September 12, 2006

When Do You Know When To Quit?

I've been having an ongoing conversation with an attorney friend of mine about relationships and how dysfunctional they can be. I divorce people for a living and I am not exactly fond of the institution of marriage. It's not that I think mongamy is a bad thing. It's not. Nor is commitment, but there's something about the very structure of marriage that dooms many to failure.

First, there's the "expectations" racket. What does each marriage partner expect marriage to be? What do they expect from marriage? From each other? Friend, lover, foe, equal partner, slave driver, master, mistress, buddy, parental figure, house keeper, brood mare, bacon earner....? Do they expect emotional comfort? Silent partner? Drinking buddy? Someone to socialize with? Or just share a room with? If you want a companionate marriage are you sure you even know what the definition is beforehand? Do you discuss this before the trip down the aisle or do you keep communicating those expectations? And when is okay to assume that the other person gets you? What if they stop? Do you get them? Do you realllly get them or are you so desparate not to be alone that you grasp at the first passerby?Do you know what your own limitations are and whether or not they'll adversely affect your ability to mee the other perosn's expectations and needs? ar eyou being honest with yourself when you answer these questions?

Second, there's the whole "trade off (or up) " racket. When you get married you are literally trading off the freedom of singlehood for the supposed tranquility and emotional/physical/legal safety of a monogamous relationship. Bad thing is- you're not. You're not guaranteed sex. You're not guaranteed a shoulder to cry on and you aren't necessarily protected from losing everything you own to the other person. Trust me. I do this shit for a living. Just because it is over doesn't mean she has to give back your toaster from your college bachelor pad. And just because he put a ring on your finger doesn't mean he has to listen to you boohoo about your hang nail. Now, because you are married, you should want to do that for each other. Therein lies the rub- people are horrible, selfish, self-centered shits and they are prone to have their heads up their asses. It's when they are specifically asked to be supportive and they flat out refuse that they should get a good swift kick to the nads of whatever variety.

Third, there's the "representation" model. You both must put forth effort to show to the world you're a couple. Gold bands aren't enough. You're entitled to your own space, but leaving your spouse at a crowded restaurant on a Friday night dinner rush to chat up mere acquaintances for an hour is not ever permitted. Doing so wastes the time of your partner and is embarassing and hurtful. Same goes for oft repeated boys or girls nights out. Living the "single" life is made for singles, not for spouses. You shuld be able to go out from time to time, but doing it more than twice a month amounts to "I don't want to be around you." And that will eventually cause problems.

Fourth, there's the intimacy quotient. And this is the most important one by far on this abbreviated list. Intimacy isn't about sticking it in (or on) each other 1.7 times per week or month or whatever. It's the little shit that makes the other person feel important. The stuff that lets each other know you are thinking about them and don't just take them for granted. Things like knowing their favorite ice cream flavors, or favorite shampoo. Recognizing the traits and likes and dislikes of the person you profess to love. It's that whole "How Do I Love Thee" shit. Do you know where prominent birth marks are, or what type of starch they prefer at the drycleaner? I know it sounds ridiculous, but knowing what they'd want from any restaurant in town is a good start. If you on't know these things and you try to do something nice for your significant other and you fuck it up, it's worse than not having done anything at all. So get your head out of your ass and study up. The person you profess to love is worth more time than you spent on your college chem lab.

So, now that we're through the abbreviated list, the question remains, how do you know when to quit?

I've got no real answer there. I just know in my professional experience that people reach a wall. And they can't go through the wall. Or even over the wall. Or around the wall. They're too tired of carrying around the baggage of hurt by themselves. It's when they can't trust the other person to put the needs of the marriage above their own ego and insecurities that a marriage dies. It's like one of those soul weighing thingamagigs. Too many sins you go to hell, too few heaven. Or whatever...

I'm an undertaker of sorts. I didn't kill the marriage but I certainly get to bury it. Some deeper than others. That may make me jaded, but I think in some regards I think it also makes me an expert at spotting the listless eyes and rasping breath of a marriage on life support. It's not a pretty sight I assure you.


Blogger Emptyman said...

I've been having the same sort of conversation. I am the last person to give marriage advice. But as far as I can tell, you have to love yourself before you can truly love someone else. And for the same reason, you take a big risk by loving someone who doesn't love himself. Lastly, people DO change, but rarely because of someone else. Change has to come from within. The tricky part is making sure you and the person you love can change together, or at least adapt to the changes without losing the love.

4:35 PM  
Blogger helen said...

But the question you asked was how/when do you know when to quit, not how do you have a successful marriage through change. Johnny Cash movie - scene where he won't stop hanging up June Carter's pictures, and no matter how upset his wife gets he doesn't care, and she looks in his eyes and sees a stranger and her blood runs cold.

10:22 PM  

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