A Letter to My Children on Marriage
By William W. Doyle, Ph.D.
You are growing up in a society which treats marriage contemptuously. You will find that most people are cynical about marriage. Margaret Mead said everyone should marry three times: once to leave home, once to have children, and once for companionship. Mae West cracked that marriage was a great institution but she wasn’t ready for an institution yet. H.D. Mencken opined that a man could be a fool and not know it – unless he was married. Cher complained that some women get all excited about nothing – and then marry him. Micky Rooney advised that you should always marry in the morning; that way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day. People will refer to marriage as Holy Acrimony. A 34 year-old actress, about to marry for the fourth time, professed, “I’m going to keep doing it until I get it right.” At the present time, one out of every two couples who get married will get divorced. Many people don’t even like the gender of the mate they marry: Men fear that women are out to constrain, confine, control them, and rob them of their masculinity. Women view men as unexpressive, brutish, overgrown babies (“I feel like I have an extra child to take care”). Divorce has been easy enough to obtain for enough years now, that there are many children growing up skeptical and wary, that since their parents’ marriage failed, perhaps marriage is a fragile, unworkable concept. It is difficult to find people who have marriages they enjoy. If you subscribe to these “normal” perceptions of marriage you will probably have “normal” marriages….and maybe divorces of your own. As your father, I hope I can impart a different legacy of abnormal ideas about marriage.
Pay heed to the advice, “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” The quality of the relationship you have with yourself will determine the quality of your relationship with your spouse. You must develop these capacities – to soothe yourself in the face of life’s paradoxes and in the face of your own or your partner’s anxieties, to nurture yourself because you know you deserve to be treated well; to validate yourself rather than expecting others to make you feel worthy. Do not turn your self or your esteem over to anyone else to define. Then it wouldn’t be self-esteem. We all select mates who affirm what we already believe about ourselves so it behooves you to learn to “Love thy-self.”
When you can soothe, nurture, validate, and love yourself, you will be standing on your own two feet emotionally. When you have the balance like this you can lean into your partner and know that you will never give up your stability; and you will be confident that no partner could lean so excessively on you as to push you off balance. Do not think of yourself as a half in search of a “better half” or yin in quest of yang. Never enter marriage looking for a mate to prop you up or make you complete. Marriage is not a Siamese twin relationship. You are not joined at the brain so you will not think alike. You are not joined at the heart, so you will not feel the same way. Nor are you joined at the hip: thus you will not behave similarly. When it comes to marriage, two halves do not make a whole. Two wholes comprise a marriage.
Please do not let anyone who needs you marry you. Need arises out of weakness and emptiness. These traits will not be tolerated well, or for long. Feeling desired is glorious, but we can not know we are desired when we know a partner needs us. Nor can you feel desirous toward a mate you need. Indeed, you would be likely to feel resentful because of the helplessness and dependency you feel in relation to a needed mate.
Develop a hearty disrespect for clichés like “Love conquers all”, and “With love, all things are possible.” Loving is easy. It is a mysterious and passive emotion. Nobody can teach you how to do it, how to kill it off, or how to regain it if you cease to feel it. But you can, and you had better, teach yourself the skills of marriage like maintaining (liking, soothing, nurturing, validating) yourself in physical and emotional proximity to your partner; changing the person you can change (yourself, and only yourself) instead of laboring to change your mate; getting along with in-laws; solving problems; developing a good sexual-affectionate relationship.
Know that the common wisdom, that sex is a natural function, is a shallow and unhelpful truth. Only the drive to reproduce is a natural function. If you expect the kind of eroticism that packs a wallop, the kind that few people attain, then accept that good sex is an acquired taste and a developed habit. Read about it, think about it, discuss it, and experiment with it throughout your lives. Do not wait until you experience no anxiety to introduce novelty into lovemaking. Non-anxious sex will grow boring.
If you have children you will obviously become a family. Do not stop being a couple. Your marriage will be the foundation for the family and, as such, will determine the strength or weakness of your family. Your children will learn their three most important roles – gender role, spousal role, parent role – from observing your interactions as married people. Nurture the marriage within the family and preserve boundaries around your couple.
From people you know and all the media that barrage you, you will be told that marriage is a problem to be solved, some kind of ordeal to be endured; that it is fragile; that is brings out the worst in people; that it is, at best, tolerable. Even the standard wedding ceremony refers to marriage “for better or for worse.” This overlooks the incredible potential of marriage. How about marriage “for the best?” Though I feel like a voice in the wilderness, I want you to know that marriage is a fine people-growing machine – fun, vital, surprising, exhilarating. It appreciates in value and return as it ages.
And if you craft it well you will know a powerful ache in your heart at the thought of death – yours or your spouse’s. This is the kind of exquisite and enriching pain I wish for you, for it will mean you will have succeeded elegantly at marriage.
Found on tpsvp.com