Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Are Great Expectations Dooming Our Relationships? Humble and Fred Weigh In!

Can any one person really be a soulmate?

Recently we enjoyed a free-wheeling, uncensored discussion on the volatile subject of marriage with famous Toronto based broadcast personalities "Humble" Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson on their popular Humble and Fred Radio Show, thanks to the hard work of their assistant Jason Kinder.

We quickly began reviewing the history of marriage as it existed as the patriarchal model  when Canada and the United States were colonies. The patriarchal structure emphasized rigid roles that each partner would fulfill regardless of romantic feelings to achieve the common goals of economic success and perpetuation of the family through the generations by procreation.  During the suffragette/feminist era of the early twentieth century, the new enlightened companionate marriage model emerged which emphasized men and women as co-equals. Romantic love was mandatory to keep the two partners together after the wedding ceremony and daily communication was vital to delegate household duties among equals, including child rearing.

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Humble and Fred discussed the big problems with our contemporary companionate marriages— do we expect too much and what happens when we stop liking one another? The companionate marriage requires such ethereal notions as intimacy, companionship, someone to understand us and be a soulmate. When the romance flickers out, millions of Canadians and Americans have abandoned their sinking companionate marriages thanks to the lax divorce laws enacted in the 1960s. For instance, actress Gillian Anderson of the hit television series "The X-Files" dumped her husband of three years "because he bores her and she feels stifled in her marriage."It seems that after a daughter was born the initial passion cooled  and Gillian's personal fulfillment was threatened.

This is a common result of companionate marriages. Both partners expect so much more out of each other than in a patriarchal marriage. Yet both partners are so powerless to give their dissatisfied partners what they yearn for, because the requirements are so subjective. Humble and Fred noted that the media [of music, literature, television, and film] have created in us unrealistic expectations of what marriage should give us, even if we grew up in an unhappy home or saw those around us struggle in their relationships. 

The insidious aspect of Mirage Man Syndrome is that each couple that engages in it thinks their passionate feelings for one another will overcome the steep odds against a whimsical relationship (based on physical attraction and charm) actually providing a lifetime of personal fulfillment for each partner. The popular women's magazine Marie Claire trumpeted a series on "Love At First Sight," where each woman who engaged in an impulsive relationship believed it would work out for them even though they knew it went against their common sense. Men likewise often act rashly against all objective reasoning, like actor/director James Brolin, who married at age 26 after knowing the woman for 12 days, or George Clooney, who moved in with Kelly Preston after their first date. But even if these mirage relationships ultimately fail, there is a heroic, romantic sense attached to them, of dating and mating boldly and recklessly. Our media reinforce that this is the way to live life to the fullest. Thus we long to read about mirage relationships, watch them on the silver screen and hum along to their ballads of foolish love. Given the chance, we act them out as our real life fantasy.

Unfortunately, the romantic fantasy of Mirage Man Syndrome has real life consequences. When the man buries his true self to woo and win his dream woman, there is a tremendous cost to him personally. A deep seated resentment smolders in his heart at the sacrifice of self for companionship. As a result, a steady corrosion of the couple's burning hot romance occurs over time. Any children born of this union likewise suffer long-term consequences of  an unstable, unhappy home or divorce.

As we concluded our rollicking half hour talk, Humble and Fred talked about a new style of marriage emerging in the future to replace the failed companionate model. They floated the recent idea of "Fixed Term Marriage," where a couple enlists for 5 years like joining the armed forces, and then both partners decide when the term is up whether to sign of for another 5 year hitch. That is certainly a controversial idea worthy of a separate blog.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.


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