Marriage is not a compromise by Louise Brosnan

22 05 2016

Marriage is not a compromise

Thirty-five? Or worse, 40, and unmarried? Should a girl give up on romance and settle for someone who will take out the trash?

What does a single woman in her thirties want more than a better career, a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment? According to American writer Lori Gottlieb she wants to get married and have a family. Yes, married. And that is from a liberated gal who is in a position to know. Ms Gottlieb, well known for her humorous commentary on singlehood and dating, has reached 40 with a young son conceived by donor insemination, and in a more serious mood. In an essay in this month’s Atlantic magazine she urges younger women to temper their romantic notions of marriage with a large dose of realism, to forget about Mr Right and “settle” for Mr Good Enough. Because, as she puts it, “if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”

“Infrastructure.” Hmmm… But I recognise the problem she is talking about. I was a partner in a large professional services firm with a successful career and a substantial salary. I had always wanted to get married and have children but for a variety of reasons I did not meet my husband until I was 36 and then marry when 37. I am now 43 with two boys aged three and five and another child due in May. However, I reached this happy state not by “settling” for a partnership without the warmth of true love, as Ms Gottlieb advises, but by growing into an understanding of what love truly is.

For many women who marry late, I suspect that, like me, it is not a case of settling for Mr Not Quite Right, but of taking time to reach the point of understanding what true love and marriage is.

False romanticism is certainly a problem. In the days before the contraceptive pill, people used to grow out of it by facing up to the fact that sex, marriage and the responsibility of providing for children all went together. Ms Gottlieb and I grew up in an era when separating them was considered liberation, and putting them together again piecemeal by single parenthood and cohabitation was considered a legitimate choice. Delaying the commitment of marriage — a trend that shows no sign of slowing down — prolongs adolescent hopes of finding a “soul mate” with whom one will have an intense emotional and sexual bond. This has become the primary meaning of marriage. Children are then desired to perfect the happiness of the couple.

There is some truth in these ideals, of course, but they have lost their proper relationship and in the process have made marriage increasingly difficult to achieve. This is much more of a problem for women than for men, since women live in shadow of their biological deadline for having children — something most are unwilling to do without the benefit of marriage. Given that nearly a quarter of women in the United States are unmarried by age 34, Ms Gottlieb is addressing a real problem. But her solution — a team-mate who “takes out the trash, sets up the baby gear, and … provides a second income” — is tragic. It reduces marriage to mere pragmatism and the single life to one with no positive potential. It completely misses what I believe is the real answer to today’s marriage dilemma.

For many years I was like most young women and had an immature understanding of marriage and all that it entails. I was (and still am) a romantic and thought that marriage would be a surreal experience where I was madly attached to my husband and would of course be the centre of his universe. Over time I realized that this was an extremely self-centred way of looking at a friendship which would be the cornerstone of marriage. I began to understand that a relationship of this kind needs to take place on different levels.

Love is a single reality with different dimensions that are needed or emerge at different times. One dimension is necessary to attract a person to another, but this becomes less necessary over time and especially as one matures. This is eros, or the “madness” that intoxicates, displaces reason and drives a person powerfully toward another. It is the central theme for movie romances and modern sitcoms.

But for all its thrills, this dimension is not enough. In fact, on its own it becomes an obstacle to the maturing of the relationship. We see this played out all the time. Love is reduced to its caricature, to the amount of gratification that each can take from it. Bartering begins: “I’ll do this if you do that.” “I will stay with you as long as the sparks last.” “If you love me you will let me do what I want.” “I won’t have children with you until I have had my career and spent my youth.” “You can have children but I am not going to let this cramp my style”. “I will absorb all you can give to me, your good humour, good looks, money, sensuality but I am not prepared to give you anything back.” It destroys the relationship or at worst leaves spouses in a permanent adolescent-style union.

The other dimension is the reaching out of one person to the other. It is a love that is, indeed, ecstasy — not a momentary sensual intoxication but an exodus out of oneself, seeking liberation through giving oneself to the other. It is a journey toward authentic self discovery and happiness. This is played out in different ways: the sharing of hopes, dreams, values, desires, sorrows and disappointments, successes and failures, laughter and tears, and of our sexuality by pleasure giving and childbearing.

I learned through a long process of maturing that I almost always ignored the second dimension when I thought of marriage and assessed a prospective spouse. Although the example is superficial, it was like shopping for a Ferrari when what I really needed was a Bentley. One would soon lose its appeal, especially as I aged and found the rough ride of a sports car uncomfortable in certain weather and on some roads; the other would prove exciting and durable under any conditions, have plenty of room for others and fit any environment.

I learned that when the two dimensions of love are combined — the thrill of eros and disinterested self giving, in measures that move like waves over time and vary in intensity with the maturity of the individuals — love achieves its true grandeur.

For many women who marry late, I suspect that, like me, it is not a case of settling for Mr Not Quite Right, but of taking time to reach the point of understanding what true love and marriage is. In the process, many will have made choices that affect their situation — some good, some bad, some indifferent — and these choices will affect other decisions that a woman can make as she ages. Nor should we forget that the single life is not necessarily a choice between loneliness and endless dating, but can be embraced as a lifestyle with its own unique opportunities for love and service.

In my case, having reached a deeper understanding of love and marriage I actually started looking for an entirely different, and in all ways far better, spouse. For others this may mean rekindling relationships with those they previously dismissed, for others it means looking for different things in a man. For single mothers it may mean looking more intently for the second dimension (even if it is made more difficult by the demands of motherhood). For some who have already married it may be a time of lamentation: “If only I had known what true love is.” For most it is seeking what always was authentically best.

Lori Gottlieb has been honest in admitting that most women still want “a traditional family” and that the current obsession with soul mates gets in the way of realising this goal. But in her desperation to get there anyway she is willing to sacrifice the very bedrock of marriage, which is true love between the spouses. The result, in her case, would not be a traditional family at all but, in her own language, a completed “construction”.

If only she had been brave enough to inquire into the nature of true love and not dismiss it in a throwaway line (“whatever that is”) she might have done her sisters a real service. Instead, she has tried to persuade us that love can be put in brackets while we persist in our twentieth century habit of getting what we want. Perhaps few people will be swayed by her argument; certainly, no-one will be helped.

I momentarily stress each time I think of the mistakes I could have made in choosing a spouse with my earlier immature understanding of love and marriage. Instead I psychologically pinch myself each time I think of my husband and how much I truly love him and, with our children, of how perfect we are for one another.

Recovering Matrimonial love By John & Joann Ooi

16 05 2016

John and Joan

They say, love is blind. Marriage is the eye-opener.
What do you do when you don’t like what you now see?

The eye-opening may take place soon after marriage, when the heady emotions have subsided. Or with ‘distractions’ such as focusing on career or raising the children, it may come many years later.


When you don’t like what you see, it is timely to rediscover some old truths. And what are these?

We were created by God for a purpose, to share the joy and happiness of Heaven with Him eternally. This means that in our journey through life, we are invited to love God more each day and thus grow in holiness. For those of us called to the vocation of marriage, this love of God is expressed primarily through our spouse and family.Click to continue reading

The Definition of a Gentleman by Newman

15 05 2016


Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.

He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself.

His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature; like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast — all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at his ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring.

He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort; he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp saying for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.

If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candor, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits.

If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honors the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. He is a friend of religious toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to look on all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness and effeminacy of feeling, which is the attendant on civilization.



Marriage is in trouble by Carolyn Moynihan

3 06 2015

marriage in trouble

Marriage is in trouble, and it’s not all down to the campaign to extend it to same-sex couples. It was floundering before anyone mentioned gay marriage, and continues, in the richer countries, on a path that many see as a decline. Divorce, cohabitation, single motherhood, all undermine the most basic institution of society, one still regarded by the majority of people as integral to their long-term happiness.

Not everyone takes a pessimistic view of these trends. Some scholars say marriage is not dying, just changing, although they admit that the process of change is hard on a lot of people – children who live in poverty, for example, and unemployed, unmarriageable men. They find it harder to agree, though, about what marriage is changing into. Two recent scholarly articles come to completely different conclusions about the new version of matrimony that is emerging.

A highly sensitive couple, but where are the kids?

Psychologist Eli J Finkel writes in the New York Times about the evolution of marriage from an institution focused on meeting basic physical needs (food, shelter, protection from violence), through a companionate phase in which couples increasingly sought to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs, to a self-expressive model in which today’s couples “view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfilment.”

This “historical ascent” of marriage fits well with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, says Finkel, a fact which seems to reassure him that the change has been for the better. Indeed, research indicates that such marriages can bring greater happiness than married people have ever enjoyed before. There is just one catch: the couple have to be able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership.

So much time and energy, in fact, that there seems little or none left for children. These central characters in the marriage drama are heard only off-stage in Finkel’s account of the ideal marriage: once, when he talks about people in the average marriage today not having enough time for themselves, and once when he mentions childcare. In his potted history of marriage, they are mentioned not at all.

Not one child peeps from behind the skirts of his institutionally married or companionable mother, let alone his self-actualised one. Extraordinary.

There is no doubt a lot of truth in Finkel’s scheme, but by leaving out the reason why most people throughout history actually got married – to achieve the stability in their relationship need to raise children – it omits the only thing that makes marriage a public issue at all. Let couples have whatever kind of relationship they like; if there are no kids, why should we care?

High-investment parenting is HIP, if you like juggling

But there are kids, according to Richard V Reeves, writing in The Atlantic about “How to Save Marriage in America”. Therefore we should care, because children need the committed parenting that marriage typically provides and yet so many of them today lack. The good news is that such parenting is flourishing today, he says, in the type of marriage which is being forged by college graduates, a version which is, above all, child-centred.

There are two surprising things here. First, that it’s upper middle class liberals who are getting married (while those lower down the social scale increasingly default) and second, that their marriages are so focused on children. One would have thought they were prime candidates for Finkel’s voyage-of-self-discovery model, but no, they are going gangbusters on raising their children.

Reeves, who is the policy director for the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, has a sociological perspective on this issue, which perhaps partly explains why he looks at the same society as Finkel the psychologist and sees such a different model of marriage as the hope of the future. He calls it the high investment parenting – or HIP – marriage, and explains it as follows:

“The central rationale for these marriages is to raise children together, in a settled, nurturing environment. So, well-educated Americans are ensuring that they are financially stable before having children, by delaying childrearing. They are also putting their relationship on a sound footing too – they’re not in the business of love at first sight, rushing to the altar, or eloping to Vegas. College graduates take their time to select a partner; and then, once the marriage is a couple of years old, take the final step and become parents. Money, marriage, maternity: in that order.”

Like Finkel, he compares this model with two others: the traditional male breadwinner/dependent wife model (combining features of Finkel’s institutional and companionate phases) and the romantic model focused on spousal intimacy and self-actualisation, which sounds pretty much like Finkel’s new model. Reeves dismisses the traditional one as doomed and the romantic (“cohabitation with a cake”) as “not ideal” for raising children – although he points out that his newly married college grads can enjoy the benefits of a romantic marriage in the couple of years they wait before having children.

After the commitment to intensive parenting, says Reeves, the most important feature of modern marriage is the financial independence of the woman and the egalitarian character of the couple’s domestic arrangements. If the mother takes time out to do more parenting these marriages may appear traditional for a while, but they are not. In general, husband and wife will share the roles of both “child-raiser and money-maker.” They will become experts in juggling, as well as parenting.

What if most people prefer something else again?

Again, there’s a lot of truth in Reeve’s picture of society’s most basic institution. The big question that confronts both him and Finkel, however, is how their favoured model of marriage can be made accessible to the poor-to-middling folks who are increasingly missing out on the benefits of marriage for themselves and their children. Do these models even appeal to ordinary people?

Finkel’s soul-mate option seems unlikely to catch on. While it’s true that husbands and wives need (more) time with each other – weekly date nights do seem to increase marital happiness – most people want to have children and most also find personal fulfilment in parenting, despite the hard work it often is. The time and energy investment in the couple relationship Finkel talks about would be out of the question for hands-on parents, while the ideal itself may not even be very appealing.

Reeves HIP marriage, with its conservative approach to parenting and liberal approach to role sharing, seems a more serious contender as a popular model, but even that has features that are unlikely to travel much beyond the households of the upper middle class.

Reeves thinks marriage is not working for downscale Americans because the men, if not the women, are stuck in the old traditional male role of breadwinner, without the jobs to sustain it. But what if they simply don’t like the idea of a household where, to use Reeves’ description, “There will be lots of juggling, trading and negotiating: “‘I’ll do the morning if you can get home in time to take Zach to baseball,’” sort of thing? If that’s the only way to have a successful marriage today the average person might understandably give it a miss.

University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox, another family scholar, points out that, in fact, real modern families tend towards a neo-traditional model that retains much of the old role differences between husband and wife, simply because they prefer it:

Though a large minority of couples are following an egalitarian model, for the majority of married families with children, family life is organized along neo-traditional lines, and has been since the 1990s, when the gender revolution stalled out in married families. It’s new in the sense that today’s married dads do a lot more child care and housework than dads of the 1950s, and that most married moms are working in the paid labor force. But it’s “traditional” in the sense that most husbands take the lead when it comes to breadwinning, and most wives take the lead when it comes to childrearing.

Because there is a diversity of preferences, says Wilcox, “public policies and cultural norms related to work and family should be geared to maximum flexibility … and toward renewing the employment opportunities of poor and working class men who have become less ‘marriageable’ in recent years.” Not everyone will fit the same mould.

To come back to the children…

There is one more important question about the new models of marriage proposed by Finkel and Reeves: are they capable of sustaining a healthy birth rate? It is difficult to see how self-actualising marriages could produce an average of two children given the heavy demand for couple time. But even the new HIP model may struggle to achieve replacement fertility, despite its focus on parenting.

According to the Pew Research Centre, by the end of their childbearing years, women with a bachelor’s degree have an average of 1.7 children, compared with an average of 2.5 children amongst women without even a high school diploma.

This is not an argument against the education of women, which is increasing all the time, but it does indicate something about a model of marriage which involves delaying the step until at least one’s late 20s, then a further delay before childbearing, a more or less equal division of home and market work, and a style of parenting which demands an exhausting (and expensive) round of school and extra-curricular activities.

How many children will a couple have under those conditions? Perhaps not much more than the self-absorbed couples at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. If we want to save marriage for its basic function of generating and socialising new citizens, we will need other models than those.

Did I Marry the Right Person? Denyse O’Leary

1 06 2015

Unhappy woman lying in couch

A woman asked a common question. She said, “How do I know if I married the right person?” I noticed that there was a large man sitting next to her so I said, “It depends, is that your husband?” In all seriousness, she answered, “How did you know?”

Let me answer this question because the chances are good that it is weighing on your mind. Here is the answer.

Every relationship has a cycle. In the beginning, you fell in love with your spouse. You anticipated their call, wanted their touch, and liked their idiosyncrasies.

Falling in love with your spouse was not hard. In fact, it was a completely natural and spontaneous experience. You did not have to do anything. That’s why it’s called “falling” in love . . . because it’s happening to you.

People in love sometimes say, “I was swept off my feet.” Think about the imagery of that expression. It implies that you were just standing there; doing nothing, and then something came along and happened to you.

Falling in love is easy. It’s a passive and spontaneous experience. But after a few years of marriage, the euphoria of love fades. It’s the natural cycle of every relationship. Slowly but surely, phone calls become a bother (if they come at all), touch is not always welcome (when it happens), and your spouse idiosyncrasies, instead of being cute, drive you nuts!

The symptoms of this stage vary with every relationship, but if you think about your marriage, you will notice a dramatic difference between the initial stage when you were in love and a much duller or even angry subsequent stage.

At this point, you and/or your spouse might start asking, “Did I marry the right person?” And as you and your spouse reflect on the euphoria of the love you once had, you may begin to desire that experience with someone else. That is when marriages break down. People blame their spouse for their unhappiness and look outside their marriage for fulfillment.

Extramarital fulfillment comes in all shapes and sizes. Infidelity is the most obvious. But sometimes people turn to work, church, a hobby, a friendship, excessive T.V., or abusive substances. But the answer to this dilemma does NOT lie outside your marriage. It lies within it.

I’m not saying that you could not fall in love with someone else. You could. And temporarily, you’d feel better. But you would be in the same situation a few years later. Because (listen carefully to this): THE KEY TO SUCCEEDING IN MARRIAGE IS NOT FINDING THE RIGHT PERSON; IT’S LEARNING TO LOVE THE PERSON YOU FOUND.

Sustaining love is not a passive or spontaneous experience. It will NEVER just happen to you. You cannot “find” lasting love. You have to “make” it day in and day out. That’s why we have the expression – “labor of love.” Because it takes time, effort, and energy. And most importantly, it takes wisdom. You have to know what to do to make your marriage work.

Make no mistake about it. Love is not a mystery. There are specific things you can do (with or without your spouse) to succeed with your marriage. Just as there are physical laws of the universe (such as gravity), there are also laws of relationships. Just as the right diet and exercise program makes you physically stronger, certain habits in your relationship will make your marriage stronger. It’s a direct cause and effect. If you know and apply the laws, the results are predictable . . . you can “make” love.

Love in marriage is indeed a “decision” . . . not just a feeling.

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