For those who are too busy reading through the eight pages essay, I have summarized the aspects I found most significant.
The author Hara Estroff Marano discusses in depth the influence of today’s modern (Western?) society on relationships. I have derived three main aspects that are destructive to well-functioning relationships:
I. Today’s “Consumer Culture” combined with a desire for perfectionism
II. People focus on what their partner should be like rather than concentrating on what partner they themselves need to be
III. A lack of living life according to ones values, and consequently a lack of commitment
I. The Impact of Consumer Culture and Perfectionism
Marano sees in today’s society a culture with “pressure to constantly monitor our happiness”, and she states that “the plethora of choices create an expectation of perfection.” The “accelerating consumer mind-set is a major portal through which destructive forces gain entry and undermine conjoint life.” We have been programmed by a “consumer culture” and “psychologically, the goal of life becomes MY happiness.”
Look at today’s commercials: “I deserve better than I’m getting” as the basic message of almost every advertisement in the consumer culture, she quotes William Doherty, professor of family sciences at the University of Minnesota. “We come to believe that a partner’s job is, above all, to provide pleasure” and we start seeing our “partner as service provider.”
“If there’s one thing that most explicitly detracts from the enjoyment of relationships today, it’s an abundance of choice,” Marano continues. “We firmly believe that freedom of choice will lead to fulfillment. Our antennas are always up for better opportunities.” “A sense of multiple alternatives, of unlimited possibilities, breeds in us the illusion that perfection exists out there, somewhere, if only we could find it.”
As a result we become “attuned to disappointment and confused about its source, we wind up discarding perfectly good relationships.”
So, if you are in a relationship, and you see that things are just not “perfect”, have you ever considered how much this might be influenced by your consumer mind set? Are you constantly looking for something (someone!) better? Are you seeing your partner as someone to fulfill your needs?
I find in particular the last paragraph worth some thoughts. Indeed I see a lot of disappointment among people, and it would be helpful to identify the source of this disappointment.
Personally, I have no doubt that it is possible to find the “ideal” partner, but I agree to the old saying that nobody is perfect. The basis of any good relationship is to accept the other one as they are, isn’t it?
How good is good enough for you in a relationship? Are you eventually about to dump the ideal relationship you are already in? (Google the web for divorce statistics, and you will find that in some countries more than 50% of marriages end before death do them part. Are they that bad?)
One thing is for sure: those of us striving constantly for perfectionism are doomed to pain. As Marano quotes Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore college: “if perfection is what you expect, you will always be disappointed (…), we become picky and unhappy.”
“Thinking about attractive features of the alternatives not chosen reduces the potential pleasure in whatever choice we finally do make. (…) A greater variety of choice actually makes us feel worse.”
“It creates doubt about this person, who seems like a good person, someone I might even be in love with – but who knows what’s possible out there?”
II. Changing your partner or yourself
Besides a.m. aspects regarding the downsides of consumer culture and perfectionism on relationships, Marano touches on another point that is in my view equally important: “We are focused on the partner we want to have, not on the one we want – or need – to be.”
Although it is a platitude that we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves, this is often neglected when we are dealing with our spouses. “Important as it is to choose the right partner, it’s probably more important to BE the right partner. Most people are focused on changing the wrong person in the relationship.”
Two things are essential in my opinion when you are looking for a partner:
1) find someone who is already the way you want (need) him/her to be, so that you do not him/her to change
2) while picturing the ideal partner, look likewise at what kind of partner YOU have to be for him/her.
For instance if you are looking for a supermodel pursuing a healthy lifestyle, how attractive will you be for such a person if you are a couch-potato?
III. Values and Commitments
A third aspect deals with how we consciously live according to our values and consequently if we are willing to commit to our spouses:
“Commitment narrows down choice. But it is the ability to remember you really do love someone – even though you may not be feeling it at the moment.”
It’s about “to honor values over momentary feelings” and Marano says “the deepest, most enduring form of happiness is the result of sustained emotional investments in other people.”
“Happiness is about holding on to your values, deciding who you are and being that person, using your particular talent, and investing in others.”
Susan Pease Gadoua is quoted: “not enough people today are willing to do the hard work of becoming a more mature person.”
To make my point clear: I am not moralizing, neither am I proclaiming marriage nor monogamy as the right way of life. I do not think that any marriage or partnership must be saved just for the sake of it either. However, I find all the above mentioned worth some intense thoughts, especially if you’re unhappy or if your relationship seems to be going down the drain.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper for yourself, here’s a little thought-provoking exercise with 10 concrete questions for a quiet moment:
- What do you want from life?
- What are your true values and beliefs?
- Do you want to live alone, in a lifelong relationship, or maybe somewhere in between?
- How much value does a relationship have for you?
- Are you willing to commit to your spouse?
- How much are you willing to invest into a relationship?
- If you look as objectively as you can at your relationship, how good is it?
- Are you a perfectionist, constantly looking for something better that most likely does not exist?
- Could you derive more joy from your existing relationship if you acknowledge how great it actually already is?
- How would you need to change yourself to improve your relationship?
Happy Easter and enjoy life!