Thursday, May 28, 2009

[happiness] there are other ways around the impasse

The first article, identifying problems, was here.

Now follows a possible solution entitled: How to Stay Married, from December 11, 2003, by Roger Dobson of The Independent:

So, what is the secret of a happy partnership? If any two ought to know, they are George and Ann Levinger. Not only are they both psychologists and experts in the theory of marriage and close relationships, but they have also just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

For most of their lives, Dr Ann Levinger and her husband, Professor George Levinger, of the University of Massachusetts, have been carrying out research into other people's partnerships. (George is one of the world's leading relationship academics, credited with coining the phrase, "What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility".)

But, with that golden anniversary looming, the couple decided to investigate their own marriage in much the same way as they had been dissecting the lives of thousands of others over the years.

Just how had they stayed the course when so many had fallen by the wayside? What was different about them? Did luck play a part? How had two powerful and successful individuals lived happily together for half a century?

"It is an unusual way to celebrate an anniversary," says George Levinger. But unlike their other studies, there was no risk of the participants hiding anything from the researchers, and the result of this unique academic exercise is both a scholarly assessment of a marriage, and an insight into an enduring relationship that has evolved to see off all threats, including the swinging '60s, and which has adapted to accommodate the needs of both partners.

Lasting bonds: What good partnerships have in common:

# Meeting in an adventurous setting
# Keeping passion alive while resisting mate-swapping
# Similar biological clocks and energy levels
# Not setting up home too close to either set of parents
# Romantic weekends away without kids at least once a year

Those who want to last the course need to be comfortable with a partner's relatives, but should not set up home too close to either set of parents. Shared interests and housework, as well as a shared bed, are important, and so too is having a no-blame culture, with a ban on public rows or put-downs.

Regular travel and holidays play a key role, as does having rewarding jobs. Operating with similar biological clocks and energy levels helps. Regularly telling your partner you love them is vital, as is being a good listener, and having a supportive circle of friends.

The four biggest threats to a marriage are:

# criticism
# defensiveness
# contempt
# stonewalling

… say the couple in a report on their research, published in the journal Personal Relationships.

They identify three factors needed for a good relationship:

# passion
# intimacy
# commitment.

A long-term relationship is also affected by three environments or contexts — macro, meso and micro.

# Macro-contexts are the rules, law and circumstances, such as economic opportunity, of the society in which the couple live, and which affect everyone.

# The meso-context is the local environment, and includes social, family and work relationships, as well as the couple's home and physical environment.

# The micro-context, around which most relationship research is based, is the intimate or not-so-intimate environment that a couple evolves for itself over time.

"Initially, our relationship was strongly influenced by our macro-environment. Later, it became increasingly affected by the meso and micro-contexts we had ourselves constructed," say the Levingers.

Couples have little control over their macro-environment, and only varying levels of influence in selecting their meso-environments, but they have a lot of input into their micro-context, which they begin to build from the start of their relationship, say the Levingers, who first met on July 22, 1950, during a mountain-top student trek near San Francisco.

Meeting against a dramatic backdrop may have given the relationship an initial boost and helped create a long-lasting effect. The Levingers point to research that shows heightened arousal was found in couples who met for the first time while crossing a precarious suspension bridge.

"The imprint of that long-ago Sunday morning remains high in our store of romantic memories. That setting had a major impact on both of us," they write.

During the next few months, the relationship grew slowly: "Not only did our mutual love of nature and adventure bring us into stimulating environments, but we were comfortable with each other's families and friends," they say.

"In our marriage, we were able to find rewarding careers with adequate financial compensations. We lived far from both sets of parents and felt free to develop an autonomous lifestyle. Had we lived near one but not the other, we might have been torn by pressures to conform more to the norms of the nearer relatives."

The couple found that in the early years of the marriage, when they had four young children, they needed to escape the pressures occasionally: "One beautiful May weekend, we left our house and children with a babysitter and headed away for a romantic overnight. We called this having an affair with each other, and we vowed to repeat such weekends at least once a year," says Ann Levinger.

During the '60s, there were fresh challenges. As a relationship professor, George Levinger found himself having to include new, alien subjects in his seminars, including open marriages, mate-swapping and swinging sex.

"These were challenging times for committed relationships. Ann and I participated in these discussions, but we realised they were not for us. I considered them distractions at best."

Not that there were no temptations: "My sincerity was tested during my research fellowship at Yale, which required me to spend several nights each week away from home. Not merely to save money, but also to avoid temptations, I rented an extremely small room, with a single bed, and a desk and chair," he says.

He adds: "Ann and I formed our personal response to having affairs. If — as we had witnessed among a number of our acquaintances — the resulting separation or divorce were expensive, then a much cheaper alternative would be to carry on an affair with each other inside our own marriage. Even the allure of coupling with a novel sexual partner we could simulate by pretending occasionally that our own spouse was totally new. By keeping intimacy and passions high, we had little interest in exploring alternatives that might have eroded our commitment."

Sharing experiences and listening to each other was found to have played an important role: "We have shared joys and sorrows, and we know what either pleases or angers our partner. When one of us has a problem, he or she is likely to discuss it first with the other. We also trust each other's judgments in critical personal and interpersonal situations. That, it seems to us, is the crux of intimacy," they say.

"We have tried to create a context of trust and one that elicits verbal and physical affection. And, though we confront conflict privately, we avoid public arguments or put-downs, and choose friends who are mutually helpful and respectful."

The couple also found that although they had been shaped by their marriage, the relationship itself had evolved: "Over the years, our marriage has transformed us as individuals and spouses, and in turn we have grown to transform the marriage itself."


There are situations which really are the end of the world and I’m thinking of genuinely battered wives where even men would admit she gave no provocation, such as Ike and Tina Turner, where the issue was probably that she didn’t knuckle under and become the dutiful wife.

Then there are the ones like this from the first article:

Theodore Dalrymple decries [a particular piece of literature] as the locus classicus of self-pity and victimhood and suggests an alternative title: "How to be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved".

In my second book, Lemmings, I quote a real incident where a man who was consulting me at the time had a partner who adored him, he seemed to love her and yet he was going round with any number of women behind her back. There were no material reasons for it to be so – just him. He genuinely assumed that all men were like that but I bet he’d have turned savage if she was sleeping round behind his back.

I’m also thinking specifically of a child I once taught who’d become difficult, the father came in and said his wife had left him and there was not much that could be done at that point, the child remaining with him. The thirtyish wife came in a week later, knowing I knew and proceeded to explain that her husband seemed to live for his work and family but she wanted a life. There were fresh fields out there, men to meet etc. The girl herself brought her mother back to some semblance of reason but some of the things the mother had said remained with me – that she felt a sense of grievance that he wasn’t making her life exciting enough. In James Bond’s words – the world is not enough.

The assuaging of the ego in both cases, at the expense of the partner, I found quite nauseating.

Yes you can

We all feel aggrieved, in some way, that we’re not getting a fair deal, that the other doesn’t understand about certain matters, that the storehouse of unresolved petty grievances is unsurmountable and must inevitably lead to separation and divorce. No one’s perfect but I’d like to put a bit of a shaky analogy from gym training which maybe is not so far-fetched.

In pressing weights, the one who wears the correct gear, who talks a lot about his achievements and who pushes the weights until he’s reached what he considers his limit almost always progresses slowly.

Then there is another who reaches his absolute limit but the trainer standing behind him says, ‘No, do another,’ and he finds it in himself to do. Satisfied, he goes to put the bar back in the rack but the trainer says, ‘One more time, come on.’ Instead of giving way to the ‘I can’t’, he gives it one last, massive try and is delighted he could do it but the trainer says, ‘One last time – try it, come on, I’ll hold the ends of the bar for you.’ The lifter shouts and pushes but can’t lift it so the trainer holds the ends of the bar and, encouraged, the man manages to lift it. ‘One more time,’ says the trainer and with a supreme effort, the bar gets halfway, is stuck there, the trainer takes it quickly and puts it in the rack.

‘I couldn’t have done that last one if you hadn’t held the bar,’ the lifter says, referring to the penultimate [completed] lift.

‘I didn’t hold the bar. I was only touching the ends,’ the trainer says. ‘You did it.’

The man had tried to lift that weight 7 times and ended up lifting it 10 and a half times.

I see relationships a bit that way. You can, with the help of the other, if you really, really want to. You’ve got the most powerful force in the universe right there to help you – the chemistry between a man and a woman, if only you’ll let it do its job.

When you finally, absolutely can’t, go and take a break and then come back.

We’re two halves of the same species

Like the other dark piece of legerdemain - that white must be ‘balanced’ with black, the notion that men and women are two different species is a justification trotted out for the inability to come to terms.

It’s so true that if one of the partners refuses to try, then it’s sure looking dire but there are still ways round that, if you really want. Examine yourself and see if you’re the one getting his/her back up, go away and restrategize.

Lastly, put all the stuff and nonsense that the misogynists and misandrists have fed us right out of mind and treat it on a case by case basis. Don’t start thinking, ‘Oh well, that’s women for you,’ or, ‘All men are like that.’

They’re not. There are gender elements, sure, but anyone can curtail and compromise if he/she wants to. If you have a partner on your hands and there’s some sort of chemistry there in the first place, don’t start letting externals like cr-p literature and the media sway you. Take it on a one2one basis.

When all else fails

This is where the law should be clear and there should be a legal formula for separation and divorce. It needs to be thrashed out, not by vocal pressure groups but by people from all walks of life, none excluded, over a period of, say, a year.

It should be equitable, meaning that ALL parties accept the compromise position, not just one vocal party currently in the ascendancy in society, imposing on the other and using an agency to chase up the other party.

Then, with this 1000 page [or whatever] handbook distributed throughout the country, there should be very little discretion for the arbiter [not a magistrate – it should never have got to that stage].

You might say, ‘There is already an equitable system in 2009,’ to which I ask, in return, ‘Do you happen to be a woman?’

No, it is not equitable and fair and all parties have NOT sat down and agreed in principle to the provisions. It needs to be done and done quickly. With even a sizeable minority refusing to accept the current provisions, it can never be workable and can never bring stability back to this area. You need all parties to sign up to it.


dearieme said...

"George is ..credited with coining the phrase, "What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility"."

1) It's not a phrase.
2) It's a clunker.

CherryPie said...

"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility".That is very true!

So is this beautiful comment that was posted on my blog recently:

I always believe that the measure of a friendship is in how you recover from an argument.
So let us not get bogged down with rules ;-)

His Girl Friday said...

quite agree about how you 'recover from an argument'.
And, as the love/in-love feelings come and go...the friendship, and the mutual respect, commitment, caring (and long-suffering) that friends allow for one another, is the strength and the key to a good relationship.

(also, me thinks every couple should be given his and her sets of boxing gloves, with fair play rules...though, I think my husband might prefer mud-wrestling... ;))

James Higham said...

Those who are right in there [and currently I'm not] know how the thing goes.