[Excerpt from Contentment. Copyright © 2017 Edward K. Watson. All rights reserved. Chapter 1.]
Humans have the ability to form lifelong sexual and romantic bonds with another person. Our hearts are touched when we hear stories where couples have been together for over 60 or 70 years or who die within days of the other. We cry while watching movies that showcase true love—such as when viewing the ending of The Notebook or Titanic.
Despite the institution of marriage, especially the traditional form of a man and woman entering into a pair-bond, is waning and losing its appeal except for those in the higher social and education classes; humans still yearn for stable companionships after we’ve reached a certain age and maturity level. We define and judge ourselves (and others) by whether we’re within a dedicated relationship with another person. Even if we’re not getting “married,” we’re still longing to live with another person in a dedicated, exclusive romantic relationship regardless of what it’s called.
We still expect the middle aged and the elderly to be in a stable relationship at least sometime in the past number of years and are rarely surprised when a “confirmed bachelor” gets married or gets a stable girlfriend when he hits middle age.
Those of us who are within a loving relationship, may tell our friends who constantly chase after loveless sex without settling down that they’re lucky that they have sexual variety; but when we go to bed that same night, we hug our partners a little bit tighter, and thank God we’re in a committed relationship. Sure it’s hypocritical, but there’s a great difference between sexual satisfaction from loveless sex and sex with someone you love who loves you back. The former makes you feel empty, especially the older you get, while the latter gives you contentment and a feeling that everything’s right with the universe.
Applying this book will make your relationship better! It does this by showing that you’re not alone and there are common things that apply to just about every exclusive relationship. It identifies things that will make any marriage better regardless of wealth, fame, education, problems, setbacks, or conflicts.
Stages of Marriage
Marriage has different stages that I define as follows:
These stages overlap, but people generally can tell which stage they’re in by which stage characteristics are dominant in their marriage.
Infatuation starts when the couple is euphorically “in love” – where they can’t get enough of each other, and would just climb inside the other if only they could. They constantly gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, are always holding hands, and will tell everyone how awesome their partner is. Every quirk or trait is so adorable and endearing. They believe theirs is the greatest love ever (while everyone else around them are feeling nauseous or amused from witnessing and hearing the spectacle).
Young couples who get married after just dating for a short period of time are notorious for thinking infatuation is true love.
The Infatuation stage never lasts and usually ends very quickly by the start of the Molding stage when the bickering and fighting start because one will be doing something that drives the other crazy such as piling dirty dishes in the sink, throwing clothes everywhere, or not taking out the trash. Things that were previously adorable are now intolerable.
The Molding stage is when the power struggle comes to the forefront, where each party tries to influence and change or mold the other into becoming the person they want. There will be times the battle of wills get so bad that the couple will just hate everything about the other. Sex will disappear for weeks at a time until brief periods of peace allow it to happen—until it disappears again from a new big fight.
Warning signs during this stage are at least one of the following:
- Becomes controlling, abusive, manipulative, and/or obsessive (CAMO)
- Deliberately destroys or damages objects the spouse cherishes or owns
- Speaks evil about the spouse to others such as relatives and friends
It becomes very easy to break up the marriage during this stage if the couple does not have the support of their family and friends for their marriage.
It is important that you realize fights from territoriality, pride, and continuation of habits that the spouse objects to are normal during this stage.
This stage does not last forever as you two establish and respect boundaries and come to a common understanding of what your marriage will be. (This usually stems from getting tired of fighting and just giving up and accepting the fact that they cannot force their partner to change their ways.) Just watch out for the following signs of toxic behavior:
- Refuses to apologize
- Refuses to admit being wrong
- Refuses to stop fighting or delays reconciliation and the restoration of the normal affectionate relationship
- Does not forgive
- Starts screaming, hitting, or breaks things
- Brings up past fights and faults
- Keeps doing and saying the same things to start new fights
Recognizing the problem is half the battle. Put yourself in each other’s shoes and ask yourself if you were the other, would you be happy if your spouse kept doing those toxic behaviors?
Taking the time to stop and think about how your action impacts the other will go a long way to progressing your relationship to the Partnership stage.
If a couple survives the Molding stage, they progress onto the Partnership stage, which is the middle stage of a marriage, where the couple acts as tag-team partners who relieve each other of tasks and responsibilities, especially in relation to any children in the marriage. Each person is comfortable with the other and has mostly stopped trying to change the other. You’re like two planets closely orbiting each other with your family as your common center instead of your old individualized selves. Any children become your life and you two are their attendants, drivers, and protectors.
Passion and romance usually disappears and you fall into steady routine and familiarity. This stage has the couple’s sexual activities settling into the boring and predictable pace. Seeing each other naked doesn’t automatically trigger arousal anymore. You still love each other, but you no longer say it every day.
Ironically, divorce rates are actually higher in this stage than the tumultuous and sometimes violent Molding stage since the lack of exciting sex and passion for each other and the losing of one’s individual identity result in much higher rates of infidelity, midlife crises, workaholism, and addiction to drugs, alcohol, or gambling.
When this happens, you’ll need to revive the excitement within your relationship by making time for just the two of you (without the kids), start doing new things sexually, and become more impulsive and adventurous to bring back that exhilaration and thrill of being together that you had when you first became a couple.
This is when you abandon the kids or pets with grandma or auntie for the weekend. This is when you have the older children watch their younger siblings while you go out on dates at least every other weekend. This is when you do things that bring the “spark” back into the marriage.
As you continue in this stage, at some point, something’s going to change: you’re still partners and you still love your children, but you’ll start developing a new sense of identity that is more meaningful than the “self-centered” one you grew up with and the one you had when you first got married.
When you look in the mirror, you see someone who is stable and strong and who finds joy—pure unadulterated joy, in being married to your partner because he or she completes you.
You will appreciate how crucial your partner is to your own happiness and sense of worth. You’re going to be making excuses in leaving work early or ditching your relatives and friends just to spend more time with your spouse. You’re going to be dumping the kids on others or leaving them by themselves when they’re old enough just so that the two of you can go shopping by yourselves and hold hands while walking. You’ll look at your partner’s face and be taken aback by how beautiful or handsome they are and how words get caught in your throat when you’re mesmerized by their eyes once more.
You are now transitioning into the Complementary stage, the long-term and enduring stage of marriage.
The Complementary stage occurs when the couple is mature and knows the other intimately. It is the comfortable long term stage where the couple form one-half of a “life” and can’t imagine being whole without the other. It is where the husband and wife prefer to be with each other than to be with any other person, and while each still maintains their own identity, they also think in the plural sense instead of just for themselves and know exactly how their spouse will react given a specific opportunity or incident.
As for fights, this stage sees the couple constantly bickering about each other about trivial things, whether it’s snoring, being messy, not putting celery in a tuna salad, or leaving the lights on. However, they find validation in their lives using griping as an outlet—and will miss it terribly if the source of their complaints stops doing it. He may be an ass, but he’s her ass. She may be a bitch, but she’s his bitch.
You can see couples in the Complementary stage by going to your park when it’s nice outside. They are the old couples walking together while holding hands, who are throwing bread to the birds, who are sitting on the bench observing the kids play, and taking time watching the world go by.
It is the most beautiful thing to behold.
Living with Regrets
People make mistakes and do things they regret. Maturity comes when one recognizes that they made poor and bad choices in the past and now live their lives avoiding the same mistakes. You may have given up a great person in your past because you didn’t possess the knowledge and maturity you now have. Fix what you can and move on with things you can’t correct.
Marriage isn’t a game that you should be able to destroy on a whim. It is a lifelong commitment you make to another human being who makes the same promises to you. You should never enter into it thinking divorce is an option. That’s not fair to your spouse nor to everyone affected by the relationship.
If you have doubts or are in love with someone else, you must NOT get married! If you’re holding out hope of getting together with someone else; don’t be an asshole by destroying someone else’s life who married you out of love! There’s no such thing as a soul mate or perfect partner—until long after two people have been together.
Movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral may be charming, but they gloss over the pain and humiliation inflicted on the jilted partner such as Anna Chancellor’s Henrietta (“Duckface”).
It is immoral and disgusting to destroy someone’s life whose only fault was loving you enough to want and agree to marry you.
When one gets married, one must work hard and make it work. One must put the needs and feelings of the spouse before themselves. Regrets should be kept in the past and the effort should be focused on making the marriage into the heavenly union it can potentially become.
At What Age Should You Marry?
There’s really no ideal age to get married since there are advantages and disadvantages to getting married while young or old. You get married when you’re ready to commit to another person, make sacrifices and compromises, and have a family. I do recommend that if you want to have children; that you marry while young so that they’ll be independent adults themselves by the time you’re at the age when you’ll start needing medical care.
However, in practical terms, if you are young and still not fully mature emotionally (that is, below 35 years of age); it is vital that at least one of your families be involved and support your marriage. You will need their wisdom and experience for guidance and support during the early years when your ideal of what marriage looks like shatters with the reality and compromise that real marriage demands on both man and woman—and the inevitable disillusionment that occurs after the giddiness of being “in love” disappears.
As you pass through the tumultuous initial years, you should arrive at a comfortable stage where things stabilize emotionally and your age at marriage becomes a nonissue.
Should You Even Get Married?
Marriage is tough. You’re going to have to give up a lot of freedoms and become less selfish. You’re going to have to factor another person in everything you do. However, generally speaking, the benefits of marriage far outweigh any problems you may envision. Your heart will become whole and you will find tremendous happiness and contentment sharing your life and its burdens with another person.
As for whether you should marry a specific person, well, that depends on the internal issues between the two of you, as well as the external influences surrounding the two of you.
Read Marriage’s Fine Print
Marriage isn’t a joke and should never be done on a whim. They are legal agreements and a great percentage of them fail. This is why it is important to look honestly at the internal and external forces driving you to marry and the circumstances and environment surrounding your upcoming marriage to determine if you should marry at all.
Odds of Divorce
The odds of divorce depends on many factors independent of the triggers that cause divorce (such as infidelity, violence, or money troubles). The overall rates are well established in every country but one needs to dig deeper into the source data to determine the likelihood of their marriage lasting.
Factors Affecting the Likelihood of a Marriage Ending in Divorce
|Younger = higher divorce rate because of perceived ability to easily remarry|
|Higher = lower divorce rate|
|Higher = lower divorce rate|
|Higher = lower divorce rate|
Response to Stress
|Withdrawal/depression/addiction/self-harm/CAMO response = higher divorce rate;
Communication/cooperation/goal setting/self-control/empathy = lower divorce rate
|Lower = higher divorce rate|
|Does not want to admit making a mistake getting married, does not want to fail, willing to work hard to save marriage = lower divorce rate|
|More religious = lower divorce rate|
|Divorce from an earlier marriage = greater likelihood of getting divorced again|
|Negative social attitude/stigma towards divorce = lower divorce rate
Tolerance for infidelity and negative actions within a marriage = lower divorce rate
|Divorced parents and/or siblings and/or grandparents = higher divorce rate|
|Divorced best friends and social circle = higher divorce rate|
|Parents and siblings opposed to marriage = higher divorce rate|
A simple rule of thumb in assuming the likelihood of your marriage lasting a lifetime is the following:
- Two-in-three chance if you have good family support and both of you have college degrees, both are upper or high middle class, and neither is divorced from an earlier marriage
- One-in-two or 50-50 chance if supportive family isn’t nearby and neither finished college and are working class
- One-in-three chance if you get married before 25 and family is opposed to marriage and no college education and are working class or lower
Be Smart: Get a Prenuptial Agreement
Because marriages are legal agreements, the legal aspects of marriage should be addressed within a prenuptial agreement before you take the next step into marriage. Since prenups are legal, both of you must rely upon separate legal help (one for you, one for your future spouse) since you cannot be impartial because you’re so in love with each other.
Prenuptial agreements should be mandatory for every marriage and especially so if you have children from a previous relationship, property, extensive assets like stocks or a retirement account, a high paying job, or go to school.
Yes, they’re ugly and crass, but the millions of destroyed lives resulting from divorce or death of a spouse requires a guarantee be made to handle everything legal, especially if there are children from a prior relationship. Otherwise, the only ones who really benefit are the divorce lawyers (who just love messy divorces since the longer and messier they become, the more money they can squeeze out of the both of you).
The cost and discomfort of a prenup is nothing compared to what it’ll cost in money and emotional hurt if you don’t have one and things go south in the marriage. Why take a chance and just enrich the lawyers? Signing a prenup means one is marrying for love not money—and if the wealthier spouse truly loved the other more than he or she loved their wealth; they will always draft a prenup that contains a fair distribution of assets instead of insisting on a one-sided arrangement.
If you don’t have children from a prior relationship, it should have a sunset clause or terms that specify separate property becomes marital property after a set period of time (such as after 20 years of marriage). Alternatively, you can supersede prenups at any time with one that allows the spouse to inherit property in case of death.
Prenups should be agreed upon and signed well before the wedding date. Despite not being romantic, it is a prudent action similar to having a will or life insurance policies.
Debts and Liabilities
Marriage means both parties agree to share responsibilities for all incurred debts and liabilities. For example, if one party has tens of thousands in credit card debts or student loans; the new spouse becomes legally liable for paying them off just as if he or she agreed to co-sign a loan at a bank.
That’s an awfully big responsibility to expect of another to willingly assume onto themselves. It becomes a source of resentment and a constant source of conflict, especially if the guilty party keeps on incurring additional debt during the marriage. We’ve all heard stories of husbands or wives working to pay off their partner’s debt—have you ever heard any of them say it without complaining or without using it as an excuse for divorce? A typical guy drowning his misery in a bar will tell a total stranger: “My wife had $50,000 in student loans when we got married. Guess who had to pay it off? Yup, Mr. Stupid here. To make matters worse, she kept on buying shoes and purses and couldn’t resist maxing out her credit cards. Guess who had to pay them off? Yep again! I’m glad I dumped the bitch!”
This is where maturity and accountability come into play. If you have lots of debt going into a marriage, never view marriage as a means of avoiding to pay off your debt by having your spouse take care of it.
You must prove you’re responsible for your own debt and pay it off yourself without relying upon your spouse. You must explicitly tell them you, not them, will pay it off and they don’t need to worry about it.
Cut up all your credit cards except one for emergencies, consolidate your debt so that you’ll have just one debt to pay off, and live on a firm budget until you become debt free.
That is when the narrative changes from complaints and fights to points of pride and admiration: “I’m so proud of my wife! When we got married, she owed $50,000 in student loans, but she paid it all off in just three years without any help from myself. I’m so lucky to have her!”
Joint Bank Accounts
You’re going to have to merge your finances together and, preferably, maintain a separate bank account to pay off any personal debt that you acquired before marriage to demonstrate that you clean up your own messes (thus avoiding unnecessary strain on your marriage).
Having a joint bank account during marriage simplifies bill payments and financial planning and tracking. It reduces the likelihood of overdrafts and allows one to have immediate access to funds in the event of a spouse’s death or incapacitation.
The problem with a joint bank account is in the event that the marriage collapses, one party can empty and close the account.
A way of working around this problem would be to have both parties maintain their own separate accounts with sufficient funds that they can access in case of an emergency but have the joint account receive their paychecks to pay for all the family’s expenses such as mortgage, credits cards, car payments, insurance premiums, utilities, and so forth.
You’re Getting New Family Members
Marriage isn’t just about sharing your life with just your new spouse; it entails bringing an entirely new family into your life and into your family’s life. You may suddenly get a mother-in-law and/or father-in-law, a brother-in-law and/or a sister-in-law, nephews and nieces, and entirely new sets of aunts and uncles and cousins—and you’re going to be related to them until death.
Think of the dynamic of what that means. Is there history between any member of one side of the family with the other side that can cause problems? For example, are there any who’ve had prior sexual or criminal history with the other such as your brother used to go out with your fiancé’s sister or your dad served time in jail for stabbing your fiancé’s father when they were younger?
Do your respective parents get along or do they despise each other—and will that be a source of conflict between you two? Are they both supportive of your marriage or is one side or both actively trying to break you apart? How are family gatherings during holidays, special events, and everyday interactions going to occur? Will you need to move to get some privacy and just limit communication to the lowest level possible?
It goes without saying that the ideal is for both sets of family to get along with each other and support your marriage. However, the reality is getting along may not be possible. Imagine how awkward your family events would be if sordid or unpleasant history existed between your two families?
Will the wife take her husband’s last name? Will she hyphen it with her own, or will she keep her own? Will he?
Think carefully before changing names due to marriage—there could be unintended consequences. Will the new name result in an unfortunate new name that could be the source of jokes or unwanted associations, either from being identical to a notorious criminal or a famous person (who may have already trademarked the name)?
If the wife is expected to assume her husband’s last name and the new name results in making her an object of ridicule; that is when tradition needs to be thrown out the window. No decent man should want to humiliate and embarrass his bride with an insulting or inappropriate name in favor of a tradition just because she loved him and agreed to marry him.
Who says you can’t create your own tradition? At some point in the past, one of your ancestors did, which is how you got your surname in the first place. Why not make an entirely new surname and start your own clan or dynasty?
Moving for Work or School
Where are you going to live after marriage? If you live in separate cities and both work, who’s going to give up their job and move? Is it possible to move to a different branch of the company? Whose career takes the hit?
Just keep in mind you shouldn’t put your career above your marriage, regardless of how empowering or enjoyable it is. You can always find another job but you can’t always find another spouse who gives validity and joy to your life the way your beloved does.
Make your Marriage Work
Provided you both work at it and do your best in becoming the best possible partners you can be; your marriage will be worth it. Yes, you will experience hardship, challenges, frustrations, pain, anger, and miseries from time to time—but you’ll experience them anyways regardless of whether you’re married or single. That’s just part of the human condition.
Having a good wife or husband by your side as you go through life makes the journey much more tolerable and enjoyable. And it has the added benefit of making your soul whole and giving purpose to your life.
 Everybody Loves Raymond’s Frank tells his wife Marie, “It’s the celery that makes tuna salad ‘tuna salad.’ What you gave me was tuna slop!’”
 See Chapter 15: Think of the Big Picture.
 CAMO: Controlling, Abusive, Manipulative, and/or Obsessive
 Never rely upon your future spouse’s lawyer without having your own lawyer examine and provide advice concerning the prenuptial agreement before you sign it.