For those who have never tied the knot, fear and anxiety surrounding marriage can often reach paranoid proportions. Many fret about the potential divorce and hurting associated with it than the love and affection possible within it. Single men, in particular, are in no hurry to be hitched for a variety of reasons, the top five being:
The availability of sex without any commitment;
Acquiring a 'wife' through cohabitation without having to marry;
The wish to avoid both the risk and cost of divorce;
The desire to wait before having children; and - not an insignificant one -
The fact that marriage requires change and compromise.
How many of us accept change willingly, or are prepared to compromise, unless there is a great deal of personal benefit in it? Not many, it seems, particularly for single men over 35. Notice how the top five reasons also focus on money, sex and compromise, the three greatest preoccupations in any modern relationship.
A failure to deal with those three elements satisfactorily is not caused by the relationship per se but merely exacerbated by it. The predisposition for dealing with them is controlled by 'invisible forces', as I call them, which are present from that first encounter - forces which dictate the route and direction of any two people thrown together by circumstance, masking their more obvious personal traits. These forces are very strong, embedded as they are in our individual culture, values, personality, psyche and perception, while being continually influenced and altered by aspirations and life experiences. They dictate our approach to life itself and, when there is a crisis, they reveal themselves in their full glory.
The Desire to Impress Anyone can cope with life when it is calm and rosy, but the real character and worth of an individual shine through when there is stress and chaos. The main reason for this dual entity relates to our desire to be ourselves on one hand, yet to constantly impress others on the other, particularly potential partners. So, we are never likely to reveal our true selves while we are comfortable and well settled. For this reason, the longer the comfort time enjoyed in the relationship the less likely we are to truly know our partner. This is because, early in the relationship, we prefer to mirror the needs and expectations of others who matter to us until we are forced to reveal our true selves.
Thus, any new relationship is based on a kind of lie involving two strangers, who are rarely what they seem, for the primary purpose of eliciting maximum satisfaction from the new bonding. That is why partners appear to be markedly different after marriage, or after years of living together. As the saying goes, men marry women hoping they will stay the same forever, while women hope to change their men immediately after wedlock! The agenda is apparently set by both parties from the wedding day, except that each is careful not to reveal it until later. It only becomes noticeable over time as their individual personalities take over, especially if they are frustrated in their individual aims. So long as life is chugging along happily, and each half feels comfortable with the partnership, only a few easily observable characteristics will be exposed. The important ones will remain dormant and deadly for a long time until they are required.
Come a day that is stressful and problematic and new elements of the spouse's character, particularly negative ones, will be pushed to the fore. It is only a matter of time before those invisible forces take effect. Years later, when the couple seem almost like two strangers, they are likely to marvel how little they really knew their partners when they honestly thought they did. Hence the proverbial, "My wife/husband doesn't understand me" - a statement which might appear rather odd, considering the near-perfect understanding during courtship! Sometimes we are fortunate to meet others whose invisible forces align with ours in a very positive way, but that is not the norm, tending more towards the exception.
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA