How to Make the Magic Last_
If you had to sum up our modern culture in a single word, "disposable" would come pretty close. Every day we encounter more and more material objects that linger only momentarily in our hands on their swift journey from the distributor to the incinerator. Lately, there are indications that the "use once and discard" doctrine is spreading even to human relationships. In 1974, for example, there were 2,223,000 marriages in the United Stales and 970,000 divorces. In California, that social frontier, there were 159,386 marriages and 121, 944 divorces.
These sensational statistics don't mean that Americans are turning their hacks on marriage. But they do indicate that the philosophy of "disposability" has spread into the marriage game - that more men and women are willing to consign their spouses to the same fate as the pop-top beer can. And this raises some problems.
Divorce, in a sense, is like a shoot-out between Siamese twins-no matter what happens, both parties become casualties. The same two people who once clung together in the middle of the night turn into legal assassins, hacking their marriage to death. It doesn't have to be that way. Some marriages, of course, are disasters from the beginning. In such cases, the only thing more destructive than getting a divorce is not getting a divorce. But assume the usual case-two intelligent people in love, who go into marriage with their eyes half-closed and their expectations wide-open. A number of major obstacles stand between them and happiness. Here are six of the most common ones:
Forgetting who's who. A strange paradox makes the first months of marriage especially traumatic. While husband and wife may have spent years as independent, single people, they now find themselves forced into a childlike, dependent role they thought they had escaped forever. The new husband, for example, may once again find himself depending on a woman to cook his favorite dishes, wake him in the morning, minister to him when he has a cold. And his wife is even more sensitive about complaints than his mother:
"I couldn't believe it, Doctor. Just because I suggested that Janet take some cooking lessons, she dumped the dinner down the sink and locked herself in the bathroom. I mean, my mother never did that." Or this from the new wife: "Doctor, the thing about being married that annoys me the most is having to ask Jim for housekeeping money. It's like being back with my father again. I even get this little-girl voice."
There's no denying there are similarities between husband-wife and parent-child relationships, but part of the winning strategy in marriage is to emphasize the positive similarities and obliterate the negative ones. Love and affection, unselfishness and generosity, make sense. A domineering, overbearing approach is the kind of nostalgic touch any marriage is better off without.
Expecting too much. A great myth in our culture is that marriage is a solution. On the contrary, marriage simply exchanges old problems for new challenges. The only possible gain is a chance for lasting happiness.
Beth expresses the dilemma this way: "For me, Doctor, marriage was like the story of Cinderella read backward. On the day of my wedding, there I was in this fantastic silk gown with a lovely bouquet of orchids. Ten days later I was up at 6 a.m., trying to get my prince and me off to our jobs."
What's the answer to the problem? More than anything else it's not to expect too much. Everything has its price-and the price of a lasting marriage is high although not necessarily exorbitant. It's a matter of trade-offs: total personal freedom for mutual strength; sexual freedom for sexual security; independence for interdependence; disposable income for emotional satisfaction.
Of course, that's not the whole story. A lasting marriage has intangible gratifications that defy description. A man who is unsure of himself can find limitless support in the arms of his wife. A woman can find full expression of her talents and her womanhood with the encouragement and cooperation of her husband.
Echoing Mom and Dad. The best marriages are restricted to two people: husband and wife. Yet, from the wedding day onward, there are usually four other individuals who try to join the marriage-at least by proxy. It works like this: during childhood, Mother (and to a lesser extent Father) is frequently at the child's side, advising, correcting, instructing and interpreting life situations. When the child finally becomes an adult, he or she has accumulated an abundant supply of parental attitudes and responses. At life's most trying moments, these memories and associations can surface and dominate the behavior of each partner.
"Don't bother mailing fancy dishes for him," comes the echo of Mama's voice. "All he needs is something to wipe the ketchup off his plate with." Or this from Dad: "Just tell her once and for all-no more panties and bras hanging over the bathtub."
The obvious solution to this problem is to invoke that little clause in the marriage contract that says, "... forsaking all others" - including mother, father, and all manifestations thereof.
The question of equality. Equality in marriage is a fine theory, but difficult to translate into reality - and the basic problem here is the "natural" defensiveness of men. Rather than accept the logical partnership that can evolve in marriage, too many men seek to establish an impossible masculine ideal. In the process, to compensate for what they perceive to be personal shortcomings, they become domineering, supercilious and condescending. A whole mythology has been developed, through endless jokes and cartoons, about women who crumple fenders, burn dinners, can't balance the checkbook and spend all their time playing bridge with the girls. There are, unfortunately, no cartoons or jokes featuring the women who don't do these things, but who hold down full-time jobs, create gourmet meals and, when the day is over, become provocative companions.
The solution to this problem is simple: men must learn to relax and enjoy the many talents of their wives.
Testifying for the prosecution. The one characteristic above all others that distinguishes marriages that last from those that don't is the willingness of husband and wife to testify on each other's behalf. Regrettably, we live in a world where every individual is constantly barraged by internal and external accusations belittling his worth as a human being. The only effective way to counter these reproaches is to find someone who will assure you - and everyone else who is listening-that you are competent, that he or she does like you and, no matter what happens, is on your team. If husband and wife can depend on one another to testify on each other's behalf, nothing really bad can happen to them. On the other hand, the man or woman whose partner eagerly testifies against him or her will soon be looking for a replacement.
Past comparisons. When either husband or wife continues to judge the marriage relationship by the same yardstick he or she used at the beginning of the marriage, trouble is inevitable. Very few women are as attractive, ill the same way, at 40 as they were at 25. Few men, after sharing the same bedroom, bathroom and dining room with their wives for years or even decades, can continue to fascinate as intensely as some idealized dream companion. But remember, too, that many changes in a marriage are for the better; as each year goes by, husband and wife can become more attuned and responsive to each other's needs. It is unrealistic, and often undesirable, to expect any relationship remain immutable indefinitely.
A good marriage offers a man and woman the best of everything: a steadfast ally against the world, a gracious and charming companion, sexual satisfaction, and a partner in the dazzling miracle of creating new human beings. Obviously, not every marriage can achieve all these things. But nearly every marriage provides the chance for a man and woman to grow closer and more loving with each passing year, and to find in one another the fulfillment of every human need.
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