Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
A friend and I have been having this ongoing conversation: what makes a good marriage?
He says marriage is a contract and a partnership built on mutual intent, and requires a plan.
I say that marriage is not just partnership because friends or business acquaintances can be partners but the tie between spouses is different. I think a marriage is a union where two people become one. Therefore, there are more obligations in a marriage. I think marriage must involve romance.
He says that romance is a fantasy that has more to do with the individual believing in their own ideal of a partner, rather than anything to do with reality. He says basing marriage on romance contributes to the failure of more than half of all relationships.
I say whether it is reality or not, people believe in romance and need it. Romance is what people yearn for. It gives them HOPE and something to strive for. Romance is beautiful…and shouldn’t we want our lives to be beautiful?
He says people need to use relationship skills in order to make a marriage work long term and fantasies have nothing to do with that. Fantasies can even impede learning anything new. He says our definitions of relationship are based on Disney and capitalism and not on universal truths. He thinks that what I describe is more art than reality.
Dr. Brilliant what do you say to this- which one of us is right?
Shakespeare in Love
As is usual in arguments, both of you can be right. It depends whether you are talking about romantic gestures and not romance as the basis for a relationship. Romance as the foundation for marriage is like trying to win lotto based on instinct, or using denial to fit reality into fantasy version of something. Fantasy and denial are usually entirely one sided. It’s an artful interpretation that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Ideas of what romance is might be entirely different from one partner to the other. The real danger is that romance can be like just looking into the mirror.
I try to teach that relationships are only relationships if there is mutual intent, mutually agreed upon goals. I believe meaning comes from choice and intention otherwise there is no real point.
Having an intentional life philosophy can include romantic gestures because they can be used to show appreciation and respect. But a romantic life philosophy can act as a delusion, dealing in denial and expecting beasts and frogs to transform into princes. This is why the book and movie “50 Shades of Gray” is seen as a love story instead of as dysfunctional insanity.
Maybe you are one of the few relationship lotto winners in life and you actually found a mutual intent based relationship without having discussing plans and goals. You could have gotten lucky and just picked well. Most people aren’t that lucky and need to have a realistic conversation about their relationship goals if they want their marriage to last.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: this argument has been kicked around since the institute of marriage began. Dr. Brilliant is right when he says that both people can be right. But he is talking about an argument between friends. When it comes to marriage, there is only one point of view that can be right, and it is the one you both share. It doesn’t matter what that idea is. What matters is that you stay true to it to that shared vision. If such a rule is in place, even two hopeless romantics can make a long term relationship work. Here’s why.
The rules of romantic love say that the other person is your other half, your soul mate, and you probably have a great sex life as well. Such all-inclusive love requires that couples share their thoughts and feelings. If one or the other of the partners begins to lose the fantasy, or realize the other person doesn’t fit it, the respectful thing to do is to give that once beloved partner the gift of the truth, so that they can find their own happiness.
Obviously, a contract, intent driven marriage requires the same thing. It’s practical, it makes sense, it’s how business is done. But it is certainly not only practical people who deal ethically with each other.
I believe that marriages fall apart when couples betray their own original intent, whatever that intent might be. A romance based marriage with constant gestures of appreciation, could help two people weather many a world storm. An intent based relationship which requires constant conversation and negotiation, could also provide a sanctuary for both partners in a conflicted world.
However, once any partner, romantic or intent driven, betrays the original premise and goes off dealing with crap on their own without letting the other partner know, that’s when things fall apart. It doesn’t matter if the marriage is intent based or romance based. People with intent are just as capable of being selfish and messed up as romantic people. They just tend to be more self-righteous and have more rational explanations for it.
Bottom line- find a partner who wants what you do, and promise each other that if you ever change, you will be a sport and let the other person know so they at least have a chance to throw some perspective on the matter. Sometimes that’s all it takes. And sometimes marriages just break up because people are freakin’ bored with each other. Oh, and a word to Mr. Intent Based Marriage- nothing is more boring than an unemotional business deal that leaves no room for human longing and desire.