Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Happy Wife Happy Life?

Is it all about her?

Addressing the throngs of reporters and a national television audience last week, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh offered this gem on the secret to his successful marriage: "Happy wife, happy life." Yet companionate marriages were first proposed a century ago so that both bride and groom would have a mutually fulfilling heterosexual relationship. Today many marriages begin in courtship with a submersion of the man's true self so he can easily conform to the woman's tastes and thus heighten the sense of commonality between them and make her happy. Any superficial congruencies in beliefs, interests and goals will be seized upon to justify the tremendous sexual attraction between the couple. These similiarities become a reason to believe in the future of the relationship. You hear it in the smitten suitor who exclaims, "I've just met the most wonderful woman. She jogs and she laughs at all of my  jokes!" He won't be able to rationally communicate why this woman is so different from the rest. This is when you know you are talking to that chameleon of love known as the mirage man. It is his overwhelming short-term desire that drives his relationships into the realm of the unhealthy.

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Once a mirage man finds a woman who accepts his initial flirtatious overtures, he uses everything in his romantic arsenal to win her over, from moonlight walks along the beach, river or lake, slow dances in darkened dance clubs, bittersweet love ballads and poetry, red roses and chocolates, 3 hour long phone calls and hundreds of texts and tweets a day, invocations of fate bringing the two of you together and pledges of eternal love. All are implemented in a rapid fashion to obtain the woman's trust and secure as much physical contact as she will allow. Artificial intimacy created by accelerated physical affection and approval seeking will mislead both lovers into thinking they have found "the one" and the religious among them will maintain it is "God's Will".

In our sentimental society, this has become the common pathway to the altar. Consider our sage San Francisco 49ers football coach Jim Harbaugh, who, newly divorced, noticed a pretty blonde real estate agent walking past him as he sat alone at a bar in a Las Vegas P.F. Changs China Bistro. Jim followed his prey to her car, introduced himself, found out her name was Sarah, chatted her up and obtained her phone number. Like a good door-to-door salesman, Jim got his foot in the door and overwhelmed Sarah's reservations about having a long distant relationship between Nevada and California. On their first date he declared,"I love you. I’m going to court you and I’m going to marry you." Six months later, Jim proposed in that same P.F. Changs parking lot.

One date from meeting a total stranger to a profession of love? Engagement in 6 months? It sounds rash, youthful, even stupid. But responsible, mature, intelligent men like Jim Harbaugh are initiating such relationships every day across America, making life-changing decisions based on a look, a laugh, or the sparkle in a woman's eyes. Logic is in short supply under the intoxicating fumes of infatuation. Neither man nor woman is immune to the unbelievable optimism that everything will work out for the couple "in love."

Consider multimillionaire Mort Zuckerman. Several years ago this brilliant, suave, sixty-something confidant of presidents, among the most coveted of Sunday morning political talk show guests, married Marla Prather, forty, the distinguished head of the Department of Twentieth Century Art at the National Gallery of Art. Said Prather, "We had a very short courtship, and then boom, we're pregnant. We're still getting to know each other and learning to be parents."

Even the finest, most mature products of our top academic institutions are committing to virtual strangers now, getting to know their mate later. Both college educated Jim Harbaugh and Mort Zuckerman had to adapt to strangers and the length of their marriages were determined by their ability to keep their spouses happy. In Mort's case that wasn't very long.  

In a fraction of marriages, the couple cheats the hangman and, through dumb luck, matches with someone compatible in personality, similar interests, values and goals. Reading of those who did find mutual happiness despite this foolish method or modern love is like reading about lottery winners. More likely are marriages that have to fall back on the patriarchal marriage notion of separate spheres for each mate to work at toward the common goals of economic success and perpetuation of the family through procreation. Otherwise there is no reason for marriages between strangers based on physical attraction and charm to last beyond the thrill of the honeymoon, when the man eventually gets tired of keeping up the charade and devoting himself to keeping his wife happy at the sacrifice of his own feelings, tastes and needs. Then all the air goes out of the marriage. Although very effective in the short term, raw physical attraction and the belief in a preordained outcome do not equal a fulfilling companionate relationship between both a man and a woman.

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

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