Why is it so difficult to remain married in thetwenty-first century, and what can you do about it?
We all know that half of today's marriages end in divorce, but we tend to believe that our own marriages are safe. As psychiatrist John Jacobs explains in this fresh and impassioned book, marriages today are incredibly fragile, and unless a couple understands what is making contemporary marriage so vulnerable to dissolution, the marriage is at risk.
Part of the problem is that people refuse to see how social and historical forces have changed the very meaning of marriage, causing serious interpersonal unhappiness. Because of increased longevity, married people live together longer than at any time in history. There's been an erosion of the social and cultural forces that traditionally kept marriages together. Confusion over gender-role responsibilities, increased expectations of sexual satisfaction, and intense time pressures on couples to work and be successful all create marital stress.
And yet, most people don't acknowledge the problems in their marriage until it is too late. We tend to believe in the "lies of marriage" such concepts as soul mates, unconditional love, that children improve a relationship, that the sexual revolution has made marital sex more pleasurable, or that egalitarian marriage offers couples easy solutions and forget to engage in the constant hardwork required to keep our marriages alive.
Dr. Jacobs believes that most marriages have significant problems at some time, but until we recognize the new realities of marriage and develop the skills required to sustain a loving, intimate relationship, marriages are at risk.
Of course marriage is about love. But that's just the beginning.
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About the Author
John W. Jacobs, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine where he teaches couples and family therapy to psychiatric residents. He lives in New York City with his wife and children.
Read an Excerpt
All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage
A Proven Strategy to Make Your Marriage Work, from a Leading Couples Therapist
Lie: All You Need Is Love
Truth: Marital Love Is Conditional -- Love Is Not Enough for Successful Marriage
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.
-- J. R. R. Tolkien, letter to Michael Tolkien, March 1941
"Romance is dead," we moan, but we don't mean it for a second. We collectively keep the notion alive by cherishing the belief that "somewhere out there" a human being exists with whom we can fall in love and from whom we can get love back, no matter what. We expect to develop with this person a lifelong relationship that will nourish both of us as we build a family. Our relationship and our children will simultaneously thrive and grow, and our whole family will find fulfillment. We'll weather the years of child rearing and be brought closer together by the process, providing a loving model relationship for our children and later our grandchildren. Sure, there will be rough times, but love will keep us together. We'll love each other unconditionally, taking the good with the bad, until, still close and warm at the end of our days, we'll look back together and believe with conviction that it was all worth it.
It sounds great, and we all want it. But how do we really get there? The songwriters tell us that "all you need is love" and "love will keep us together." Pardon me for disagreeing, but as any divorced person knows, love simply isn't all you need to keep your marriage happy or together. Nonetheless, many of us still have a belief in the absolute power of love to guide and preserve marriage. This belief is embodied in two dominant lies that strongly influence our thinking -- the lies of romantic love (merging with a soul mate) and marital bliss. These lies are fed to us from earliest childhood, and we long to have them materialize as we grow into adulthood. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that most marriages begin with love, they do not come with ready made "happily ever after" endings.
The story of Cinderella is a wonderful example of how these myths function in our collective psyche. Every one of us knows this story, and probably most of us have seen its modern-day equivalent, the movie Pretty Woman. The overriding message of romantic fairy tales is that in the end, against all odds, two people meant for each other will miraculously find each other, fall in love, and then live "happily ever after." We find fairy-tale endings so satisfying because the beginnings of such stories usually make us anxious about the grimness of "real life." Cinderella, for example, has lost her parents and is forced to live with a seriously overtaxed stepmother responsible for the well-being of three daughters. They live in a society in which a woman's success and security is measured only by the economic value of the marriage she makes. Beautiful people are given chances for success that ugly ones don't have. There are rich and poor, and the rich cleave to the rich. Though Cinderella comes from a well-to-do family, her stepmother, who controls Cinderella's father's estate, treats her badly. The stepmother wants the best for her biological children and sees Cinderella as just one more woman with whom her girls will have to compete.
The prince in the story is being pressured to marry by his parents, who seem to care little for his feelings. Instead, his buffoonish father and domineering mother are preoccupied with maintaining royal lineage, wealth, and strategic alliances. His life is presented as full of privilege, but it is clear that he exists for little more than the fulfillment of his parents' narcissistic goals.
Real life in Cinderella teems with envy, greed, pettiness, unhappiness, ambition, and vicious competition. But with the final union of the prince and Cinderella, all those problems are supposed to be conveniently erased by the triumph of romantic love and the presumed marital bliss that must inevitably follow. When Cinderella slides her foot into the glass slipper and then marries the prince, we breathe a sigh of relief because we believe that with the marriage sealed, her troubles are over.
Even though we know we're too old for fairy tales, we still hope that marriage will bring this same relief to our lives. We want to forget that married life is complicated and problematic, that couples regularly have to solve many serious problems, and that we live in a complex and sometimes difficult world. In real life, Cinderella would certainly have difficulties getting along with her calculating mother-in-law. She would probably have to deal with an entitled husband who might turn out to be a buffoon, like his father, or an arrogant brat, like his mother. Cinderella might end up with a child with learning problems or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). With no models or experience of good mothering, her children would be lucky to get even a modicum of care from a mother who is little more than a child herself.
In our romantic notion of marital bliss, the prince would never go off to war or to work, never come home too tired to play with the kids, and never bury his head in a newspaper or park himself in front of a television. He would never be too tired to have sex with his wife and never have erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. Cinderella, of course, even while taking care of a slew of children, would always have time for sex, which she would love; exhaustion or worry about losing her looks would never dim her libido ...All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage
A Proven Strategy to Make Your Marriage Work, from a Leading Couples Therapist. Copyright © by John Jacobs. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.