Marriage a laissez-faire affair

Our families usually set the example regarding marriage. Fortunately for some, a good example was set and for others, less fortunate, a bad example was set.

What would a good marriage look like? More intimacy? More good sex? More laughter? Fewer fights? More conversation? More stability?More commitment? Better communication?

What would a bad marriage look like? The opposite?

A certainty is that marriage doesn’t begin at the altar. Rather, it is a process of small and large moments. Such moments either break the union or, through endurance, allow it to evolve into a marriage.

Another certainty is that even in good marriages there are things that drive each other crazy.

A third certainty is that most of us don’t apply ourselves to our marriage the way we apply ourselves to being a friend, a student, a parent, a professional….We rather espouse a nonchalant attitude to our most central relationship. It seems like we leave it to chance.

So it’s not surprising to see in my couples-counseling practice disenchanted individuals, desperately longing for happiness – either through recapturing it with each other, or by wanting to split up, in the hope of eventually capturing it with someone else.

The average couple that show up in my office have been unhappy for a while..As a matter of fact, research shows that partners in the average couple have been discontent in their marriage for six years before attending therapy. And I usually think: Why did you wait so long?

The enormity of a therapist’s job when working with couples who have left their marital symbiosis to chance resembles that of a bone fracture that was allowed to set improperly. Writer Elizabeth Weil, borrowing from the anthology “Science of Clinical Psychology”, describes a therapist in such cases as being “ less like an emergency-room physician who is called upon to set a fracture that happened a few hours ago and more like a general practitioner who is asked to treat a patient who broke his or her leg several months ago and then continued to hobble around on it”. As she notes “ We have to attend not only to the broken bone but also the swelling and bruising, the sore hip and foot and the infection that ensued.”

So, back to my original question: “What is a good marriage”?

My experience has led me to conclude that marriage is a vehicle through which two people consciously commit to allow each other, separately and in unison, the capacity to keep growing and afford each other the strength to face the challenges of a precarious world.