MARRIAGE AND LOVE

______________________________

Books, books, and more books about love relationships before and after marriage

 A survey by Santrock, Minnett & Campbell (1994) shows that mental health professionals consider four books (out of 100's) to be exceptionally useful in understanding love and intimacy: Lerner (1989), The Dance of Intimacy, Hendrix (1988), Getting the Love You Want, Scarf (1986), Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage, and Sternberg (1987), The Triangle of Love. Three of the four emphasize how our family relationships and childhood needs or conflicts influence our choice of lovers. Awareness of these motives, which we are usually only vaguely conscious of, might help us understand and cope with our attraction to certain people. Besides clarifying for you exactly what is going on--what are the hidden agendas (Potash, 1991) in the search for love--there are many other approaches to dealing with specific problems that plague love relationships (to be reviewed in the next two sections).

 Probably no other area has mystified us as much as love. So, there are lots and lots books filled with theories... and cases to prove the theory. No doubt these books sell but we must get beyond theory in order to change a relationship. We must recognize, of course, that men and women often have different views of marriage (Sangrey, 1983). So, several excellent female authors have focused on understanding women's conflicts between submissively loving a man and being their own independent person (Horner, 1990; Lerner, 1988; Paul & Paul, 1983). The ideal egalitarian marriage is described by Fishman (1994), Schwartz (1994), Schwebel (1992), and others. Others offer help in building true intimacy (Emmons & Alberti, 1991; Young-Eisendrath, 1992; Gray, 1994; Napier, 1994, and see the discussion later under maintaining intimacy). O'Hanlon and Hudson (1995) try to get you away from "analyzing" and start you changing. I consider the books in the last two paragraphs to be the most helpful.

 Of course there are more abstract, theoretical books about love (not just sexual attraction), including Erich Fromm's classic The Art of Loving. Focusing more on romantic love, Nathaniel Branden (1980, 1981) gives us insight into our feelings of love. And, Hendrick and Hendrick (1992) have a new book about liking and loving.

 Love relationships change from one stage to another. Campbell (1980) sees the stages of increasing intimacy as steps toward inner growth and wholeness. The early stages are scary and sometimes mystifying, so Matthews (1990) provides a general guide for women going through the first few years of marriage. Arond & Pauker (1987) also focus on the first year.

 Although professionals often do not recommend his books highly, few people have written as much or as well about love as Leo Buscaglia (1972, 1984). He does not rely heavily on research nor does he deal with psychopathology, but his messages about the joys and foibles of love are masterpieces. He motivates you to be loving, rather than informs you. Read at least one of his books--or watch one of his tapes--if you are serious about loving someone or everyone. More recently and more focused on the problems of desperately seeking love, John Bradshaw (1993) describes how we self-sacrifice and lose a sense of our true selves in love relationships. He helps us see the hurt little child in our parents... and in ourselves (see discussion of shame in chapter 6). We select lovers who we hope will take care of our inner child's hurts, and when the partner's kisses fail to "make everything all right," we may blame the partner. We must learn to take care of our own hurts, then we can develop our own ideas of love, not just struggle to comply with our parents' notions of love. Bradshaw is saying that self-understanding, security, and mature thought about our purpose in life are necessary for "soulful love" in the broadest sense.

 Obviously, many relationship problems can be traced back to early childhood experiences and to gender stereotypes in our family and culture. Another series of books analyze men's need for intimacy and their fear of it (Osherson, 1992; Rhodes & Potash, 1989; Carter, 1988; Carter & Sokol, 1993). It isn't that men can't love or show their feelings; indeed, they hunger and long for closeness and approval but are inhibited. Psychoanalytic theory suggests that it is frightening for men to become totally intimate with and under the control of a women again. All men had to struggle to get away from and become different from mom. So, for many men, it seems shameful to express dependent, soft "feminine" feelings, because family dynamics and our culture require all 5-year-old males to "become a big strong boy," renounce these unmanly characteristics, and separate psychologically from his mother (see chapter 9). Both women and men could profit from studying personality development and their own childhood experiences.

 Perhaps 15 or more highly publicized but of dubious quality books have attempted to explain male-female relationship problems. The titles are loaded with phrases which state or imply "women love too much," "women make foolish choices," "women who love men who hate and abuse them," "women hide their fears behind castrating anger," "women who are born to please," "men dislike aggressive successful women," "men can't love," "men leave women they love," "men who hate women," "men run from women," etc. The titles make it sound like women are foolish and men are sick and hateful. Most likely we have two groups of writers who have identified different villains--women or men.

 Some female psychologists have observed that the victims (i.e. usually women) are being blamed by many popular authors for the intimacy problems, e.g. women may be described as neurotic, self-destructive, foolish, weak, insecure, love starved, domination-seeking, or as equality-preaching hypocrites who are shamelessly pleading to be cared for by men. You might ask why are women, who, it is said, are superior at understanding, accepting, caring, disclosing, supporting, helping, and relating in loving relationships, being blamed for all these love relationship problems? Perhaps the answer has to do with who wants the relationship the most. This person, the seeker of love, seems to be--and perhaps is--less powerful. And, there is a tendency to blame the weak one.

 Likewise, some of the authors who vilify men seem to be operating on the basis of a strong negative stereotype of all men (indeed, one writer even admits having been married to an emotionally abusive man, which should raise some doubt about her objectivity). There are, no doubt, many deep problems in our love lives, including some frightened men full of rage towards their mothers who abuse their wives. But is this the secret lurking within all the men who mistreat their wives? Surely not. Let's not fool ourselves, there are many complex causes. Our science at this time justifies only tentative speculation about childhood based dynamics. Moreover, the focus of our self-help literature should not be on the denigration of one sex or the other but on healthy development and on the correction of unhealthy behavior. And, we should carefully avoid stereotypes--not all women are codependent nor are all men afraid of women and intimacy.

 Robin Norwood (1985) wrote a book in this area, Women Who Love Too Much, which was on the best-seller list for 37 weeks. It is about women who are excessive "givers" or "motherers." Some such women seek men--"sons"--who are weak and have problems (alcoholism, unfaithfulness, can't hold a good job) and are uncaring, self-centered "takers." The theory is that these women did not get enough love as children, especially not from their fathers, suffer from low self-esteem, and, later in life, struggle to gain love by turning losers into perfect husbands. Of course, no matter how competent and devoted they are as rescuers, they almost always fail and suffer. Being addicted to pain, it is very hard to escape such relationships. Norwood's book has no doubt benefited some women. It is primarily designed to help women who blame themselves and often consider normal, healthy relationships boring, but find themselves repeatedly sucked into this kind of destructive rescuing interaction. By recognizing the dynamics, perhaps such sick relationships can be avoided. That's the theory. But are these always the true dynamics? Can the codependent always escape just with insight? See chapter 8.

 In a very similar way, Kiley (1983) has written about The Peter Pan Syndrome: a man who has never grown up, can be charming, but is undependable, irritable, and self-centered--that's a "taker." In The Wendy Dilemma, Kiley (1984) describes women who fear rejection and, consequently, seek an immature male to mother--that's a "giver." Several other recent books describe many fears--fear of rejection, fear of intimacy, fear of losing one's own identity, fear of independence--that influence our love lives (Carter & Sokol, 1993; Dowling, 1982; Marshall, 1984; Paul & Paul, 1983; Russianoff, 1982). Don't forget, chapters 8 and 9 deal with dependency and sex roles and how both are intricately related to love and marriage. If you are seeking insight into a vast, complex morass, like love, be sure to read a lot and look upon many writers' biased opinions with an open, skeptical mind.

 Our anxieties about our love relationships (women buy most of the books in this area) make us prime targets for publishers and writers who sell sensationalistic, poorly documented, repackaged ordinary common sense or insubstantial fluff. Check the credentials of the writer! Has he/she done publishable research in the area, not just interviewed a few people to get some juicy case studies to sell the book? Has he/she counseled a wide variety of people with this problem? Does he/she have advanced training and degrees in psychology, social work, or psychiatry? Has he/she published in this area before (but not the same content using another "hot topic" title)? Remember, just because a book is highly advertised, has a catchy title, and is a proven best-seller does not mean it will give you practical, sound, effective advice. Far more junk is published than wisdom. Don't read junk.

Happy if you get as much as you put into the relationship?

 On one hand, many of us would say that the benefits of marriage should be equally divided between two equal partners. On the other hand, another viewpoint (called equity theory) is that a married person will be happy if his/her benefits-to-inputs ratio is about the same as his/her partner's. Inputs and benefits include such things as physical attractiveness of one's partner; love, devotion, and sex from the partner; help with housework, child care, and decision-making; friendship, social life, and intellectual exchange; financial help; understanding and appreciation; and so on. Thus, you may put less into your marriage than your partner and get less than he or she out of it...and both of you might still be happy, you've gotten what you've earned. You may feel dissatisfied, however, if you put in less than your partner and get as much ("overbenefited") or certainly if you put in as much and get far less in return ("underbenefited"). The idea is to keep the relationship proportional:

 There are two cautions: (1) if actual changes can not be negotiated to make the relationship proportional or fair, some insecure people use psychological distortion in order to justify (to themselves) the inequity. Examples: a person may convince him/herself that the partner deserves a better deal because he/she is "special." Another person may say, "Oh, sure my husband gets a better deal than I do, but I'm as well off as most other women." If you have had to work very hard to make a relationship work, there is a tendency (because of cognitive dissonance) to believe that your partner is a real gem and the relationship is essential. Don't deceive yourself. (2) Research also suggests that men and women have different notions about fairness. Example: women are more likely to spread the available rewards around equally, regardless of who performed better, while men tend to give greater rewards to the persons who perform better. Every married couple must periodically reconsider the inputs made by each, the benefits available, and the needs of each, and then decide "what is fair" for each person. If you do more for a relationship, perhaps you should get more rewards. Don't cheat yourself.

Marriage and children: Life is changing for dad

 We start marriage with just two people, but it usually grows to 3, 4, or more. The children are permanently connected to both parents even if the parents divorce. Thus, one love relationship becomes 3 relationships as soon as a child arrives; a second child results in 6 person-to-person relationships. Children change marriages dramatically. In chapter 9, we saw that, on average, children reduce marital satisfaction, but increase overall satisfaction with the family situation, i.e. we love our kids. We also saw that marriage is changing: moms (70%) are employed outside the home and often (40% of the time) make as much or more money than dad, 20% of fathers (often unemployed) are the primary caretakers for children under age 5, and dads (50%) are helping out a lot more at home. Father's style of play and love add a lot to the children's lives... and closeness with children adds a lot to a father's life. In the 90's we are witnessing a major conflict, namely, more and more fatherless homes (2 out of 3 families in the inner cities) in the face of increasing evidence that an involved father is very important to the academic, social, and mental health of the children. (Other dire consequences of a fatherless home--delinquency, drug abuse, violence, teenage pregnancy, poverty, welfare--are discussed in the divorce section.)

 It isn't women's willingness to work outside the home that causes divorce so much as it is some men's unwillingness to work at home (Hochschild, 1989). The second most common reason for divorce (after mental cruelty) is men's neglect of home and children. In the 1980's, about 20% of fathers shared the housework almost equally and 70% did 30-40% of the work (the percentages depend on who you ask--moms or dads). However, mothers still assumed more responsibility for organizing the work and child care, did more of the daily cooking and cleaning, and did more of the dirty work. Fathers spend more time attending the kids than doing unpleasant chores. Almost 10% of fathers did very little to help out; they are very "over-benefited." But, in general, we have a new kind of involved dad for the 1990's. If you are a father and not very involved at home, better get with it! Gender roles were discussed at length in chapter 9.


back forward

[ << ][ << ]