Victor Bloom MD
Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage? Not necessarily. There's lots of love that doesn't end up in marriage. Love occurs before marriage and outside of the marriage bond. It is well known that since the 60's, half of all marriages end in divorce. And roughly 60% of all second marriages don't last. Lots has been written and discussed about this trend, which is considered unfortunate by most. In some cases, however, love has been found to be better, the second time around.
Psychotherapists, marriage counselors and pastoral counselors have been trying to understand the phenomenon of 'failed' marriages and 'broken' homes and have gained much experience working with troubled couples. There is a growing consensus on that a good, stable and enduring marriage occurs when a couple is well-suited, well matched, compatible, with similar backgrounds and beliefs. They are first and foremost good friends, which is the prerequisite to being good lovers and good parents. They are comfortable with closeness, affection and intimacy. They can also be separate persons, inter-dependent instead of 'co-dependent.'
Good marriage partners are good at conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships and communication. They are sensitive to each other's feelings and needs, considering the other's feelings and needs on a par with their own. Basically, they are kind and considerate to each other, fostering each other's growth and feelings of security and belonging. The spouse is the most important person in the world. When there are children, the man has great love for the mother of his children, and the woman has great love for the father of her children. Parenting becomes the highest priority and shared responsibility for parenting is a strong and growing bond. Still, they respect the other person's interests and involvements outside the immediate family.
Good partners understand that everyone comes into a marriage with 'baggage.' This baggage consists of idiosyncratic quirks from the past, and a whole host of friends and relatives, some of which are regarded as obnoxious and boring, while others are truly positive additions to the new family. In-laws must get used to each other or stay away from each other as a whole new family structure evolves.
Optimally, despite everyday problems and misunderstandings, even to the point of feeling alone and unloved at times, the romantic couple put problems and differences aside and enjoy intimate conjugal relations. The pleasures of sex are often a counterbalance to the slings and arrows of the pains and frustrations of everyday life. The romantic couple experience heights of rapture, ecstasy and bliss in each other's arms, a feeling that makes life seem not only worthwhile, but enjoyable. Such happily married people are upbeat, good-humored, outgoing and warmhearted. They are naturally generous because their emotional cups runneth over. They often are the envy of others.
For many reasons, such ideal marriages are rare. Even in enduring marriages, the love, affection and romance are commonly lost as time goes by. As the old lady carrying groceries in Woody Allen's classic "Annie Hall," said to the distraught lover who has just been rejected by Diane Keaton, "love fades!." Love fades? Horrors. It is truly horrible when love fades, and the great writers have said over and over again in great literature, nothing is so painful as a loveless marriage. Anger, frustration and depression abound. Life seems not worth living. It is a living hell from which there seems to be no respite. Marriage vows become insignificant and forgotten. Such people may be resigned to a painful existence or seek consolation elsewhere.
If love is found elsewhere, there are extramarital affairs, some of which lead to divorce, while most do not. Affairs are symptomatic of a sick marriage. Sick marriages may go from bad to worse or respond to professional counseling. Psychotherapists and counselors may help a troubled couple understand the basis of their pain, which may come from genuine incompatibility or from emotional conditions which are amenable to medication and/or psychotherapy. Open and honest discussion of problems with a professional helps the couple understand the roots of their difficulties, so that with insight, adjustments can be made to each other which make married life more livable. Oftentimes the improved relationship means that separation and divorce can be avoided. Divorce can be a very painful process, especially on the children.
Sometimes marital therapy becomes divorce therapy, and the counselor may be able to help the couple accomplish a compatible divorce, even though they did not have a compatible marriage. A compatible divorce is one in which reason, fairness and practicality win out over impulses to inflict pain and be destructive. There are divorce lawyers who have a reputation for seeking a fair division of assets and mutually acceptable provisions for child custody and visitation. These should be sought out, rather than divorce lawyers known to want to fight it out in court. Bitter and extended court battles are very painful and destructive, especially to the children. And they are very expensive, usually much more expensive than psychological counseling.
Dr Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and on the editorial board of the Wayne County Medical Society. He welcomes comments at his email address--- email@example.com.