Know No Better

I need support.

Cited as one of the major causes of divorce is ignorance about marriage. In no other arena (except parenting) is anyone rushed or encouraged to enter without full disclosure of the responsibilities, dangers and benefits. Why then do couples rush to the altar?

What did you expect?

Newlyweds who do not make it to the fifth anniversary are the most disillusioned of all divorcees. They have a laundry list of expectations which were not met. When asked where they got the information to make the expectations, the answers were almost identical:

I wanted something better than what my parents had.”

Listed amongst the some of the things expected were the following:

  • Unconditional support of ideas, ventures and pursuit of happiness
  • Freedom from disagreement
  • Automatic fulfillment
  • Companionship
  • No judgment

On the surface, a few of these are ideals of marriage. As with all else, the devil is in the details.

Vote for me!

Vote for me

I need support!

Unconditional love and unconditional support are two entirely different things. Loving Mate without requirement is the cornerstone of marriage. Marriage without love is a business arrangement.

Unconditional support is an elephant of another color. What the divorcees admitted they sought were:

  • Financial backing for business ventures: “It was my idea. Why not support it?” In the face of professional financial and business advice, support is not unconditional.
  • Political support: “I feel strongly about this. My spouse should, too.” Differing opinions on the political spectrum can be overcome by compromise or the agreement to disagree.
  • Leisure activities: “Golf is amazing. Why do I have to do it alone?” Unless you met Mate on the course/court/field, your sport may not be a palatable cup of tea.
  • Ambition: “All I wanted was to be the committee chair. Why is that so wrong?” It may not be, unless it takes time away from your family.
  • Projects: “I know my book would sell. Is it so tough to say yes?” If you cannot write a decent love letter, maybe.

Why notThese are just a few examples of the blind support Mates sought in marriage. They failed to realize marriage does not erase the obstacles presented in life. It does not remove risks. It does not forgive the activities which detract attention from its success.

Self-defeating, ill-advised and reckless behavior should not be endorsed by anyone, especially Mate. If mate is not endorsing you, ask why. Do not listen to the answer as an injured party. Instead, listen to the advice the way you would from your best friend, who you trust to tell you before you do something completely stupid. Is Mate your best friend?

I agree!

Mates are not clones.

You and Mate are not the same person. To think you would agree on every matter is uninformed. Marriage does not remove differences in perspective or opinion. One of the things which can lead to marriage is a pervasive agreement on myriad topics. While commonality is expected and encouraged, in the differences grow understanding, tolerance and patience.

Choose complementary colors.

It is unreasonable to expect Mate to agree with every idea, ideal, flavor, style and desire. Mate has a completely different set of experiences than you. With tact and grace, approach those differences as a learning experience for yourself and as a couple. Mates complement one another, but are not the duplicates of the same person, ideals or beliefs.

What do you mean you did not do it?

Take out the trash, clean the bathroom, wash the dog, load the dishwasher…All of the mundane things in every household has been cited as a point of contention. You expect Mate to know certain things need to be done…and you expect Mate to do them.

Empty toilet paper roll

It may not be a no-brainer to Mate.

Did you discuss with Mate it needed to be done? Did Mate agree to do it? Did Mate fail to do it? Yes to all three questions? Your expectation was, indeed, not met.

If you answered No, Mate did not fail to meet your expectations. You failed to set an expectation. Some couples claim to have a bond likened to mental telepathy. Even in those couples, it is not the best vehicle for communication. You have no right to be disappointed something was not completed according to your idea of what should happen until you share the expectation with Mate.

I am going by myself.

This concept is different from both the unconditional support and loneliness issues. The lack of companionship here is the setting of an unreasonable expectation to be joined at the hip.

And then, we can go to…

During the courtship, most couples feel as though they could not possibly spend enough time with each other. The longing during separations punctuates this claim. Some newlyweds assume marriage will license them to all of Mate’s available time spent away from the job. Therein lies the problem.

Every marriage needs time the spouses spend together, away from others. Every Mate needs time to spend alone, with ancestral and extended family and with friends. Mates who spend every waking moment together run a greater risk of burning each other out and up. Proportionally, the more time you spend with anyone, the sooner you will discover the conflicts between your opinions and beliefs.

The Mate who needs the time alone is not always the Leaver. One who feels the need to spend 24 hours per day together has set an unreasonable expectation on Mate’s time. Being a unit does not mean the Mates should not act independently.

Don’t judge me!

Dunce Hat

Maybe not the best choice.

Every action is judged. Call it feasibility, responsibility or common sense. Everything you do is judged on its merits. Marriage is no different. When actions are questionable, Mate should not be obligated to endorse bad behavior strictly based on a marriage license.

When Mate disagrees with an action, it does need to be addressed with respect. Rather than saying You are so stupid, Mate should approach the action with something along the lines of I do not think that may have been the best choice.

Mate is not (more accurately…should not be) judging you as a person when questioning the reasoning behind decisions, especially those made without consultation.

  • No, not all actions need Mate’s pre-approval.
  • No, not all actions should be submitted for Mate’s permission.
  • No, not all decisions are Mate’s to make.

However, all actions and decisions ultimately have consequences which impact the marriage. If you will not be consulting Mate prior to action, consider carefully the ramifications on your marriage and Mate. Some decisions bear consequences which are unforgivable.

What are some of the simple solutions which can nullify these reasons for divorce? Have you encountered unreasonable expectations? Were they your own or did Mate expect something unreasonable?

© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. Regarding the section on “I am going by myself”, I can certainly relate my own experiences with success at creating some space and allowing ourselves to cultivate separate interests. We all grow differently and in order to make our own marriage of 31 years work, we do things together, and we do things separately. I cannot possibly enjoy each and every single thing my wife wants to do, nor do I expect her to enjoy each and every single thing I want to do. The key is to strike a balance, definitely do the things we both enjoy together, compromise on things one may enjoy that the other may not and do some of those together, and recognize that sometimes it’s both fun and interesting to pursue some things separately. It’s rather like a tree, joined solidly at the trunk, but supporting a lot of different branches, some of which mingle with others, and some that grow outward in differing directions, but all supported and nourished by the same roots.

    • Excellent analogy, Phil. Too many people want marriage to be like a blackberry vine, all tangled around itself, and are truly shocked when they discover it has thorns of many different varieties. As with most things, to be successful, moderation is the key.

      Thank you for sharing your insight.

  2. Although never married, by design, I have had my share of problems with “mate”. The most profound difference between successful couples and those that split up early in their relationship is one simple word; trust.

    • Trust does play a massive role in all relationships. It is one of the necessary ingredients for success.

  3. After about 38 years together, we almost know what works and what does not. We both have our idiosyncrasies, likes, dislikes and expectations; we seldom meet all of them. Some even go along perhaps a bit unacknowledged, but are never allowed to get to the point of being a thorn or a festering boil. We grew differently, but remain a good ‘fit’ overall. Compromise, cool off, reason, agree to disagree and sort out is our methodology; perhaps to pragmatic agreement at times. Interestingly, we could probably count the major battles in all that time on one set of fingers or fewer. Mutual respect and kindness, lack of fear is a rule; mutual interests, encouragement with successes and admiration of a mutually honest, open approach is helpful, –but yes, — moderation in all things is very key.

    • In growing differently, you also grew in your similarities and shared interests. In the blending of two independent worlds, remembering to keep the growth even, by stimulating it when necessary, is the action which pays the highest dividend.

      I think your plan is a great recipe for success.

  4. there is nothing worse than trusting a mate for a long time then find out that he should never have had your trust in the first place it destroys everything you once had never to be replaced xxjen

    • The loss of trust is common when speaking of Leavers and being married to the absentee Mate. We have touched on trust briefly, but we will look at it again in quite a different light near the conclusion of this particular series.

  5. I got married at 21, we have been married going on 9 years. It is not always easy, of course, but marriage is worth fighting for. I think if people understand what it is, get some advice from people who have been there, and just are willing to learn and grow– marriages can get over that disillusionment phase. But, so many just want to walk away. The other thing I wonder is if we, as a culture, were to be more intentional about keeping our vows, would that make a difference? You stand before God and man and declare that your devotion for this person will not be broken by anything, until death. That is huge and so easily jumped into without thought.

    I have also seen people who have thought marriage was going to somehow make their relationship better. What a messed up view that is! With a little counseling, people can learn from each other and have success in marriage. I would not link this necessarily to being too young, at least not all the time.

    • We discussed wedding vows in depth, Derek, on I Take Thee, Mate. Too many people think the hard vow is being monogamous. In fact, it is not the hard part, which is to honor and cherish. That failure is witnessed by the large numbers who “grow apart”. For them, the commitment was the exchange of vows and the marriage was supposed to grow on autopilot.

      Strangely, the world takes occupations seriously enough to educate for years in preparation, yet does not devote so much as a chapter of the books to spending far more time with one person. That is what is making me scratch my head.

      Thank you for your insight, Derek.

      • That is a real good point you make about preparation.

        • I make a similar one about parenting, but far more sinister. Is it not ironic you must have a license to drive a car, but do not need anything to wreck a new life? It is just the Carlin in me, I suppose.

  6. I wonder if humanity, as a whole, has a narcissist type of need to be with someone just like ourselves? Of course that does not work.

    Another thing I think is that when two people attract each other, it’s because they suit each other at that point in time. Meaning, they are at similar points in life. Not financial or anything, I am talking about emotionally, developmentally, spiritually.

    Success of the marriage/ltr, imo, mostly depends how both can grow together. After 44 years, and seeing myself as fairly progressive, I am still amazed how quickly I can have flareups of negative emotions within a relationship, before I stop and think things over and adjust my attitude. How fast we fight those fires, I think, also contributes to the success ratio of relationships.

    I grew up wanting the lifetime thing, partially because of religious reasons and beat myself up for a long time for failing – twice. Ironically, I had closed myself to even reading about relationships until I kept finding writing assignments that had to do with the topic. So, I delved in and have done a lot of self-examination (non-destructive) recently.

    • Interesting point to ponder, Alex. As much as I see the “opposites attract” theory in motion, and given the genetic and chemical propensity for it, I would venture if such narcissistic tendencies actually influence the attraction, they are in the minority.

      Self-realization is an absolute must. How can you accurately offer yourself with no product knowledge? I find the entire religion issue absolutely desiccating. The overall tenor of most religions fosters the lifetime marriage as a bastion of faith and teaching, while its ridicule belies the forgiveness tenets.

      I am hoping more are reading this series to gain the upper hand in their next relationship or to avoid pitfalls in their current one than are reading to assess the past. Kudos on your self-realization. If I can help, let me know.

  7. Great as usual.
    Expectations + Communication = Discussion. Expectations – Communication = Disillusionment

    We all come with unexpressed expectations (often even to ourselves) based on our own filters. Sometimes we need to step over and take a look at these things through mate’s filter. 🙂 Angie


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