No Marriage Is An Island
Many couples today try to do the impossible. They come into my office wanting me to fix their issues – money arguments; infidelity; fights that become about the fight. But often they have a fatal flaw, and then I feel like they’ve come to ask me to help them rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
This is because they’re trying to conduct a successful relationship in a vacuum. But no happy marriage is an island – nor is any romantic relationship for that matter. A healthy coupling takes love, but love is never enough. It takes that, and work, and a village as well.
I learned this lesson the hard way myself.
I was in my twenties, and Debby and I became a thing. Because of what was happening in my life at the time, I lost one friend after another. Soon, Debby became not only my girlfriend, but my best friend (and one of my only friends), also my chief confidant, and my major source of social support. Finally she did what many women have come to do with such men – she dumped me. I had simply become too dependent on her.
But the whole story is that she also had become pretty dependent on me as well. This often left me feeling claustrophobic at times, but without the wherewithal to periodically take some space, for if she would ever get mad at me for doing so, I’d suddenly feel utterly alone in the world.
I came to refer to what we had as an “A-Frame relationship” – when each side completely leans on the other and cannot stand on its own.
When Debby finally found the strength to leave our stagnant structure, I fell to pieces.
After this I realized that having my own support system, be it family, friends, therapist, or a peer support group, was fundamental to what I brought to the table. Otherwise, I was not so much asking a woman to enter a relationship with me, but an enmeshment, a symbiosis.
Which is exactly what so often passes for a relationship these days.
It shocks me that with all the books, websites, blogs and talk shows out there offering couples advice, few if any ever mention this crucial point. For thousands of years it was always the community at large – the tribe or extended family, the neighbors (indeed the whole neighborhood) along with friends at the marketplace or the workplace, as well as the local spiritual leader and the congregation at large, that provided the social safety net to catch a couple when they were in danger of falling apart. But these days this fact gets discarded along with yesterday’s landlines.
Men especially are subject to ignoring this fundamental need for a support system, perhaps because we are more socialized to go it alone, and not value our male friends as much as women tend to value theirs. This is one reason that increasingly these days we see the woman ending things: All too often she has leap-frogged her mate in terms of growth, aided partially by the very support network he lacks.
And yeah—how many times have I said this? – we need our same sex friends the most, at least when it comes to sustaining a romantic relationship. It is they, generally speaking, that most reliably understand our needs and have our backs.
In America, and in her narcissistic brainchild New York, we live in a Cult of Individualism, and believe all I need is me…and money…and ways to improve myself. And oh yes – you. And ways to improve you.
We live to work, and love, and both takes up all our time.
Usually what happens when all one’s social needs get conflated into one person is such relationships go one of two routes: They either devolve into constant bickering and fighting – you-and-me-against-the-world usually becomes you-and- me-against-each-other — until one of them can’t stand it anymore, or the two people live unhappily ever after, stagnating together for decades, protecting each other from change. These are the stories you hear about when one partner dies, and the other follows within a matter of weeks or months. (Sometimes days).
Lately, Shelley has found a knitting circle, a feisty bunch of creative women who affirm her strong female essence. And I have my men’s team, my therapist, and my (mostly male) friends.
It can be a challenge in this world to find such support, but all I can say is, for us, and for the couples I work with, it works.