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Divorce or delusion?

May 24th, 2005 · 6 Comments

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution linked to a Financial Times article titled To love, honor and overrate. Both the post and the article implied that the two options for married couples are delusion/distortion or divorce:

Psychologists believe that what they are observing in couples who endorse these and similar sentiments are strongly selective memories that ignore inevitable negative events over the course of marital history. Maybe a distorted view of your marriage that emphasises the positive and forgets the negative is crucial to accounting for who stays and who flees when it comes to relationship endurance


This series of new psychological studies suggests the real issue in marriages is not the faults you notice in your spouse and try to point out. Rather they suggest that the best therapy for couples is to encourage more deluded thinking.

If you are going to insist on being realistic, then maybe marriage is not for you.

I disagree with the concluding statement by FT’s Raj Persaud that marriage is for those who don’t want to be realistic. Marriage, I would argue, makes one more realistic.

Why have relationships? Are they to satisfy oneself? Or to bring happiness to the other partner?[see
Halley’s comment on Sex and the City selfishness] I’m disturbed by the implication in these pieces that we stay married only when we feel satisfied. Is getting married like purchasing a product? Where’s my money-back guarantee?!

But sustaining this belief in the face of partners who sometimes disappoint seems to require a protective buffer, one that is afforded by the perception of special virtues in the partner. Once achieved, Murray argues, this positive bias allows satisfied intimates to dispel potential doubts or reservations almost in advance of their occurrence.

I argue that of course my partner has special virtues. He’s married to me. Anyone who has put up with me for 14 years has to be special.

Relationships require the ability to be realistic. I’m not advocating shoving things under the carpet; that’s destructive. In marriage or any long-term relationship, we become familiar with who we are, if we see accurately. We will disappoint. We may break promises. We won’t be perfect. We’ll fight. We’ll have a crisis. We’ll have to accept that we don’t love the way we want to love. What do we do when we mess up with each other?

Marriage doesn’t mean wearing rose-colored glasses or refusing to see ugly aspects of your partner. I’m sure that if Ted and I wanted to do so, we could each rip the other into shreds with the truth. But we don’t because we know that the dance of marriage is

Through our years together, I’ve seen enough of myself to know I’m a mess. Marriage has revealed my rough spots. Yet Ted still loves me, lives with me, stays with me. He has his faults. I have mine. But I know he’s wonderful. I’m not delusional. Instead I’m someone who has been loved when she didn’t deserve it. When you’ve been loved in a deep way, beyond reason, the automatic response is to love in return with deep passion and gratitude.

Relationships require flexibility. The ability to bend. Relationships must be resilient to stand the test of time, like rubber bands, able to stretch and accommodate changes:
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. But it is going forward in hope and trust. Perhaps in a sense it is even extending credit into future situations. That’s what love does.

Love may be blind. Love may make you crazy. But marriage doesn’t make you delusional. No, it will break any blindness and leave you groping for grace in the brightness of reality.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // May 24, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Thank you, Julie, for expressing this. Marriage (to my husband) is the finest thing I have ever known. A place to see the love of God in action: as you said, being loved without deserving it, even when faults are so evident due to proximity. Reality indeed, along with a real chance for total grace extended in love and forgiveness. A huge chance for development of character and deepening as a person, in servanthood and humility. The potential boggles the mind. Two flawed people learning to get along in acceptance and mutual yielding. Help from God is essential.

  • 2 Bob V // May 24, 2005 at 11:35 am

    Right on, Julie. The FT article was clearly written to get a rise out of people.

    The full article mentions that the researcher’s basis for thinking partners are deluding themselves is that they rate their partners higher than other family members. However, wouldn’t we expect our partners to have high opinions of us? I would hope that my wife would have a higher opinion of me than the other people I know.

    Then again, there might be marriages out there where partners really are deluding themselves.

  • 3 Kai Jones // May 24, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    My happy marriage is largely attributable to compassion for the flaws in myself and my husband, and not expecting him to be G-d (perfect, flawless) anymore than I am.

    I could pick at the things that annoy me, I could focus on the problems and the faults, but where would that get me? Either he’s worth it (and then why fuss about it all?) or he’s not (and I’d rather use that energy to leave).

  • 4 Julie // May 26, 2005 at 5:52 am

    Thanks, Katherine, Bob and Kai!

  • 5 Jenny // May 26, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    Right on Julie!

  • 6 Julie // May 30, 2005 at 10:16 am

    Thanks Jenny!

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