Once upon a time when one heard the phrase “They got married and …” an internal cue would prompt the words “they lived happily ever after.” But those associations took place when we were younger and the memory of Cinderella and other fairy tales still endured in our minds. Nowadays, many of us are more knowledgeable about the complications of marriage, and our thought might be a more sophisticated “their problems first began.”
With first-time marriages, the problems might be power struggles over who makes the decisions, how much time partners spend with (or without) each other, different needs for: a) closeness and companionship; b) free expression of feelings towards each other; c) expression of emotional needs from each other; d) sharing information about each person’s day; e) expression and fulfillment of emotional needs; and f) whether or not they make their spouse their No. 1 priority.
Other areas of conflict might include money, respect, roles and responsibilities to each other, affection, sex or in-laws. All this, in addition to the frustration that comes with the inevitable (greater or lesser) disillusionment that follows most romantically based marriages. In worst-case scenarios, there is a woeful incompetence in communication so that mutual self-revelation and exploration of one’s partner is lacking and good problem-solving strategies are rarely used. Instead, in too many cases marriage counselors report arguments that turn into fights—with anger, blaming, name-calling, hurt, disappointment and withdrawal—with the result that the original good situation goes from good to bad, and from bad to worse.
Judith Viorst writes in “Grown-up Marriage” as follows: “IT’S SO HARD TO BE MARRIED. It’s so much damn work. There’s so much: Choose one or more or all of the following—pain, rage, disillusionment, betrayal, bitterness, sacrifice, loneliness, boredom, contempt, despair, disconnection. This isn’t the person I married, or this isn’t the person I want to be married to now, or I can’t be who I want to be in this relationship. Could I leave you? Should I leave you?”
How do we decide how much blood, sweat and tears we owe to our marriage? Mira Kirschenbaum addresses this problem in her book “Too Good to Leave; Too Bad to Stay.” She calls her book “a step-by-step guide to help you decide whether to stay in or get out of your relationship.”
Are Second Marriages Better?
With second marriages, the phrase “They got married and…” might be followed by such realistic epilogues as (here too, in a worst-case scenario): “her alimony stopped,” “her children resented that she had to go to work,” “they had to move to a new neighborhood, change schools, lose contact with their friends,” etc. Further, “her children resented having to share their mother with her new husband, didn’t like him very much, nor did he seem to like them, nor did they get along with his children from his first marriage.”
Sometimes, previously married spouses fight over loyalties to their own biological children from their first marriage, vs. their loyalty to their spouse’s children from his/her first marriage. They may also fight over time commitments with their original families, or ties with their respective “ex,” or their ex-in-laws, especially at holiday times. With older or more-established couples, disputes may arise over prenuptial agreements, how each spouse’s will is to be written, inheritance of property and other financial matters.
The Sad Epilogue Might Be…
“They were happy for a while because they were very much in love, but they discovered that they couldn’t live with each other for a variety of reasons, not limited to those cited above.” “They came to the sad conclusion that they simply could not juggle all the demands made on them from so many different sources and that getting married was a mistake.” “Nor did each person turn out to be what the other person thought he/she was getting in the first place.”
Sadly, the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than that for first marriages. But with effort, commitment, devotion and proper help, many couples can beat this statistic.
Since people who enter into second marriages are more experienced, both partners may think that they are sophisticated enough to know what they are looking for in a spouse. With the painful experience of their first marriage behind them, and the lessons they have learned about people, they believe that they now know enough about the opposite sex to rely on their judgment and their observations of their prospective spouse so that “what they see is what they (will) get.” Sadly, they sometimes discover traits or situations that they never anticipated. But this need not lead to resignation or despair.
Unexpected problems constitute a challenge, but this is not a defeat; with professional help, under most circumstances, this challenge can be met successfully.
For more information on this subject, please see my article on “The Hidden Agenda in Relationships”: https://bit.ly/3NIoDhr.
Marriage is a 50-50 Proposition. (50% Make It; 50% Don’t).
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. divorce rate has hovered at the 50% level since 1980. But if getting married can be a mistake for some people, a far more serious mistake is society’s failure to prepare prospective mates for marriage. Essentially we build up the institution of marriage, glorify and romanticize it, make a great big hoopla while planning and enjoying the celebration, all the while spending a small fortune on a four- to five-hour event. We then wish the couple good luck while sending them off on a virtual sink-or-swim mission.
At Jewish weddings, many people say, “Mazal tov,” without realizing that the literal translation of these words is: “May you have good astrological signs.” But perhaps this is the most appropriate blessing to bestow upon the happy, but unwitting, couples because at the rate that marriages go today, their chances of success are barely better (approximately 50%) than their chances at the casinos in Atlantic City. But there is one difference: The casino gamblers understand the odds; the newlyweds do not. And, unfortunately, due to the lack of an even rudimentary course on “The Proper Care, Training and Treatment of a Spouse,” luck (the astrological signs) will play too much of a part in their marital success.
But the biggest mistake most couples can make is to become discouraged and give up just because their marriage has hit a wall … is going nowhere … or is going downhill. Spiraling-downward marriages can be saved, can be turned around, and ultimately can be very happy.
The Need for Formal Instruction In Human Relationships
Why do we assume that just because a couple has reached a certain age, they are capable of a successful marriage? Indeed, no one would question a couple’s right to marriage and parenthood. And yet, a wise observer might legitimately ask: “What training, instruction or competencies do the newlyweds have in either of these great and complicated enterprises?” Many people would respond, “Individuals learn all about marriage in their homes.” Unfortunately, this argument often boils down to a case of the blind leading the blind. And even in the best of cases, i.e., with a very happily married couple, is it realistic for parents to invite their children into the inner chambers of their marriage to demonstrate its complexities, problems and solutions? Where does this leave the next generation?
Reuben E. Gross, PhD is a dual licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Teaneck. His specialty is marriage counseling; he is highly trained and has more than 40 years experience. He was awarded a number of honors including Diplomate and Fellow Status. You can read some 20 of his articles on marriage on his website: www.MarriageCounselorNJ.com. Dr. Gross can be reached at [email protected] or 201-218-3112.