Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

What Type Of Marriage Do You Want?

Should we be proactive about our relationships?

 

A reader wrote in with a very interesting observation on dating and marriage:

It is a big nursery out there filled with unrealistic expectations.

Submitted by Anonymous on December 23, 2013 - 8:50am.

"For a while I had a profile on a married and dating website. Most of the men I saw were in their forties and fifties. Mostly sane average Joe's. What struck me as strange was the expectations these men had. They (almost to the man) expected fidelity from their married girlfriends. They also wanted their girlfriend to be available on the weekends and weeknights even though the girlfriend also had a family. Needless to say, there was a lot of lying going on!

One of the happiest marriages I heard of was an arranged marriage. The two people involved knew they would have to work through a lot of differences so when the honeymoon period was over, they got down to the work that was the real relationship and became very close. They accepted that being together required compromise and communication.

I am now married over twenty years and am happy to do the work that is required to keep a happy marriage going."

 

The reader brings up the radical difference between the predominant marriage style of 2013, the Companionate marriage, and the older Patriarchal marriage model. The Patriarchal marriage model in America emphasizes rigid roles that each partner fulfills regardless of romantic feelings to achieve the common goal of economic success and the perpetuation of the family through the generations by procreation. The Patriarchal marriage is still practiced in 2013 in America's rapidly growing Islamic community. Former Houston Rockets basketball star Hakeem Olajawon described his Islamic arranged marriage that strictly follows the patriarchal model. "There is no dating process, no boyfriends and girlfriends in Islam," said Olajawon."Families meet, talk, get to know one another. Then the marriage is arranged." Marriage is a lifetime commitment regardless of each partner's emotional happiness or romantic feelings.

In the early part of the last century, the Patriarchal marriage model underwent another American Revolution. During this era of Suffragette/feminist intellectual thought, when women fought for the right to vote, the Companionate marriage model emerged, which emphasized men and women as co-equals. Romantic love was now not only necessary during the courtship selection of partners but was mandatory to keep the two equal partners together after the nuptials. In a radical change from the Patriarchal marriage model, a fulfilling sexual relationship was required during the life of the Companionate marriage. With no defined roles to follow, daily communication was vital in delegating roles among equals, including child-rearing.

Historian Jeffrey Weeks observed that with the advent of the Companionate model, marriage was "no longer the sacred and permanent bond it was intended to be." Why not divorce once the romance has flickered out of these companionate marriages? Actress Gillian Anderson, star of The X-Files, dumped her husband after 3 years of marriage "because he bores her and she feels stifled in the marriage."It seems that after a daughter was born the initial steamy passion cooled and Gillian's personal fulfillment was threatened.

This is a common result of the companionate marriage. Both partners expect so much more out of each other that in a patriarchal marriage, and both are so powerless to give their dissatisfied and frustrated partners what they yearn for, because the requirements of the companionate marriage are so subjective. Whereas a patriarchal husband merely had to "Bring home the bacon" and his spouse attend to her considerable domestic duties  to satisfy the letter of the marriage law, companionate marriages require such ethereal notions as "intimacy, companionship, someone to understand us and be a soulmate." Once the ephemeral emotional high of a relationship fades from the companionate marriage, there is often little in the eye of the beholder to keep the couple together. All that remains of these spent unions is attorney services, court dates and the continuing search for the relational Holy Grail.

The key weakness of the companionate model of courtship and marriage is the requirement of honesty. If both partners are candid in their courtship, there is a strong possibility they will choose to marry based on a full disclosure of the strengths and weaknesses of both partners and enjoy a personally fulfilling heterosexual relationship.

Unfortunately the 2013 version of the American Companionate model of courtship and marriage is not practiced in honesty. Parents and the media are not instructing our sons and daughters of this stringent requirement of full dislosure in dating before committing to one another. Without the prerequisite of transparency, women are just as bad off, if not worse, than they were in the "enslaving" patriarchal marriage system. At best they end up with strangers for mates in marriages and cohabitations that have no permanence. At least with the patriarchal model of marriage the woman had a steady mate for life who would provide financially for her family and provide guidance to their children as an important male role model. Now many women end up in poverty after the ephemeral marriage ends. Men likewise feel victimized by dashed romantic dreams and antiquated alimony and child custody laws. Dr. Helen Smith's new book "Men On Strike" documents the rage many men feel about the effects of the failure of the companionate marriage model.

It is no wonder that our Muslim community and our reader's friend have chosen to practice the more reliable if less enlightened Patriarchal marriage model. However, we are not advocating such a return to the days of yore with arranged patriarchal marriages. We believe Americans can return to enjoying  mutually fulfilling companionate marriages by correcting today's mutated courtship style.

 

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

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