partner and/or married to someone else, the marriage is greatly at risk.. With the emphasis on individual happiness, the determination to make marriage succeed has been weakened considerably.
With the emphasis on individual happiness, some people who have begun to fantasize, fantasize their children right out of the picture. They become so focused on how their partner is making them unhappy, they don’t think about the consequences of leaving on the children. When this subject is brought to their attention, these people are apt to respond, “oh-the kids will be fine!” “What about ME?”
Now, the major issue that such folks forget, is that it is hard to be gloriously “happy” once the dust settles and the damage begins to be clear.
The research shows that the best that children learn from a divorce is that no one loves anyone enough to stay. The kids may be fine (50%) until dating age. At dating age, the problems begin to show up in difficulty partnering with the opposite sex. This occurs because there is no faith that people can stay together. Children of divorce also tend to fear conflict because historically it means that someone left. People who fear conflict have trouble asserting themselves to get their fair share of anything. So, people who run off to find happiness are often disappointed when things don’t turn out so peacefully as the effects of the leaving begin to be demonstrated.
Social changes in our society in the last half century also account for much of the loss of determination to stay married. Today, many women are no longer dependent on their men. Many women have the freedom to leave the marriage, move a thousand miles away, settle down, and support herself. many times she can make more money than the man she left. Women now have the power that only men had years ago–“if you don’t behave like the lover I want you to be, I will leave you.” The impact of the “throw-away” marriage has doubled the threat to modern marriage.
Other recent social changes threaten our marriages today. Historically there were things that held marriages together like economic necessity, strict divorce laws, and public opinion. Today the only stabilizer holding marriage together is the affectionate need couples want to feel for each other. If that need diminishes, the marriage breaks apart. This occurs with people who put more stock in “feeling” than is realistic. They are not prepared for the marriage to settle down and the wild infatuation to fade. They expect to feel more than long term marriage holds for people. They tend to be romantics so when the intensity of feeling subsides, they think that the marriage is over.
More important than feelings of “love”, are feelings of being “married” and the desire to keep the marriage together. One of the big enemies of determination is the tendency to decide that your mate is ‘wrong” instead of trying to understand him or her. Most of us have learned from an early age to expect that when children disagree a relatively impartial parent will settle the dispute by deciding who is “right” and who is ‘wrong”. The parent will then reward the winner (if only a pat or a smile) and exhort the loser to try to do better next time.
Some people never get over this expectation of being proven “right” and they carry it into the marriage. Now, it is impossible to be “right” and be married. Being “right” makes the winner the saint and the ‘loser” the jerk. It can’t work. It doesn’t negotiate or solve the relationship problems–it just perpetuates them since the one in the “wrong” must continue to seek vindication.
The major attitude that strengthens the determination to stay married is keeping the emphasis on the positive aspects of the relationship. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I frequently see partners who will readily concede that their partner is excellent in all respects but ONE. The partner then focuses on the imperfection and loses all proportion and sense of all the good qualities.
As people unhook from each other they feel less married. They are then at risk for infidelity. Conversely, sometimes the infidelity occurs as a slip of control. Once it occurs, the secret may be well guarded, and the dissatisfaction with the marriage justifies the affair.
In any case, the infidelity is impossible when people feel married because their partner is on their mind enough to keep everybody connected. Since the statistics are that 98% of all divorces occur because someone is or was unfaithful, avoiding the infidelity gives marriage a much better chance of working. If partners would avoid feeling “entitled” to happiness and would concentrate instead on making their existing marriages better there would be both less unhappiness and fewer divorces. This would give us a healthier generation of young people who would have better skills at partnering, remaining married, and raising healthier children.