I remember flipping through a celebrity magazine one afternoon in a few years back which broadcasted the failings of not one, but two celebrity marriages. Brit and Kevin Federline had broken up, and a few pages later unnamed “friends” divulged that Reese Witherspooon’s marriage to her lesser-known spouse had ended, too. Speculation was that her young husband was finding it hard, living with an Oscar-winning success. Can’t be easy that, especially when you are a lesser-known actor. Must be a real hardship. Maybe it’s best to call it a day and leave the two small kids and the emotional carnage of a broken marriage behind than endure the humiliation of your wife being more successful than you.
And young Kevin’s philandering suggested that he had fallen out of love with Britney … and there’s no point in carrying on if that’s the case. No point in staying in a marriage that’s making you miserable.
Is it time we reassessed our definition of ‘miserable’ in a relationship? It comes down to the selfish manipulation of that phrase “having our needs met”.
Here are a few of my needs: I need to start each day with my husband gazing at me with an expression of deep admiration and unbridled passion. I then need for him to get up and serve me a low-carb cooked breakfast. I need to know that loving and delightful thoughts about me are popping into my husband’s head all day long whilst not distracting him from his work, because I need him to surprise me with romantic weekends away. I need him to tell me I am looking lovely every time I apply lipstick and sometimes when I don’t. I need to be able to look at him every day and think, “Phwoar!” with the same voracity and lust I did when we were young lovers. I also need for my life partner never to irritate me, criticise me, or say a cross word to me, ever. Oh … and I need him to do all of these things whilst still behaving like a real man and not one of those weedy soft-fingered “new men”. I need all of this every day, for the rest of my life as long as we both shall live.
Anyone else out there finding that marriage is not quite the contract we signed up for? The problem with being part of the privileged “Because I’m worth it” generation is that sometimes it is difficult to make that all important distinction between what we need (a standard issue spouse for sex and companionship) and what we want (see above, with all the trimmings of a Hollywood romance).
I believe in divorce. There are enough tragic terrible marriages out there to make it a necessary part of a civilised society. But I am not talking about physical and emotional abuse or serial adultery. I’m talking about the kind of everyday misery that every relationship involving two people living in close range with one another must experience. Here’s the newsflash: a little misery in marriage is inevitable.
You don’t have to encourage it, or welcome it, but you better learn to suck it up from time to time. We have mythologized love to such an extent that people are no longer prepared for the realities of long-term relationships. We are taught that it is good not to compromise, not to put up with anything we don’t like, not to sacrifice our own beliefs for anyone or anything. Yet compromise and sacrifice are the cornerstones of marital love.
No matter what way you dress it up, the best thing you can bring to a marriage is not the feeling of ‘being in love’, but romance’s poor relation: tolerance. Add to that enough maturity to be able to fulfil your own needs and you have some hope. Optimism and chemistry, which seem to be the bedrock of the modern marriage, just don’t cut it, folks. And while I am pontificating, one more tip for the ladies: Try to find a man who has that most underrated of qualities: character. I did and so far my Oscar hasn’t bothered him. Although I am still waiting for my cooked breakfast…