We have come to believe that finding our "one true love" is the beginning of our lives,
Which can lead us to feel that losing that person, for whatever reason, is the end of our lives.
And that just isn't the case.
As a marriage counselor, I could not be more pro-marriage and romance. However, I have noticed an all or nothing attitude among many couples when it comes to their opinions about the success or failures of their marriages. Especially when affairs have occured, the partner who has been betrayed often feels destroyed, both personally and as a spouse. The level of pain and hurt can be nearly unbearable. Many people feel that that is no way a marriage can ever fully recover after an affair.
How did we arrive at this mind-set that 1) emotional things can happen to us that we cannot recover from, and 2) that marriages, unlike every other thing in life, should not expected to be subject to significant damage by something at some point?
These questions do not have easy answers, but there are some things in our society that have happened over time that have helped to contribute to our very strong beliefs about the expectations and fragility of marriage. The most disturbing situation is that some people truly do believe there is one, and only one, "true love" for them. If that one person is no longer available to them, they can react quite desperately, and we've seen this repeatedly and very tragically when deaths have happened because of the frantic state of hopelessness and despair that can result after a divorce or break-up.
We are taught about love and romance from a very young age. Unfortunately, we are taught about romantic love, "true love", but not "real love".
We are told bedtime stories about princesses and princes, and people living happily ever after. We are exposed to endless commercials selling things geared for couples and family life. Every year there is another traffic jam of June brides competing for the available Saturday wedding dates. But weddings are a year round business, and there is a huge amount of money made from them. Nearly every possible service industry benefits from weddings. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We are programmed, as little boys and girls, to want to "have" what all those other people who are happy seem to "have". We want another person. We NEED another person. We are even supposed to wed another person and have children according to many religions. So it's even a directive from God himself.
We are also taught that there is one true love out there, one nearly "perfect person" for us, and our goal is to find them, wed them, and stay with them for the rest of our lives. The interesting part is that, there's not a lot of guidance on exactly how to do that. Plus, it's really easy to do it wrong. Marrying someone requires far less paperwork than buying a house. It requires less of a background check than renting a car. There's no skills check. They call it a marriage license but you don't have to have a successful trial period as husband and wife before getting a final stamp of approval to marry.. In fact, you can have a proven record of "failing at it" as many times as you want, there's no limit on how many times you can get married, as long as you properly divorce before you move onto the next person.
So, if luck is on our side, we find someone who seems to be as happy with us, as we are with them, so we decide to make some really big promises about the future to them. In front of, no less, all our family and friends.
I'm not putting the whole system down. Remember, I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm just asking you to think about what happened to get you in the spot you are in right now. Does marriage as it stands today set us up for failure? Maybe sometimes.
What are we really saying in our marriage vows?
Here's a sample of a typical wedding ceremony. Not meant to leave anybody out, yes, there are many different ceremonies.
"Will you, ________, have ________ to be your husband/wife? Will you love him/her, comfort and keep him/her, and forsaking all other remain true to him/her as long as you both shall live?" ("I will")
(Repeat) "I, ________, take thee ________, to be my husband/wife, and before God and these witnesses I promise to be a faithful and true husband/wife."
(Rings) "With this ring I thee wed, and all my worldly goods I thee endow. In sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, 'til death do us part."
This seems simple enough. It's definitely short and to the point.
In less than ten minutes, you can enter into this very legally binding contract for the rest of your life.
So there are six main weaknesses in this contract that land people in marriage counseling:
1) The idea of "having" another person. We usually "have" things, not people. Have implies possession. Even, ownership.
1) The promise to love another person, forever.
2) The promise that you will absolutely never under any circumstances no matter what is happening ever ever have involvement with another person.
3) That you will give them everything you own, and keep doing that for the rest of your life.
4) That no matter how sick they get, regardless of the reason (ie; self inflicted sickness), you will stay.
5) That no matter what toll it takes on you financially, even if they drive you straight to the poor house, you will also stay.
There is a very limited lemon law clause in marriage. If the person really deceived you in order to marry you, the marriage can be annulled, and cancelled as if it never happened. But otherwise, no real lemon law that says if the person you married does not hold up their end of the bargain, you can leave and not be the terrible person. Conversely, there is no performance guarantee and no recourse. So if you do everything you swear to, but the other person does not, you're only alternative is to hope they eventually straighten up and fly right.
Or, you can divorce them. But then, according to what we've been taught, we lost that "one person" that was meant for us. As one client recently told me emphatically, "I'm afraid to leave him, because what if he's my lobster? What if he's the one person I'm supposed to be with?"