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Avoiding the "Trap of Couplehood"

Posted on January 20, 2015 at 7:59 PM Comments comments (157)

Being in a committed relationship can be a wonderful experience. 
At its best, a good relationship feels welcoming, warm, secure, supportive, and nurturing.  The partners can depend on each other, they trust each other, they’re in each other’s corner.  They share a level of intimacy with each other that they don’t share with anyone else, and they become bonded in a unique way.

In many ways, this bonding is necessary and adaptive.  A couple whose bond is strong will be more resilient through the stresses and strains of ordinary life, such as job changes, buying a home, and having children.  When we know someone well, our ability to anticipate how they might think or feel in certain situations can help us solve problems more quickly, or even avoid them altogether.

But coupling can also be a slippery slope into Loss of Self.  Wanting to spend time with our partner can creep, inch by inch, into not spending time with anyone else, not going places unless our partner comes along, and not getting any alone-time.  We can become so focused on “being a couple” that we forget to cherish our separate Self.  This is damaging, not only to our individual Selves, but ironically, to the couple relationship as well.  If we don’t tend to our own growth and development, we deprive both ourselves and our partner of the growing, evolving, vital person they fell in love with.  We run the risk of collapsing ourselves into our role as husband or wife, mom or dad, and we gradually lose touch with our individual identity.  And the relationship suffers.

So how do we guard against the Trap of Couplehood?  How do we preserve the Self, while continuing to nurture and grow our relationship?  I’m glad you asked!  Nena and George O’Neill, in their ground-breaking book, Open Marriage, outline several components of what they call the Open Contract:

  • Undependent Living
  • Personal Growth
  • Individual Freedom
  • Flexible Roles
  • Mutual Trust
  • Expansion through Openness

Now before you freak out, thinking that I’m suggesting a sexual free-for-all, let me assure you, that’s not the case!  All of the above ideas can be incorporated into any relationship, regardless of whether that relationship is monogamous, polyamorous, or something else.  For those of you who’ve been reading this blog all along, you’ll remember that I’ve talked a little bit about some of these ideas already.

Let’s start with Undependent Living.  This is a term the O’Neills use to describe the opposite of the Closed Contract (what many would call “traditional” marriage), which implies Ownership of the Partner.  Now of course, we don’t literally think we own our partner, but we often use language that suggests exactly that, such as “you belong to me,” or (from earlier generations) “no wife of mine is ever going to work!”  I particularly used that second one because, not only does it imply ownership, it also implies that “traditional wifely duties” – such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and childcare – aren’t work! 

In an earlier post, I talked about a few of the ways we can act as if we own our partners:

  • Assuming our partner’s free time is “couple time” for us to schedule as we like

  • Depriving our partner of alone-time (everyone needs it, just in different amounts)

  • Intruding on our partner’s privacy (including snail mail, texts, email, and social media)

  • Criticizing our partner’s friendships

  • Undermining our partner’s goals

  • Expecting that you and your partner can be everything to each other

  • Nagging (which we tend to think of as “reminding” but is really a demand)

  • Guessing how we hope our partner will feel about something, instead of asking

  • Thinking that we know what’s best for his/her own good

With the concept of Undependent Living, you and your partner are free to be yourselves.  You can keep your friendships, hobbies, habits, and wardrobe, and so can your partner.  Each of you is an adult, and treats the other like one.  If you want to go to the party, and your partner doesn’t, there’s no need to take it personally.  There’s also no need to stay home, if you’d rather go.  But if you do stay home, remember that it’s your choice to do so – not your partner’s fault.  Adults take responsibility for their choices.

Stay tuned for more!

Self vs Role

Posted on November 24, 2014 at 8:08 PM Comments comments (581)

November 24, 2014

At the end of my last post, I said that this post would be about “the trap of Couplehood.”  But before I begin on that topic, I wanted to say a little more about Denial of Self, and what that means.

What is the Self?  Simply speaking, the Self is our identity.  It is who we are, separate from other people.  Aspects of the Self include our age, race, sex, beliefs, values, ability status, and so on.  Also included are things like our chosen line of work, our talents and abilities, and personal or professional goals, such as completing an advanced degree or having children.  Our Self is the essence of who we are – what makes us unique.

Some aspects of the Self can change over time.  For example, we may have been raised in a conservative family with very strict ideas about religion, politics, or sex; but as we grew up and encountered more of the world, we may have developed attitudes or opinions that differed from those with which we were raised.  We then incorporated these new attitudes and opinions into our developing sense of Self.

When we enter into relationships, especially marriage, our sense of Self can be challenged by the role we are expected to play as husband or wife.  If we give into the pressures to conform to a role, we cut off personal growth, which is a denial of Self.  Of course, that is not to say that we should avoid the behaviors and obligations of being a responsible partner or parent, but it does suggest that who we are – and who we are permitted to become – should not be predetermined merely on the basis of sex.

Let’s use housework as an example.  In the traditional view of marriage, maintenance of the home was divided into “women’s work” and “men’s work.”  A woman was expected to do the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, ironing, and decorating, and to take primary responsibility for child-rearing and social scheduling, as well as supporting her husband’s career.  A man was expected to be the primary income-earner, financial decision-maker, and emotional “rock,” as well as to take out the garbage, complete small household repairs, maintain the family car, and do the yard work. 

In a more contemporary view, maintenance of the home is simply that.  It is the collection of tasks that need to be done, in order to keep the home running smoothly.  In this view, a household task can be done by any member of the household, according to their inclination and ability, not according to their role.

Today, the vast majority of U.S. households include two income-earners, yet many of us find ourselves frustrated and exhausted trying to live up to the “traditional” model of marriage.  We want our marriages to work, but we still find ourselves under pressure, from family, society, and often ourselves, to conform to the outmoded roles of previous generations.  This is a huge denial of Self, for both men and women.

Love, companionship, intimacy, friendship, and open, honest communication are the essential ingredients of modern marriage.  All of these qualities require growth – both as individuals and as a couple.  If we commit to personal growth, both for ourselves and our partners, we enable ourselves to grow into the partners we most want to be.  Roles don’t grow.  Only people do!

Personal Growth (continued)

Posted on November 5, 2014 at 5:49 PM Comments comments (115)
November 5, 2014
 
Last post, we talked about Denial of Self, which is sacrificing parts of who you are, in order to keep your relationship running smoothly.  The opposite of Denial of Self is Personal Growth.
 
When we partner-up (married or not), we usually stop thinking of ourselves as “single” and start thinking of ourselves as part of a “couple.”  This new status is reflected in all kinds of ways: couples are invited places together, bring each other to family functions, they may get engaged, move in together, or get married.  During some marriage ceremonies, partners light a new candle from their individual candles to symbolize the new life they are creating together.  Some traditions go so far as to pronounce them “one flesh.”
 
It’s a lovely symbol – the new candle lit from the two others – two people working together to build a life, each bringing unique strengths, gifts, and talents to the endeavor.  But in at least one ceremony I attended, after the new candle was lit, the partners extinguished their individual candles.  What a powerful symbol for denial of self!
 
This is why I have a personal dislike of phrases such as “my other half,” “my better half,” or (worst of all) “you complete me” (with apologies to Jerry McGuire).  It implies that, without a partner, we are somehow defective, incomplete, missing something essential.  That’s why I borrowed the following bit of wisdom:
 
You can’t make a whole relationship with two half-people.
 
No, you can’t.  I don’t care if you think I’m the most unromantic person alive.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  That’s why I’ve been harping so much on not collapsing yourself into a role.  It’s absolutely essential that all partners be whole people, and that means growth.
 
Growth can be a challenge.  In fact, at times it can be a real pain in the neck!  But here’s the dirty, little secret: we all need growth.  We need to grow up.  We need to grow out of our bad habits.  We need to grow past the baggage of old wounds, and most of all, we need to grow into better and better versions of ourselves.
 
Why?  Because the things we demand from modern marriage – love, friendship, emotional support, open communication, and intimacy – require much more work on the part of the people involved.  Marriage is a verb!
 
Partners who are invested in their own growth, and in their partner’s growth, will reap the rewards of increased intimacy, a deeper friendship, more open communication…is this sounding familiar?  Partners committed to growth will have a more fully developed self, and a more integrated, cooperative relationship, to serve as the foundation for the family they are creating (whether or not they choose to have children).
 
Next post…the trap of “Couplehood.”

Denial of Self vs Personal Growth

Posted on October 20, 2014 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (545)

October 20, 2014

I’m back! 

So, lo these many months ago, we were talking about the old “Closed Contract” of marriage vs the new “Open Contract.”  As I mentioned previously, the book that inspired this blog series is “Open Marriage,” by Nena O’Neill and George O’Neill (see my list of references).

We spent the last two posts talking about ownership of our partners (clause #1 in the closed contract), so now I’d like to move on to “Denial of Self.”  This one can be tricky, because on the surface, it looks like a virtue.

Talk to anyone who’s been married any length of time, and you’ll hear them talk about the “sacrifices” of marriage.  Now, don’t get me wrong, marriage (especially with children) does require sacrifice from time to time.  Perhaps partners decide to forego eating out and vacations in order to save up a down-payment on a house.  Or maybe one partner works, and pays all the bills, while the other finishes school or starts a business.  These are shared sacrifices that help bind a couple together.  Denial of self is a sacrifice of our identity, independence, or autonomy that actually works against the health and wellbeing of the relationship, as well as the people in it. 

For example, let’s say that, prior to marrying, Mary Jane really loved to go dancing.  She took dance lessons as a little girl, competed as a teenager, and has always found it to be a wonderful outlet of self-expression.  When Mary Jane marries Chris, who has never liked dancing, what happens?  Well, one thing that could happen is that Mary Jane and Chris might take ballroom dancing classes, and Chris may learn to like dancing.  Or, if they’re both open-contract-minded, Chris may tell Mary Jane to go dancing, either alone or with a friend, while Chris does something else.  But if Chris won’t accept either of those solutions, and Mary Jane must sacrifice dancing in order to keep Chris happy, that’s a denial of self.

Let’s take a more subtle example.  Dan comes home from work in a mood.  Morning traffic was a bear, the meeting he’d spent a week preparing for was cancelled, and his boss moved up one of his deadlines “just to impress the customer.”  As he pulls into the driveway, he stuffs all of his angry feelings down into a dark, little hole somewhere, and walks through his front door.  During dinner he hardly says anything.  Cindy, his wife, asks if his dinner is OK.  Dan grumbles, but doesn’t actually say anything.  Cindy, not wanting to upset him further, stops probing, but silently feels that she’s done something wrong.  Dan has denied his self – his upset, angry self – in order (he thinks) to not upset his wife (men must be the emotional rock).  Instead of being authentic, and telling Cindy about his day (and what’s actually wrong), he sacrifices his need for understanding and belonging because “that’s not what men do.”  Needless to say, Cindy’s not happy either, and will probably think it was the kale.

In straining so hard to live up to the ideal of a role, we can forget to be a person.  Time was (and not so long ago) when your average American male would say, with pride, “No wife of mine is ever going to work!” (as though cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping were all accomplished by fairies!), and wives would say, “Of course I iron my husband’s shirts!  That’s what a wife does!”

It doesn’t have to be like this!  I’m not saying marriage is all hearts and flowers, but neither is it all drudgery and sacrifice.  There’s a better way…keep reading!
____________________________________________________
References: 

Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage 

Finkel, Eli J. (2014) The All-or-Nothing Marriage.  Retrieved on 2/17/2014 from www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html 

Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work 

Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution 

Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples 

Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships 

Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate 

Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles 

O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage 

Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013 

Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage







Ownership vs Undependent Living (continued)

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:57 PM Comments comments (556)
February 19, 2014
 
In my last post, I started a discussion contrasting “ownership” of our partners, with “undependent living.”  (See Open Marriage, in my list of references.) Since this can be a challenging idea to embrace, I wanted to expand on it a little. 
 
When we talk about ownership, we don’t mean it literally, of course.  But in our marriages and other long-term relationships, we often behave in ways that look a little bit like ownership. 
 
Free time is a great example.  Let’s say you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, and you’re planning next weekend’s activities.  You get an email from your friend Donna, asking if you and Bob want to have dinner next Friday night with her and her husband, Jack.  You email her back immediately, saying, “We’d love to!  How ‘bout Thai?” 
 
If this sounds like you…oops!  You’ve assumed that Bob’s free time is yours, to do with as you like.  Naturally, you hope he will enjoy the dinner, but if you didn’t take the time and effort to ask what he had in mind for next Friday, then you’ve assumed control – which is one aspect of ownership. It sounds like a very small thing, and to some degree it is, but when you “take it for granted,” rather than actually having it granted, you’ve assumed ownership.  If you think this is a bunch of hogwash, reverse the example, and let me know how you think things would go if Bob made plans for the two of you to go bowling…without asking you first! 
 
Aside from ownership, the above example also touches on one of the central problems I discussed at the very beginning of this blog – being a role instead of a person. In the old paradigm “Closed Contract,” the roles of husband and wife have specific jobs associated with them, and making social plans falls to the role of wife, along with grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, vacuuming, child care, supporting her husband’s career (and ego), as well as a general expectation that she will be the one to put home and family first, when "compromise” is called for. 
 
Husbands don’t fare any better.  According to the Closed Contract, husbands must be the primary income-earner, pay all the bills, do the yard work, take out the garbage, make all home repairs, and be the main decision-maker, all while remaining the “emotional rock” of the family (never show vulnerability). 
 
No wonder marriages are failing!  But don’t lose hope.  In the Undependent Living of the Open Contract, partners are responsible for themselves.  Housework – indoor and outdoor – is just work. It’s home maintenance that all members of the family engage in, according to their ability and inclination.  I loaded the dishwasher this time, and my partner will do it next time. If his back is aching from shoveling snow, I’ll take an extra turn…AND rub his back!  Why?  Because during the last snowstorm, he did most of the shoveling, and cleaned off my car when he cleaned off his own…not because I expected it, just to be nice! 
 
Like what you’re hearing? Stay tuned for more!

_______________________________________________________
References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Finkel, Eli J. (2014) The All-or-Nothing Marriage.  Retrieved on 2/17/2014 from www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Ownership vs Undependent Living

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 3:49 PM Comments comments (399)

January 13, 2014
 
Good relationships aren’t easy.  Good long-term relationships (whether marriage or something less formal) are especially difficult, because we demand so much from them over such a long period of time.  Paradoxically, researchers have found that good relationships, including marriages, do best when expectations are high, not when they’re low.  But if that’s true, why is marriage, as an institution, floundering?
 
Two reasons: first, we expect way too much; but perhaps more importantly, we’re expecting the wrong things
 
Movies, romance novels, TV shows, and other media lead us to believe that each of us is destined to find a “one-and-only,” get married, and live “happily ever after.”  Our rational minds may warn us that life isn’t that simple, but we really, truly, deep down, want to believe in the fairy tale, so we do.  Whether we intend to or not, we bring these unrealistic expectations into our marriages, and most of us end up very disappointed – in ourselves, our partners, and most of all in marriage itself.
 
As I’ve said in previous posts, marriage wasn’t always based on romantic love; in fact, quite the opposite. But marriage and romantic love have become so intertwined that I’m not sure we could completely separate the two, even if we wanted to.  But we absolutely can, and should, take a closer look at what we want from our most important relationships. 
 
Falling in love and sprinting down the aisle is the easy part.  The better question is, how do we go about the work of creating marriages that include companionship, deep intimacy, effective communication, egalitarian power-sharing, equal personhood, privacy, and trust?
 
Nena and George O’Neill, in their book, “Open Marriage,” say we need to understand that we’re marrying people– not roles – and learn to look at our relationships in a new way.  They describe, at length, the “Closed Contract” (what many people would describe as “traditional” marriage), and contrast it with the “Open Contract,” one which embraces the individuality and constant evolution of both partners as people, rather than forcing them into narrowly defined roles that stifle growth and ignore uniqueness.
 
The first of these Closed Contract rules is Ownership of the Partner.  Now, of course, I don’t mean we must abandon saying things like “my wife,” or “my boyfriend;” what I’m talking about is an attitude of ownership or possession that undermines individuality and takes away control over one’s own life.  Here are some examples:
 
Ownership of the partner is reflected in…
 
  • Assuming that our partner’s “free time” is always available as “couple time”
  • Exercising “veto” power over our partner’s clothes, job, hobbies, etc.
  • Expecting to be “everything” to each other
  • Discouraging our partner’s friendships with people we don’t like or approve of
  • Confining “our” friendships to “mutual friends only” (mostly other couples)
  • No friends of the opposite sex allowed
 
If you think you’re not guilty of any of these outdated notions, check to see if you’ve ever said anything like this:
 
  • “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
  • “Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re having dinner with Don and Sandy on Saturday.”
  • “You complete me.” (or referring to your partner as your “other half”)
  • “Joe's kind of a jerk; I don't know why you still hang out with him.”
 
 Contrast this with examples from the “Undependent Living” of the Open Contract:
 
  • We check with our partner before making plans, to see if he/she is available
  • Each partner is a whole person, with her/his own identity
  • Partners belong with each other, not to each other
  • Both partners are committed to a strong sense of self, as well as self-growth, so there is no need to control our partner’s friends, clothing, job, or leisure activities
  • Partners make friends together and/or separately, based on shared points of interest
 
 The O’Neills go on to say that marriage doesn’t provide love, material stability, emotional security, meaning, affection, social status, happiness, or caretaking.  Good relationships – including marriage – offer partners a chance to create these things.  We must be prepared to bring to the relationship those qualities we want to see.  To paraphrase Gandhi, you must be the partner you want to have in your relationship.
 
Your partner fell in love with a person – YOU!  If you continue to grow as you, then you become more of who you truly are, and your partner’s love for you grows.  If you collapse yourself into a role, you have to stop being you.  Not only is this boring (a role is only two-dimensional, while a person is totally 3-D), but it’s also a love-killer.  We fall in love with people, not roles.
 
That’s why I started this blog; because I believe that the best way to be a good partner is by being a good person.  Commit to your own growth, AND to the growth of your partner.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  You won’t be sorry.
 
Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

____________________________________________________________

References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage: A New Lifestyle for Couples
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Love & marriage - strange bedfellows

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 5:32 PM Comments comments (161)

December 17, 2013

Last post, we all had a good little laugh about the rules of courtly love.  But as silly as they look to us, they were taken very seriously at the time (the time, of course, being the Middle Ages).  However, we must remember that these were the rules of a game – albeit a very elaborate one – that was designed to NOT interfere with the sanctity of marriage. 
 
How’s that again? Asking and giving of ladies’ “tokens” (usually a scarf or handkerchief), singing of love songs, and outrageous flirting…all with someone else’s spouse?!  Our modern sensibilities go “tilt” at the very thought! 
 
But remember…for most of history, husbands and wives were not brought together by love, but by the desire to consolidate power, money, and influence (unless you were poor, in which case, marriage was about making a living).  Of course, if love (or, more properly, respectful affection) were to “grow” between partners, that was considered a good thing…as long as it didn’t get out of hand.  (And adultery was no joke – a cheating queen could lose her head…for treason!)  But what we would consider love – that heart-racing, appetite-suppressing, sleep-depriving state of romantic intoxication – that was something our ancestors thought of as a kind of madness; certainly far too volatile and capricious an emotion upon which to base something as important as marriage. 
 
But the geography of marriage did change over time, influenced not only by the rules of courtly love, but also by the invention of the plow, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the women’s rights movement, and myriad other social changes. 
 
Fast-forward to more-or-less present day. 
 
The divorce rate has been falling steadily for about the past 40 years…but so has the marriage rate.  Part of the reason for this has been the acceptance of new relationship options.  Non-marital cohabitation has been rising since the 1970s, and has now hit historic highs.  Births outside marriage are more numerous – and less stigmatized – than ever before. More people are staying single, and staying single longer before marrying.  And yet, most people say they want to marry at some point in their lives.  So why is marriage, as an institution, on the rocks? 
 
Because we want more. We expect more from marriage, and we’re pretty disappointed when it doesn’t deliver, so a lot of us bail. 
 
For thousands of years, the basis of marriage has been livelihood, procreation, and survival.  But these days, that just isn’t good enough.  We may still want livelihood, procreation, and survival, but we also want love, intimacy, trust, and good communication. We want our spouse to be our best friend.  The problem is, as we shall see, that the old “rules of the game” could never foster the kind of intimate sharing and mutual growth we’re looking for in marriage today. 
 
Tune in next week for:
The Closed Contract – Clause 1: Possession/Ownership of your Mate 
 
Credit where credit is due: The basis of my discussion of the “Closed Contract” and the “Open Contract” of marriage comes from a ground-breaking book called Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill.  Originally written in 1972 (updated in 1984), it does come off a bit dated in some spots, but the concepts and observations are surprisingly timely.  Despite its title, the book is not primarily about polyamory, spouse-swapping, or “swinging.”  It’s about how partners relate to each other within a marital relationship.  It’s a fun read, and one of the best guides to a healthy relationship of ANY kind I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

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Resources:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

 

 

Marriage madness from the Middle Ages

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (104)

December 9, 2013

So, here we are, trying to figure out the rules for modern marriage…but where to start? 

Well, before we start making up new rules, let’s take a look at the source of some of the old ones. To do that, we have to go back to the Middle Ages.  Yep. I’m serious.  The Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, the ruling classes spent a lot of time “at court,” that is, staying in and around the palace of the king.  And with not a lot to do (especially during the winter), the nobles made up the game of “Courtly Love” to keep themselves amused. 

Now, this game was very elaborate, and had to do with identifying a “beloved” (usually another person’s spouse) to whom to devote oneself in an exaggerated way.  Poems were written, songs were sung, tokens exchanged…however, such relationships were never, EVER to be consummated, as adultery was taken very seriously. 

Of course, a game of such complexity must have rules, so in the late 12th century, Andreas Capellanus drew up a list of the "Rules of Courtly Love.”  Below are a few (I’ve combined some here and there).  The sarcastic comments, are, of course, my own.

  • He who is not jealous cannot love.
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
    • You are mine-mine-MINE!   And lack of trust is GOOD for love!

  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
    • I simply must have your approval in all things!

  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
    • We should always be together, but if we’re not, you should think about nothing but ME until we’re together again.

  • It is well-known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
    • The love of your beloved can’t be depended upon.

  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
    • We can simply turn off our loving sexual selves at inconvenient moments.

  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
    • Don’t tell him how you really feel – make him work for it!

  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates.
    • We’ll ALWAYS feel the way we did when we first fell in love.

  • A new love puts to flight an old one.
    • No one can EVER love more than one person at a time.

Even though we can see at a glance how silly and impractical these “rules” are, upon deeper consideration, we can identify the roots of some of the more destructive ideas on which we’ve been trying to build our most important relationships. 

Next post, I’ll talk in more detail about how courtly love has left its mark on our attitudes and expectations about marriage, and what we can do about it.

________________________________________________
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984, 2000) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

 

What is "traditional" marriage?

Posted on November 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM Comments comments (120)
 
November 25, 2013
 
As I said at the end of my last post, traditionally, marriage was more about what you do than who you are
 
It may sound a bit strange to us, but for many hundreds of years, husbands and wives were partners in a professional and financial sense, rather than in the romantic sense.  And because they knew their survival depended upon each other in a very literal way, they had to make sure that each of them had the necessary skills to make their partnership work – and I do mean work.
 
Before child labor laws, girls as young as five or six might be tending to the younger children, feeding chickens, or gathering eggs, while their brothers mucked out the stalls or learned to milk the cows.  By age eight or ten, a child was often sent to work in a more affluent home, where he or she would begin to learn a trade (boys) or more advanced home-making (girls). By the time they were old enough to marry (and had enough money to start their business), men and women were looking for someone who had the skills to make the family a success.  (And bear in mind that “success” meant everyone got to eat on a regular basis!)  If he made shoes, she cut the leather.  If he farmed, she made butter, cheese, and beer.  Anything extra was sold or bartered to supplement the family income. The bottom line at that time was, if you didn’t have any real work skills, you just weren’t a “catch.”
 
These days, work skills are still important, but most of us grow up assuming that we’ll need to make our own living, whether we marry or not.  The skills we’re looking for in a partner now include relationship skills.  We want someone who can not only make a living, but someone with whom we can create intimacy.
 
Intimacy was not originally part of the marriage “deal.”  Traditionally, marriage was (depending upon one’s level of affluence) a way to consolidate or expand political or financial power, seal alliances, prevent war, protect property or bloodlines, and ensure legitimate heirs.  Love and intimacy?  Not so much.
 
Marriage has changed considerably over the last several thousand years.  Most of those changes have been for the better.  Women are now permitted to own and manage their own property, sign contracts, open bank accounts in their own names, and vote. Children are now sent to school instead of work.  But as our expectations of marriage change, the skills we bring to it must change as well. Few men today would expect that their prospective wives know how to make cheese.  Similarly, women are not bound by law and custom to live in their fathers’ households until they marry.  But both men and women do seem to want marriages based on honesty, intimacy, and friendship.
 
The problem is, we’re trying to play a new game by old rules.  Next week, I’ll start talking about what some of the new “rules”look like.
 
_________________________________________
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 
 
 

Why do we marry?

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (226)
November 4, 2013
 
This week’s post begins with a small “housekeeping” note: I’m going to start a running list of resources at the end of this blog.  The list will be alphabetical, and I’ll just keep adding to it as I use more references. None of it is required reading (although much of it is very interesting); it’s just a list of a few of the works that have informed my thinking on the subject of relationships.
 
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming!
 
I ended my last post on a somewhat provocative note, asking, “Do we still marry for dynastic reasons?” At first glance, it might seem a silly question.  These days, how many of us have an actual “dynasty” to consider?  In the traditional sense, perhaps, not many of us, but in the broader sense, many of us do, indeed, consider the future of our family and fortune when it comes time to marry.
 
Of course, back in the day (and I do mean back), the most important dynastic reason for marriage was the production of legitimate heirs – those who would, one day, inherit the actual dynasty.  Historically, any family who owned property or other considerable assets had a vested interest in making sure their children “made a good marriage” (by financial measures, not emotional ones). It’s also important to bear in mind that, for much of history – in fact, well into the 20 century – the status of women was very different from the way it is today.  Until recently, women were not permitted to vote, own property, testify in court, or sign a contract (among numerous other things).  Before modern times (and even in some places today), a woman was basically her father’s property until she became the property of her husband; even today, a bride is walked down the aisle and “given away” in marriage.
 
Don’t worry; I’m not about to jump up on my soapbox about women’s rights!  I just want to acknowledge that the history of marriage – and of the rights of women and children – has left a significant mark upon our current idea of marriage.  What we expect marriage to be, what we think it should be, and what we unwittingly keep making it, is partly a legacy of what it has been in the past.
 
But with one in two U.S. marriages ending in divorce and infidelity affecting an estimated 40% of allegedly monogamous couples,marriage has hit a pretty bad patch. What, then, is the solution?  Do we throw up our hands, declare marriage a “bad deal,” and give up?  Do we try to turn the clock back to…when?  Exactly when was it that marriage was really working for everyone involved?
 
Many people idealize the 1950s, thinking that “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Father Knows Best” had it right. Mom at home, Dad at work, and the kids in school, seems like a picture of domestic bliss.  But that’s what it was – a picture – and it wasn’t even a particularly accurate picture.  It was a picture of actors portraying roles. They acted their parts.  It’s easy to make everything turn out well in 30 minutes when everyone knows their lines. But let’s not kid ourselves.  Jane Wyatt was a working actor.  She may have had children of her own off the set, but she was bringing home a paycheck.  Not exactly traditional.
 
These days, we want marriage to provide some of the traditional benefits – like stability, companionship and children – but we also want emotional support, sexual satisfaction, and emotional intimacy.  In short, we want our spouse to be our “best friend” (with benefits!).  But that’s not what traditional marriage has been about.  Traditionally, marriage has been more about what you do rather than who you are.  Next week, I’ll talk more about that, and about how we can improve our marriages by improving ourselves.

__________________________________

Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts    of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from http://www.facts.randomhistory.com on October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage


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