Before beginning this brief discussion of marriage, I have to make a couple of disclaimers. First, none of what I say here necessarily has anything to do with my own marriage, which is as close to perfect as any could be. Second, I am not a therapist or couples counselor. Most of what you will read below is based on informed speculation and watching movies and television.
Right at the outset, I do want to say this: If you have an issue in your marriage, the chances are you are not the only one. One of the problems we have is that we don’t see other couples in the privacy of their own homes, and when they are with us, say at dinner, they rarely reveal what’s really going on in their relationships. Don’t let this fool you. Marriage can best be described as a permanent truce.
So what are some issues that crop up in marriages? Keep in mind that I am primarily thinking here of long-term ones. (And heterosexual ones. As little as I know about those, I know even less about same-sex marriages.)
1. Husbands will eventually say that if it were not for their wives, they would have become more successful in their work, or would have pursued some other career path entirely. This other path typically involves music or writing. Virtually every man believes that he had the potential to be a rock star or a famous writer if only his wife had truly believed in him.
Wives will say that their husbands had unrealistic expectations of what success in music or writing entails, and besides, they will say, if they are being truly honest, “He really wasn’t that great in his music (or his writing), but I just didn’t have the heart to tell him.”
2. Very few couples who have been married for more than 40 years are having sex. This should be welcome news to their children, who would rather not think about this anyhow.
3. She has a whole movement behind her which says that the patriarchy is responsible for most of her problems (not to mention all the problems of the world). This can cause major difficulties in marital fights because he feels he is arguing not just with her, but with three billion other women, many of whom are with men far inferior to him and thus even angrier than she is.
Betty Friedan let the cat out of the bag in 1963 with The Feminine Mystique. Her preface opens with these words: “Gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while, I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today.” And the title of her first chapter became perhaps the most famous phrase in the book, “The Problem That Has No Name.”
Although TFM was not an outright attack on men, it certainly didn’t put them in a particularly good light. Divorces became more and more common, and, in fact, Friedan and her husband divorced in 1969. Obviously, if she had been really happy in her marriage, there would have been no book and no women’s movement, and couples today would be happy every minute.
And, of course, it means that lesbian couples are happy every minute.
4. She doesn’t like air conditioning as much as he does. The solution here is the same one that you should use in most marital differences. Agree that you will both be less comfortable than you want to be. The essence of marriage is compromise — unsatisfying, annoying, never comfortable, often infuriating compromise.
5. Listen, guys, do not try to discuss with your wife the extramarital goings on of public figures, such as politicians like Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Anthony Wiener and on and on. (Same goes for that fictional Lothario, Don Draper of “Mad Men.”) Of course, it is tempting to do so. After all, your wife is your best friend. But sooner or later the conversation will devolve into questions of “Can’t men control themselves?” and you will say something like, “Well, the women weren’t innocent victims here. They can be seductive, you know.”
You’re both in a no-win situation. Most men will eventually cave by saying they agree with their wives that any man who strays is a terrible person. But his wife will know he’s not being genuine and she’ll say, “You don’t really feel that way, do you?”
Which leads to my final point, #6.
6. In a marriage, never say, “You don’t really feel that way do you?” Of course, your spouse doesn’t really feel that way. You’re in a marriage, not in a court of law. You promised to love, honor and cherish, not to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. As long as you can honestly say you love your partner, you’re in business.
And then you can truly experience the endlessly frustrating and never fully satisfying joys of a wonderful lifelong partnership.