Sawa’s story seems to be a fairly normal case of the jitters, a fear that, five years in, maybe we didn’t make the right choice after all and this seems to me quite a widespread sentiment I would have thought, especially in younger couples. On the other hand her story makes me feel quite hopeful in that her partner loves her and thus presumably is prepared to work at the marriage and she describes him as a ‘friend’, which although insufficient basis for a marriage, is a core component of what makes for a good marriage partner.
I agree with Catherine concerning unrealistic expectations of relationships – I don’t necessarily agree that a marriage can’t fulfil all of our needs, but this requires a significant investment in the other person, an investment of time and energy which in our face paced lives is sometimes hard to come by.
“The passionate fireworks display” as Jen described it, only really last for a fairly short period and part of the problem is not understanding that marriage is a verb, it is a work in progress, it isn’t just wham bam shebang and you’re happily every after. The media doesn’t show us love five or ten years in, when love has been stretched and worn – love is typically presented as passion, which is one element, but certainly isn’t sufficient to sustain a marriage over 30-40 years or more. This means young people like Sawa are sometimes unrealistic in expectations of what their partner or the marriage itself can provide. The marriage itself doesn’t guarantee happiness, investing time and energy into someone else is a much surer bet.
In this I agree one with Dr Alice Jones that we need to be realistic.
Sawa has changed – but all people change – it would be worrying if we didn’t grow and evolve – the contractual aspect of marriage is to recognise that within certain boundaries (your mental and physical wellbeing!), you have to accept that this will happen and part of the work required in a marriage is learning to evolve alongside one another. Part of the issue is, I would agree with Catherine here, is in viewing marriage as static. As someone who has been married for almost eight years, I can say from personal experience a lot things will change in a relationship (where you live, your job, your family set up, etc) and this is true for all couples. Part of the challenge is learning to recognise the enduring qualities in your partner during those periods of turmoil or change. Yes they’ve changed, as have you, but surely they still have certain qualities which you respect and admire, which drew you to them initially?
Is individualism to blame? To some extent, the focus on satiating the ego at all costs is to blame, because we fail to recognise the enduring truth that a great degree of happiness actually comes from pleasing others and in a relationship, that would be each partner doing their utmost to please the other. To a large extent, happiness is a derivative of that, rather than assuming that, as Alice says, we can or should feel happy all of the time. More important that ‘finding happiness’, which actually I think is the cause of a lot of unhappiness, is I would suggest serving certain principles and ideals, working together as a couple to seek to achieve them and happiness will be derived from working together as a couple towards these.
Catherine’s argument that infidelity can somehow lead to a happier marriage seems nonsensical to me – one of the reasons marriages fail today is because we don’t have time for one another and in particular, we struggle to find time to have fun together – how finding that ‘fun’ with someone else can somehow improve the relationship you’re neglecting in the first place makes no sense at all. It is a fairly simple mathematical equation – little time and little energy to invest in anything beyond work and family means relationships suffer – how or why one would assume that taking that limited time and energy and investing it elsewhere, not to mention the emotional investment of a new relationship, is somehow going to save your marriage seems laughable to me. Where I will agree with Catherine is that sex has to remain a component of a marriage, both partners must remain committed to doing whatever is necessary to maintaining a healthy sex life, alongside the commitment to emotional support and a loving commitment. My experience of friends whose relationships have survived a period of infidelity is that it shatters a fundamental trust between the partners which is incredibly difficult, if impossible to recover. It also distracts attention from each partner focusing on the other, which in periods of difficulty, should surely be the main focus. It also significantly and negatively impacted the children and their perception of love, trust and marriage. At a very personal level, it also doesn’t make much sense to me that your ‘best friend’, which surely is what your partner is, before everything else, could betray your trust so fundamentally.