Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Marital expectations

    To understand marriage today, it is important to see how we got to where we are. Throughout America’s history, its populace has experienced three distinct models of marriage, as scholars like the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin and the historian Stephanie Coontz have chronicled. In the era of the institutional marriage, from the nation’s founding until around 1850, the prevalence of individual farming households meant that the main requirements Americans had for their marriage revolved around things like food production, shelter and protection from violence. To be sure, Americans were pleased if they experienced an emotional connection with their spouse, but such affinities were perquisites of a well-functioning marriage rather than its central purpose.
    In the era of the companionate marriage, from roughly 1850 until 1965, American marriage increasingly centered around intimate needs such as to love, to be loved and to experience a fulfilling sex life. This era overlapped with the shift from rural to urban life. Men increasingly engaged in wage labor outside of the home, which amplified the extent to which the two sexes occupied distinct social spheres. As the nation became wealthier and its social institutions became stronger, Americans had the luxury of looking to marriage primarily for love and companionship.
    Since around 1965, we have been living in the era of the self-expressive marriage. Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth. Fueled by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, they have come to view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment. “You make me want to be a better man,” from the 1997 movie “As Good as It Gets,” could serve as this era’s marriage ideal. In the words of the sociologist Robert N. Bellah, love has become, in good part, “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”
    This historical ascent is, on its own, neither good nor bad. But it has major implications for marital well-being: Though satisfying higher-level needs yields greater happiness, serenity and depth of inner life, people must invest substantially more time and energy in the quality of their relationship when seeking to meet those higher-level needs through their marriage. To be sure, it was no small feat, circa 1800, to produce enough food or keep a house warm, but the effort required to do so did not require deep insight into, and prolonged involvement with, each other’s core essence.

This piece, The All-or-Nothing Marriage by Eli J. Finkel, is food for thought. Generally, as society has gotten more affluent and urbanised, our expectations of life itself -- not just marriage -- have moved up Maslow's hierarchy of needs. For example, no longer are we satisfied just to have a job which will put food on the table; we want jobs where we can feel a sense of achievement or fulfillment, experiencing the satisfaction of using and developing our various skills and talents. We want jobs where our contributions are recognised and we feel we are doing something worthwhile.

I'm not surprised to see the study's findings show that we want more from marriage than ever before. Finkel does say that if couples don't have the time and energy to invest in their marriage, "they might consider adjusting their expectations, perhaps by focusing on cultivating an affectionate bond without trying to facilitate each other's self-actualisation". But how to adjust expectations is another matter altogether. It's not quite as easy as it sounds.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Leaving out the essentials

Someone posted this video of Sean Lowe, last year's Bachelor, talking about his faith and his experience on the reality tv show. I haven't had a tv in more than 5 years, so I haven't been following what's going on and was surprised The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are still going strong. I thought they'd have died out by now. Those two shows have hardly produced any long-lasting, happy couples.

Anyway, it's an interesting video -- I'm not going to embed it here, but you can click the link if you want to see it. Lowe talks about how he felt conflicted dating 25 girls at one time, worrying it might damage his Christian testimony to be seen kissing so many different girls. (Easy answer: don't kiss them lah!)

He was talking about how the girl he chose (whom he married last month) is his best friend. But he never said that they shared the same values or the same faith, so now I'm wondering... because, if I were talking about my faith, and about finding a life partner, that's one of the top things I'd be mentioning. It's so crucial to me, because my faith means that much to me, God means that much to me, that it's extremely hard to for someone who doesn't share my faith to understand where I'm coming from, or to even comprehend the first thing about who I am.

So essentially, the video is a nice sound bite but it failed to address the true issue, that of the Christian concept of marriage and family. It talks about his faith, it talks about "falling in love", it talks about God opening the door and giving him the opportunity to appear on the tv show, it talks about finding a woman who is his "best friend", but it doesn't talk about the important things: does she have the same values, does she love God, will she encourage him to be the man God created him to be, will she walk alongside him as he journeys with God? How did he choose her, apart from knowing she's his "best friend"? How does he know it will last?

So many unanswered questions...
UPDATE: I saw news that she accepted Christ last year and was baptised in December. That answers some of my questions, but not all...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sounds nice, but isn't true

So one of my friends shared this on Facebook today. There are a lot of these pictures and motivational messages going around, but some of them, like this one, also perpetuate myths and bad theology. The concept that the enemy attacks you because you're strong is totally unbiblical.

I commented on my friend's post:

He's mainly fighting you because you're God's. It's not got a lot to do with whether you're weak or strong. You're just on the wrong side, that's all.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Routed: game, set and match

I bought this book for my dad at the Big Bad Wolf sale because the subtitle says, "How your mind can grow stronger as your brain grows older," and my dad is always joking about doing sudoku puzzles to ward off Alzheimer's. Have to keep the ol' brain agile, you see. Not that he's all that old, but he's also always been interested in how we use our brains, how to improve memory, and that kinda thing, so I thought he might be interested in what the author had to say.

Well, I gave it to him at CNY, and to my horror he kept telling everyone, "My daughter thinks I'm not wise enough, so she gave me this book." I kept falling over myself trying to explain, for fear someone might take him seriously. My dad has a warped sense of humour! I don't know how I never noticed this before.

And he still has the capacity to thoroughly embarrass his daughter of thirty-five years. Well played, dad, well played.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No laughing matter

    Funny quote of the day: A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he's finished. —Zsa Zsa Gabor

Last week someone posted this in one of the social network mailing list thingies that I'm a part of. You hear "jokes" like this every day. Who hasn't heard the one that says marriage is a three-ring circus -- "engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering"?

I'm sorry, but I really don't think such "jokes" are funny. I think they're rather sad.

We live in a society where divorce rates are rising and even when couples do not divorce, that doesn't mean they're happy or fulfilled in the marriage or that they're thankful to still be together with their partner after all these years. In fact, a truly happy, healthy marriage is pretty hard to find. When you look at it that way, the prospects for a fulfilling and wholesome marriage are rather bleak. And then we accentuate the bleakness by making "jokes" about marriage, perpetuating the idea of marriage being a ball and chain, or reinforcing stereotypes of the domineering, nagging wife and hen-pecked husband.

Now, I don't think anybody should go into marriage all rosy-eyed and expecting "happily ever after". People should be prepared for the amount of effort it takes to meld two lives into one, two very different personalities and characters coming from different backgrounds, with different expectations and all kinds of weird habits. That's one thing. But there's no call to make marriage sound like a jail cell, the death knell of joy, or a harbinger of doom. Come on!

"Jokes" like those I quoted above undermine the whole institution of marriage, the covenant of marriage. Yes, if you're a Christian, you know that the marriage vows are a covenant, a solemn promise made to your spouse and to God. What does it mean when we promise to "love, honour and cherish" and yet joke that after the engagement ring and the wedding ring comes suffering? And then we laugh at the so-called joke, not realising that when we laugh, we are tacitly acknowledging the implication that spouses are often unreasonable and difficult to get along with. Do you realise how this actually shows dishonour to a spouse?

Also -- it's never funny to garner a laugh at someone else's expense, and in fact when we laugh at "jokes" like these we're laughing at the people who struggle to make their marriages work, people for whom everyday life is a challenge because for whatever reason, their marriage is in upheaval, or at least facing major difficulties. It's not funny to them, and it shouldn't be funny to us. It's not funny to reduce very complex problems into a simplistic, stereotypical script and run that off as a two-line "joke".

When I was growing up, Mom had a saying: "If you can't think of anything good to say, don't say anything." Based on that principle... if we have to be negative and cynical about marriage, we'd be better off saying nothing. And, if you must quote someone, just so you know, there are better people to quote than Zsa Zsa Gabor:

  • Love is not a weakness. It is strong. Only the sacrament of marriage can contain it.
    Boris Pasternak
  • A great marriage is not when the 'perfect couple' come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.
    Dave Meurer
  • A happy marriage is a long conversation that seems all too short.
    Andre Maurois
  • A marriage is like a long trip in a tiny rowboat: If one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it; otherwise they will go to the bottom together.
    David Reuben
  • A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
    Mignon McLaughlin
  • To choose a woman for a wife is not to say to Miss So-and-so: You are the ideal of my dreams... To choose a woman for a wife is to say to Miss So-and-so: I want to live with you just as you are... It is you I choose to share my life with me, and that is the only evidence there can be that I love you.
    Denis de Rougemont
  • A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
    Ruth Bell Graham
  • Real giving is when we give to our spouses what's important to them, whether we understand it, like it, agree with it, or not.
    Michele Weiner-Davis
  • Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.
    Tom Mullen
  • The married are those who have taken the terrible risk of intimacy and, having taken it, know life without intimacy to be impossible.
    Carolyn Heilbrun

My favourite quote, though, comes from Winston Churchill: "My most brilliant achievement was my ability to persuade my wife to marry me."
* Reposted from a now-defunct blog. Originally published Dec 9, 2008