As a marriage and family therapist it was hard to miss Alain de Botton’s New York Times’ article “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” In session couples mentioned the article, some with horror and some with relief. “If I’m with the wrong person what is the point of working on this relationship?” Or, “I knew something was wrong here (in this relationship), this proves it.” I assured the couples that while I thought that the articles had some good points I did not have such a negative view of the whole institution of marriage. This post is inspired by those conversations with those couples.
Give marriage a break.
Marriage has gone through a tremendous amount of change. The author gives some useful perspective on the recent history. He highlights that we have moved from marriages based on financial contracts and helpful alliances to marriages based on a really amazing feeling. How could a shift of that magnitude not come without its challenges? I agree that the basis for current long term relationships, the desire to keep that amazing feeling going, needs some reassessment, but I don’t think love is doomed.
We do long for the familiar
We choose partners based on the familiar. De Botton makes the point that we marry the familiar because we believe the familiar makes us happy. Though he doesn’t reference the Imago theory to which he is referring that believes that we partner with people who remind us of our primary caregivers, both in positive and negative ways. De Botton sees this as a doomed prospect- marrying someone who reminds us of our dysfunctional family members. If we stopped there the situation would be pretty depressing, but that is only the beginning of the story. Life is a journey. We are always growing and changing. Marriage should be a journey as well. The mistake many of us make is believing that the person standing next to us at the altar will remain as we see them now.
It can be work, but what isn’t?
Instead of looking for a partner that shares our love of design or our passion for a certain band, we are better off to look for someone who is committed to growing in spiritual depth, emotional maturity and continues to search for personal meaning. Many challenges can be conquered when two dynamic people committed to growth are honest with one another about what they need. Imago theory holds that we search out the familiar people because we have a deep longing to go back to that original relationship conflict and to do it differently. That familiar person, committed to loving through honesty and growing together, can be a tremendously wonderful and healing gift.
Who said that it all works out without some effort
The dire picture the article paints is the reality of many marriages. We have been sold a bill of goods that once we select the right person we are set. Few of us want to be in the exact same relationship for the next forty years. If our partner is static, personally and within the relationship, we become disinterested and all that remains is the bureaucratic work of bills, chores and retirement plans. Long term relationships have the potential to be so much more. If you are interested in finding out if that more is possible for you and your partner, contact us!