Security Isn’t a Blanket

Posted on September 12th, 2019

When Rebecca and Harry got married at 35, they were very aware that some of the friends whose weddings they had attended were already divorced.

“I don’t want that to happen to us,” Harry said. Rebecca agreed, but they didn’t know what could make their marriage secure in today’s world. 

Marriages have historically been secured by community-enforced religious and political norms: marriage really was forever, since it was extremely difficult to leave a marriage which wasn’t working. This was the intention of the traditional wedding vows we often still take, but for most of us these vows now depend more on our willing participation rather than on any outside force holding us to them.

For practical purposes, many marriages were until recently also lifetime commitments because of the inability of most women to adequately support themselves in the world. Divorcing for a woman often meant resigning herself to a difficult life. But this is less and less true today.

If we are no longer needing to stay married for religious or community-approval reasons, and we no longer need marriage to support ourselves, our married relationships can’t rely on those factors to get us through the difficult times which every relationship encounters. Instead, marriages have to become emotionally congruent, communication-based relationships, intimate collaborations. 

There have always been those whose marriages were emotionally close partnerships. What has changed is that this has become more important as a focus for marriages altogether.

The challenge is that even when we recognize this, most of us just aren’t that good at it yet. We don’t have a lot of historical background to rely on. Our parents’ and grandparents’ marriages were likely of the “He went to work, she took care of the house” variety, so we can’t learn enough from them to make this change. Instead we are learning from each other, and from our own attempts to bridge the divide between marriage as role-playing and marriage as close relationship. 

What have we been learning?

First, it turns out that what makes a contemporary marriage more secure is accepting that it isn’t secure, that we have to keep paying attention to it. Nothing burdens and potentially dooms a marriage more than taking it for granted.

Second, we have to communicate, and not just about logistics and complaints. We need more intimate conversations about what we are actually experiencing and what we want in our lives, the kinds of thing couples in old-time marriages didn’t talk about. 

This requires the third thing: we have to know what we are actually feeling, and we have to expose these feelings to someone who is going to care, but have their own, often different point of view. This is of course harder when the feelings which need looking at are anger and frustration, or confusion and uncertainty. 

Doing these three things on an ongoing basis creates the best security any couple in a marriage—or any relationship—can have today.

Posted in Marriage and Couples

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.