Friday, January 02, 2009

On Those Seven Things No One Tells You About Marriage

I go to log onto my Yahoo account this morning to see if any of my patients have any horror stories to tell me about New Years (such a lovely holiday).

And there it is, the pulp journalism article of the week, Dating 101: Seven Things No One Tells You About Marriage, by Ylonda Gault Caviness who writes for Redbook. The story is about the surprising, enlightening, and sometimes hard truths married folks all face -- and how they can teach us what love really means.

This makes me angry, and it makes no sense that I'm angry, and I don't like to be angry, although I'll go with the flow, see where it takes me, that feeling. But I'm not a ranter by nature, never about your writing, friends, or even Ylanda's, and won't rant, particularly, even if the toilet seat is left up, which it never is. It never is because some of us have mastered the traditional art of guilting family members. It might have been in mother's milk, so to speak.

Thanks, Ma.

You never need to get angry if you do this, guilt nicely, by the way, especially if you add a twist of assertiveness. Facts, the things you include in assertions, are scary and informative. Just the facts work! (Would you like to fall into the toilet in the middle of the night? I don't think so.)

It's all good stuff in this article, The Seven Things No One Tells You About Marriage, and most of it is true.

But only the other day, we were talking about a book that maybe I should write (everyone has their own opinion about the book I should write) and FD said, "Whatever you do, just make sure you have a number in the title. Like, The Five Intimacies. Or Three Tricks to a Better Life. Without the number, you can't sell a self-help book."

"News flash, darling. Issues are without number. And I don't write self-help books."

There's even a book somewhere out there about self-help books, and how bad they are for you. But I disagree. I like to think of them as conversation starters, like these articles can be, for these are really the conversations that matter. These are the conversations that turn men into women.

This piece at Yahoo is beautiful, if only because it is succinct, informative, right, and well-written (if a little too sweet for my coffee). Here are your Seven Things No One Tells You About Marriage.

1. You will look at the person lying next to you and wonder, Is this it? Forever?

2. You'll work harder than you ever imagined.

3. You will sometimes go to bed mad (and maybe even wake up madder).

4. Getting your way is usually not as important as finding a way to work together.

5. A great marriage doesn't mean no conflict; it simply means a couple keeps trying to get it right.

6. You'll realize that you can only change yourself.

7. As you face your fears and insecurities, you will find out what you're really made of.

You can use this list as a tool, something to use to talk about intimacy with friends and lovers. You want to know, truthfully, before you marry (if that is your intention), you want to know if at all possible, and sometimes it isn't, how the two of you will manage intimacy.

And we're not talking about sex here, for if you have intimacy, sex will follow. You want to know how you're going to keep it all alive once you've entered the black commitment hole. Face it, the only thing stopping people from commitment is fear itself, to quote FDR.

So talk about the Seven Things on dates, or even make it pillow talk. This is what you do on dates especially, right? Talk. Sure, you go to museums, too. I know, I know. And after awhile, talking about The Dark Knight (one day, we'll get to it) or whatever movie you think is fabulous or terrible, won't be enough.

You're dating, for example, thinking, Wow I LIKE this guy (girl), and think, Why not talk about The Seven Things? The conversation goes something like this.

Alvin: I can't wait to sleep with you.
Sylvia: Wait. I need to know something.
Alvin: What baby? Anything.
Sylvia: Are we ever going to have really, really bad arguments?
Alvin: Never, darling.
Sylvia: Are you sure? Because I sure don't ever want to go to bed with the guy I marry, angry.
Alvin: You won't. Not with me. You might be angry with your job, or your mother, but never will you be angry with me. (Pause) Wait. Did you say, marry?

Or it could go like this:

Alvin: I can't wait to sleep with you.
Sylvia: Wait. I need to know something.
Alvin: What baby? Anything.
Sylvia: Are we ever going to have really, really bad arguments?
Alvin: Never, darling.
Sylvia: Are you sure? Because I sure don't ever want to go to bed with the guy I marry, angry.
Alvin: You won't. Not with me. You might be angry with your job, or your mother, but never will you go to bed angry with me.

In which case, of course, marry the guy.

Okay, okay. You're correct in thinking that marry the guy based on just that is too simplistic, facetious, even tongue-in-cheek, and doesn't even address the point of the article. Ms. Gault Caviness is saying,essentially,
It's okay, this is the reality of the situation. Go ahead and marry the love of your life. Just know what you're getting into.
If you listened in on our previous discussions on premarital assessment, you know that you have to find out whose parents went to bed angry. That's the transgenerational stuff, and is a covert family precedent, permission, a rule.

And you have to know how the parents of your intended resolved problems, too, and how your future lover has learned to solve problems over time. And you want to know the history of mental illness in the family, and how the tribe managed that, and how many kids this person wants, if any, and what schools the kids are going to go to, and if they watch Monk, even like Monk, oh, the list goes on and on.

It's too long for a self-help book.



blognut said...

I agree with these 7 things... and about the toilet seat. I think you also have to find out if that future spouse will notice when the trash is almost full, or the toilet paper is empty. Those things really HAVE to go MY way (#4 - working together on those issues is really just doing it my way), and then #3 doesn't happen so much.

therapydoc said...

I really hate to stoop to that example, but it is what it is.

Syd said...

It seems to be about acceptance and quite a bit of "training". I had to be trained and do some training. And I had to quit picking and just practice some acceptance of another. I've been married over half my life--to the same person. And we still learn from each other in this marriage.

Jackie said...

I think I'd add to that list some sort of point about how you keep learning things about your partner, even when you think you know them completely. You can't completely know someone, put someone in a box like that. I thought by a few years into marriage I'd have my guy figured out... and you do, to a certain extent, but there is this way that your spouse is an Other, doesn't reply exactly the way you'd expect.

Jack Steiner said...

(Would you like to fall into the toilet in the middle of the night? I don't think so.)

I always answer that question with you wouldn't cross the street without looking both ways, would you.

Anonymous said...

I've found over 45 yrs. most differences/arguments are gender related and would crop up no matter who the spouse was.

Funny Farmer said...

Hey just found your blog and love it. :waves:

Retriever said...

After 21 years of marriage to my first and only husband, I still tend to think that people considering marriage shouldn't be given those kind of bullet points that imply that if you master them, you will be set.

It might be better to give them a sort of fuzzy medieval looking map with notations and mysterious creatures, hazards and treasures marked: "There be dragons..." "Beware rocks" and "This way to Paradise" the like.

I do hesitate to respond, and hope my comments do not annoy anyone. Obviously, everyone married has so many thoughts and feelings about all this, and there is almost nowhere one can talk honestly about them.

Even on the web. I find that any comments I make about marriage tend to piss off the conservative Pollyannas on some of the sites I otherwise like (like the bats who think that ass Prager is cool--what is it with some conservative women who want to wear a dog collar and submit??? I mean, I expect to be trashed by the woman-hating male groupies at Dr. Helen's, but it's funny when divorced women with conservative politics elsewhere take me to task for verbally trashing a husband I care for and stay married to faithfully year after year).

Personally, I think marriage is tough, not much fun, but worthwhile. I am glad I have my beloved children and it is better for people not to be alone. Mostly, we stay married in our family, devoted to our kids, surviving all manner of crises together.

A friend at church (herself gorgeous and much happier than I am, with all five kids healthy and well adjusted--now there's true riches!) repeats to me frequently that "The thing is not to have a happy marriage, but one that endures." She has a point. It's an institution for grownups, not playing children.

I always liked the medieval image of marriage as two oxen yoked to the plow to go thru the work of life together. I do think that and enduring trials, and solving problems together bonds a couple far closer than hot sex or fancy vacations or spending lots of money together...But what do I know???

Also, I think that whatever your faith tradition, no discussion of marriage is complete without mention of the moral and spiritual dimensions. You marry instead of living together. That's a value judgment. You make a choice to commit to each other for life. You promise. You struggle against temptation, to resolve conflict, and none of it can be separated from each of your feelings and beliefs about God, the good and the true.

Far more important than the physical or domestic adjustments, IMHO. FOr ill as well as for good: you can't have a really down and miserable fight without being able to REALLY butt heads on the value stuff. "Your mother's relatives are all embezzlers, so don't be high and mighty about my used car saleswoman aunt!"

The only problem I see with too much discussion in advance of the godawful skeletons in each person's family cupboards is that it is unfairly daunting at times.

How many of us would anybody have wanted to marry if they had known just how dysfunctional our families really were??!! My own spouse, for example, said once after helping me rescue one relative from a locked ward where they had been put when in a harmless but disorganized agitated state "If I had known I would be visiting places like these, I would have broken off the engagement...".

Plenty of people have appalling relatives (look at poor Jimmy Carter, for example, with that brother of his) and part of me believes that a young person has a right to a degree of privacy, and to decide what and when they will disclose to a potential mate. I am not arguing for outright lies, or denial. But it's analagous to the debate about outing in other contexts.

Lisa said...

The 7 things definitely sound reasonable, but I can't help but wonder how my grandparents generation managed to marry so well, with very little divorce without all these "things to know before you marry". I think people these days use their brains a litle too much sometimes.

SeaSpray said...

Good post!

I don't think a lot of people look into these things but go on feelings or the idea they can change someone.

Or they don't process it all and maybe that comes with wisdom as you age...if...they don't have someone like you in their background.

I don't know if this is true... but I once heard someone say (on the Donahue program)that when it comes to choosing a partner and your at a party and you spot someone across the room and it's an instant attraction...that is the one to stay away from. I don't remember what prefaced that statement though, but they were warning against acting on animal instinct.

My friend said once that we meet our partners at the level of our brokenness. I don't know if that was a quote from something.. or her own experience with therapy and she counseled too.

Isle Dance said...

So funny and true, to know and be intimate, emotionally. I'm a strange one, as that's my normal daily conversation, these deep things. I would suffocate if my guy wasn't similar in this way, too. I mean, I can't marry again, I just can't...but I still need this, this emotional connection with my guy. It's oxygen. :o)

Cate Subrosa said...

Eek! People get married without knowing most of this stuff already? The thought of that makes me quite nervous!

therapydoc said...

Right o, everyone.

And Jack, is this our first fight? I'm holding back my feelings here, but they're not good, sort of verging on call to arms.

The metaphor just doesn't work. This is nothing like crossing the street.

But you should know. To your credit. When I was in Champaign, many years ago, which is a very busy place, my friends would literally throw their arms out to stop me from walking into the street without looking both ways.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

I figured, if he loved me -- really and truly -- this stuff wouldn't happen.

If I had a dime for everytime I hear that!!! Good article! I think that its difficult parting with our fanatasies and agreeing to make and keep a pretty good reality.

Can't wait for that book TherapyDoc, no matter what number is on the cover.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.... "Issues without Numbers." Sounds pretty catchy. Personally, if a guy went ahead and just admitted that there WOULD be really really bad arguments, I'd be much more apt to marry him. In my experience it's the guys who sugar coat things that you need to watch out for. Are there really couples that DON'T have bad arguments? If that's true then maybe I'm the arguer! Well crap lol ;-)

Cas said...

..."These are the conversations that turn men into women."
Why in the hell would you want to do THAT?!

therapydoc said...

It's only useful if you want to talk about vulnerabilities. It's not a nice generalization, but I'm not the first to suggest that many men are more apt to go with their head (a good thing) than their hearts, probably because they have been encouraged to succeed and not to appear weak (we females like them strong). But to get a guy to talk about what is going to make him angry, for example, can be very difficult, and yet, it's a very important thing to talk about. Much more to say on this and I'm about to do that coming up soon.

Jack Steiner said...

The metaphor just doesn't work. This is nothing like crossing the street.


You just don't want the metaphor to work. I could change it to anything that requires that we look at what we are doing. But just for kicks let's play with this one for a half second.

Let's say that we leave both the seat and the cover down. Certainly you notice that the cover is down. You are going to have to lift it up to make use of the facilities.

I suppose that one could argue that if you stumble into the bathroom in the dead of night you don't have to worry about falling in when the cover is down.

Still, the safest and smartest way to use the toilet is to make sure that you look before you leap.

Did I ever mention that I grew up with four sisters and a mother. It was my dad and I against the world.

Ok, it is possible that I might have tried to aggravate my sisters with this once or twice, but I'll never say.

therapydoc said...

What we won't do for attention, right Jack?

Jack Steiner said...

Nope, not attention. Just fighting for equality.

But this could make a good Facebook group.

therapydoc said...

I won't back down on this one. (Everyone groan).

About facebook. I just started Twittering. Isn't that bad enough?

Now I should Facebook? Uh, uh. Once I tried this with my real name and my patients wanted to friend me. How could I say no? But then I realized what I was getting into. I'm finished with that one, pretty sure, put up an alien account for family so I could visit them when they made me.

Mark said...

Interesting. Of course there is always danger in writing a list because as we know there is always more that could be added or some that could be modified.
The key is that people must go into a marriage with eyes wide open and manage expectations. Looking at the environment that our prospective mate grew up in is an excellent indicator of possible behavior and at a minimum is a great way to start conversations which will be meaningful in predicting future behavior and managing our expectations of each others behavior.

Jack Steiner said...

I won't back down on this one. (Everyone groan).

That is good. That way we'll be confident you can see if the lid is up or down. ;)

therapydoc said...

You and I have to sit down and discuss this.

A man risks NOTHING lid up, lid down. A woman risks all. It's about risk. I can't believe we're having this argument which is as old as man. See?

Anonymous said...

I think I've already experienced the realization of every one of the things on that list, and yes, it's hard. But worth it.

Jack Steiner said...

Hee hee, you have me laughing. Men have risks too. Without being overly graphic, we sometimes need to sit as well.

Not to mention the need to be aware of the falling toilet seat.

unknown said...

This is a great post.

Recently I learned of a friend's niece getting married at the age of 18. Geez, I didn't think people did this still. I mean there should be a law - you can't get married until you're at least 30. We no longer live until the age of 35 so that means you could potentially be with the same person for over 50 years. Personally, I think that's why there is so much more divorce.

As a postdoc in the biological sciences, I wish someone had written The Five Tips No One Tells You About Your Relationship With Your Supervisor. The problem is that even if they had, I would have believed that mine would be different.

Go figure how us humans can be so dumb.

therapydoc said...

Thanks, all.

Jack, listen up. This discussion, some might call it an argument, is of tremendous import and affects the entire species. So we have to continue it.

But since it isn't at the top of my list right now, or yours either, like any good argument let's table it for a little while.

This way we model good conflict resolution. Be assured, dear. You're gonna' lose :)

I know, it's my move. I have to think about it.

therapydoc said...

Jack, I have to validate you here on the falling toilet seat. This never occurred to me.

I'm thinking, that like true problem solvers, we should consider an alternative solution to the all or none ideas. i.e., Mon, Tues, Wed, and Thurs., seat down.

Fri, Sat, Sun., seat up.

Isle Dance said...

I'm thinking...our men should want to be our protecting our assets.

After all, so few opportunities exist for such chivalry, now that we're no longer living in caves.

Ella said...

I absolutely checked out the whole family before I married into it - my parents fought constantly and I still question if we love each other.
But the love is very clear in my husband's family, and it's there for me too. Yay!

Anonymous said...

Re: the toilet seat

think of it as mindfulness training ;)

Anonymous said...

sounds like you already have your book title "Issues are without number" -- love it!

therapydoc said...


Unknown said...

I like your blog, because I think the important thing to remember is that there is no easy way out, no magic numbered checklist to avoid life's tossings and turnings. Checking all the boxes and dotting all the I's will not make a marriage work. Hard work is what makes a marriage work, and there's no getting around it.

psychotherapistinthesouth said...

Call me zany but I don't care if the toilet seat is up or down, I just want everyone to clean up after themselves...just sayin.'

  Bring them home, the Homeland Concert There's not much to say. Wait, I take it back. There's SO much to say it is too much. There ...