Marriage: Is It Really Work?
Call it what you will, marriage requires care and feeding
Not even beautiful people have it easy.
Just a few weeks ago, Gwyneth Paltrow — People magazine’s most beautiful woman the world — confessed that marriage is hard and it takes work.
“It’s hard being married. You go through great times, you go through terrible times. We’re the same as any couple,” Paltrow said of her nine-year marriage to Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin (to which I’m sure many female Martin fans were thinking, hmm, not if I were married to him).
She basically affirmed what Ben Affleck said of wife Jennifer Garner while accepting his Oscar for Argo earlier this year: “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It is work but the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with,” which caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Even Beyonce noted how marriage takes “hard work and sacrifice.”
OK, we get it; marriage is no fairytale, no bed of roses, no walk in the park. But some just aren’t buying that.
Blogger Kate Fridkis says she’s done with hearing how hard marriage is supposed to be. Two years into married life and she says,”I’m tired of feeling like I must sound fake for being happily married. Like I must not know what I’m talking about.”
CafeMom Sasha Brown-Worsham says marriage isn’t “hard,” although she admits it’s “challenging:”
“I guess it really depends on your definition of ‘hard.’ It can be challenging, but many good things are … Saying it’s hard somehow implies that it isn’t worth it or that there are many parts of it that are bad. I disagree. Why would anyone stay in a marriage that feels like drudgery and makes you unhappy?”
So clearly, we are experiencing something along the lines of the Mommy Wars except it’s the Marriage Wars, those who think marriage is hard and requires work, and those who don’t. Marriage never used to be considered work; marriage was considered a duty. I’m not sure that’s any better because duty implies there’s no choice and we certainly like choice in marriage nowadays. But along with the rise of marriage counseling in the 1950s, and a deep-seated fear of divorce, came the idea that marriage is work — and that it’s mostly the wife’s job to do it — and a slew of relationship “experts” and a multimillion-dollar self-help industry to help us with that.
Still, if you’re generally a kind and loving person, wouldn’t married life be somewhat easy? Could it be that we aren’t always as kind and loving as we believe we are? Or is there something wrong with marriage itself?
Certainly, if we marry with unrealistic expectations, it’s a recipe for disaster. At the same time, it just isn’t all that easy to live with anyone for decades on end, no matter how kind and loving you are and how much you genuinely like each other; there are going to be what Paltrow calls great times and terrible times.
A huge part of the problem is we get habituated, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, whose book, “The Myths of Happiness“, details actions and words that can help keep love alive, like asking yourself each morning, “What can I do for five minutes today to make my partner’s life better?”
But, you don’t have to be married to experience habituation, as Susan Saradon, who lived with partner Tim Robbins for 23 years, knows:
“The one thing that’s been really clear to me is that you have to think of your own life and your relationship and everything as a living organism. It’s constantly moving, changing, growing. I think long-term relationships need to be constantly re-evaluated and talked about.”
Do re-evaluation and conversation take work? Do Lyubomirsky’s “actions” and “words” sound like work? After all, we’re being asked to do something for our marriage; is that “work” or just a conscious decision to act? If “work” is how you chose to look at it, OK, it’s work. If you see that as challenging, fine; consider yourself challenged. If you accept that these are things that you just do, great; just do it.
All I know is this; if you don’t look after a baby, a pet, a plant, sourdough culture — really, anything that’s living — it tends to wither and die, perhaps while you’re struggling with what to call what you might want to be doing to keep it alive.