Here’s an inside look at what makes marriage both incredibly challenging, and, potentially, the most enriching experience of a lifetime.
(This is a re-posting of one of our Golden Oldies)
Dave: Amy Begel, my guide and traveling companion in the Blogosphere, has posted some important and graceful thoughts about affairs in relation to marriage. There are what we call “affairs” , suggesting a psycho-socialsexual relationship, somehow different from dating. Dating is out in the open, suggesting an audition for a more permanent relationship. Affairs are private, surreptitious.
But then there is an affair in relation to a marriage, an extra-marital affair. Affairs are a Marital Stress Test, a covert evaluation of the marriage which bring out flaws in the marriage. Sometimes affairs lead to rejuvenation from honesty about dissatisfaction as in Amy’s “Affair Repair”. Affairs can lead to renegotiation of the marital contract. Or in other cases the stress test reveals a dead relationship, a relationship paralyzed by stability, “An Affair Without ‘Repair’”.
Amy wanted our blog to be for people, non-professionals. I am more accustomed to “academic” writing for therapists, developing ideas that help therapists be better therapists. Amy encouraged me to join her in the blog reminding me that sometimes therapists aren’t that different from actual people. In this case, I started out to comment on her postings about affairs, but that led to a bigger picture reflection on marriage; I will get back to affairs another time.
These are some sketches, collage-like thoughts about marriage, that invisible and infinitely complex relationship, which is so implicitly important to the health of the partners, the family and to individual family members, especially the children. The marriage is a member of the bigger family, in fact the marriage is the extension of two families united by this relationship. Marriage is a war between two families. Each family sends out a scapegoat. They unite then the battle is to see which family will be recreated in the next generation. Will the family of the present generation be like his crazy family or like her crazy family? All the relationships around the marriage have an impact on the marriage.
Marriage is a model for intimacy between adult peers in our culture. It is a whole-person-to-whole-person relationship grounded in a lifetime commitment which includes and is enriched by physical sexuality. A relationship between peers is unstable. Stability can be increased with increased interpersonal distance or by putting a generation gap in the relationship. Example; the mother of two children says she has three children, including her husband in the count. Her comment can be symptom of immaturity in either member of the relationship. Either he has converted her into the mother, or she has converted him into her little boy. It is most likely a mutual effort.
Marriage begins as a psychosocial relationship; it becomes a more profound biopsychosocial relationship when children arrive.
James Carse wrote, Finite and Infinite Games. We know the most about finite games (baseball, chess, basketball, poker). Finite games have rules and boundaries, a winner and a loser. The rules are not changeable. If you change the rules you change the nature of the game. Infinite Games are different. The object of an infinite game is to keep the game going, and the rules are changed to keep it going. There are neither winners nor losers. Marriage (along with Life) is an infinite game. Marital therapy helps to figure out what the rules are and how to go about changing them.
My old friend Carl Whitaker, in his playful way said, “Marriage is a contest between two people to see who can drive the other crazy first. The score is always tied.” Marriage is a complex relationship process, which gives us access to more of ourselves, but it also carries the risk of losing ourselves.
Marriage choice is very specific, though unconscious, even in the case of love at first sight. Our unconscious is like a computer that picks partners who have what we lack, who are adequate where we are inadequate.
Marriage is an endless dialectic between the security of ‘We’ and the excitement and freedom of ‘I’. The healthy, alive marriage is an endless tension/movement between the two conditions. The dialectic says the two components are linked, each helps define the other. And the tension helps fuel the resulting experience. For example, in a healthy or ‘alive’ marriage the dialectic of We and I evolves toward the security of I and the excitement and freedom of We. This is amazing, wondrous; belonging increases freedom.