“We don’t need to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane.” ~ Alain de Botton, The Course of Love
Writing about love and marriage this week is purely coincidental – honest. The fact that it is Valentine’s Day on Tuesday did not occur to me until well into researching and writing on this topic. I have some professional experience in the area of relationships, and more importantly, my husband Colin and I just celebrated 20 years of marriage this past August. So after listening to Alain de Botton talk to Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast, The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships, I was inspired to talk about it this week.
“Why you will marry the wrong person”
As the opening quote indicates, Alain de Botton is the author of numerous books, including The Course of Love, and is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. He also wrote the most read New York Times article of 2016, despite the political noise in the US. His article Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person offered a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ look at the complexity of lasting relationships, love and beyond the “I do”.
His outlook on love, although pragmatic, is valid:
“Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
And as he says in his conversation with Krista during the On Being podcast:
“We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.”
Alain also believes a first date should begin with “How are you crazy?”, because let’s face it, there is truth to the notion ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. However, do we really believe that? Despite our own idiosyncrasies, thoughts and behaviours, it is often twisted to ‘it’s not me, it’s them’. As Alain eludes to, we often perceive ourselves to be easier to live with than we are. Unfortunately, in our society, marriage has almost taken on the characteristic of a job – you don’t like it, you go find another one. As you know, it is not that easy nor logical, and Alain goes on to prove why his article was number #1:
“We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.
We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us – and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”
What are 3 identifiable aspects of a lasting marriage?
1) Love yourself – as obvious and trite as this may sound, it is absolutely true. Self-awareness and self-acceptance become very important in the process of loving someone else. If we first love ourself, than we aren’t with someone to make us happy or complete us – we are whole and complete on our own. However, having romantic love in our life can make us happier and more accurately, more content. Love adds a sense of fulfillment, but if you think of your well-being as a cup, many other components help add to the filling of your cup.
2) Know your partner – if you have never heard of Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, you might want to check it out. You may also want to take the quiz to find out what your love language is – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. When you are answering the questions, it may start to reveal why some arguments come up repeatedly and why some things mean a lot to you. In turn, it is useful to know what matters to you in love and share this with your partner and vice versa.
My husband Colin and I did it and I was not surprised with the results. Both our primary love language is acts of service and second is quality time. This partly explains why our marriage is so strong – we truly love doing things for one another and spending time together.
3) Communication, communication, communication – overstated, maybe, essential, yes! And the more we communicate with our partner, the more likely we will argue, disagree and possibly annoy one another, but the more we will also connect, understand and grow together.
Chapman, G. The Five Love Languages
Gottman, J. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work