Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sustainable Marriages

One of the most-emailed articles this week over at The New York Times is titled The Happy Marriage is the 'Me' Marriage.

"For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself," the article says, "But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting." It goes on to describe the findings from a study about "how individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experiences...Research shows that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship."

Nice idea, but the way the article is written makes it seem like either you grow personally because of your spouse or you practice some degree of self-sacrifice. Either your spouse is introducing you to new people and ideas and that makes you happy or you're primarily in it for the economics or kids or because your religion says marriage is permanent.

Is this really an either/or thing? I mean, what about a situation in which your spouse becomes horribly ill and you have to live out that 'in sickness and in health' clause? There's an awful lot of self-expansion that occurs by being forced into a situation you don't like, and in learning how to love someone who can no longer do what he used to.

Or what about learning how to parent a difficult child? There's plenty of knowledge and experience couples gain that way. It just happens to be info that wasn't on your personal want-to-know list. You may end up a better person because of it, though. And if you figure out how to do it together, that can be a major plus for the relationship.

My guess is that the research study was designed to isolate the effect of the 'self-expansion' factor within marriages, because that's what studies usually do: study one factor at a time. Of course 'self-expansion' has a positive effect on the sustainability and happiness of a marriage. But it's probably only one of at least 20 major factors, the most important of which may be an openness to learning and growing in all kinds of situations -- not just the ones that are fun and intellectually stimulating.

(Posted with apologies to my husband, who took the stupid quiz linked in the Times article at my request.)

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