If the existence (and popularity) of Ashley Madison has taught us anything, it is that people stay in marriages for a lot of reasons that aren’t love. Be it financial (security, stability), social (status, image), personal (parenting, obligation) or just plain fear, seems like there are a whole lot of people not getting their needs met in their primary relationship. Which brings up two very interesting questions: one, what are your needs in a relationship and also, why do you think a stranger is better equipped to meet them than the person that “once upon a time” you made a lifelong commitment with?
Now, to be clear and upfront: I don’t necessarily think that any of the alternative reasons I mentioned (aside from fear) are “bad” reasons to stay in a marriage but also I don’t think that our societal construct of marriage is necessarily set up for long term success. In other words, let’s step into the no-judgment zone on this one (both of yourself and others). The cultural origins of marriage actually had very little to do with romantic love (and therefore lack of romantic love is not always a deal-breaker) and also: it is very hard to promise or guarantee that one person can be “the one” throughout a lifetime of change, growth and personal evolution. And also, the lifelong commitment thing was invented in an era when life expectancy was about 30 years, meaning that even if every girl married on the day of her first menses, most marriages would last fewer than 20 years.
So, okay—we get a lot of mixed messages about love and romance versus marriage and once (if) the first two disappear from our relationship we have been culturally conditioned to believe two things 1) that it is our fault and 2) that it doesn’t matter. We made our bed and now we have to “lie” in it (I love wordplay) and now we are back to Ashley Madison and the idea that getting our needs met is bad or selfish or wrong. So here is our central question: are relationships about love or control (of self and/or the other)?
One of the primary characteristics that I observe in marriages both good and bad is that of “management”. The premise seems to hold that each partner “manages” the other and this somehow is what makes the dynamic work. It is difficult to get into a conversation with either half of any couple without these sorts of clues slipping in—“She’s always late, so I lie about the time when things start”—“He never remembers what I tell him, so I leave notes everywhere”—etc etc.
This is harmless (mostly) but when we scratch below the surface we start to recognize the “control drama” that becomes the heart and soul of so many long-term relationships. Even if there is no betrayal in the traditional sense (Ashley Madison) there is a devaluing both of the partner’s idiosyncrasies (what makes them THEM) and of your own right to be an adult partner and not a parent/owner. How many women describe their husbands as “children” and how many men view their wives as impossibly high-maintenance pets?
Are you “in love” or “in control”?
The “experts” will tell you that the beginning of a relationship (aka “infatuation”) is not real, and the hard work of long-term commitment can only begin when accept our partner as flawed and in need of the simple grace of acceptance “as is”. And while it certainly doesn’t serve to put anyone up on a pedestal, why is it too much to ask that we engage in relationship with someone who commands both our attention and admiration on a long-term basis? Is the flaw in the format, or in our own human nature?
Falling in love is an amazing, incredible experience, but one of the main caveats is the need to step back and evaluate if the feeling we have are for the actual person or our projections. Mr. (or Ms.) “Right” is often just Mr. (or Ms.) “Right Now” because they trigger a healthy impetus towards growth in us that can no longer be denied. This is the wisdom behind relationships for “season, reason or lifetime”—often we enter people’s lives for a season or reason and this is not wrong, bad deficit or inferior to lifetime, just different.
So many people choose to stay in relationships that are not only no longer serving them, but are actually detrimental to them because they have been told this makes them “good”.
So many people believe that having their needs met in a relationship is “selfish” and something that must be accomplished “on the sly” (Ashley Madison).
So many people believe that a relationship is a dynamic in which you either control yourself and your “bad” impulses (to be happy and fulfilled) OR you control the other to maintain “the peace”.
Are you in love, or are you in control?
Because love is actually not about control. Ever. No, really.
If you feel the need to “control” yourself or the other, you are not “in love”. And that may be okay for you (and them). That may be just what you need right now, possibly forever.
But if you are actually in love, you will NEVER have the experience of clamping down, shutting off, denying yourself…if you are actually in love, you will feel yourself growing, opening, accepting yourself. This is LOVE. The expansion of self and communion with another for mutual growth and YES, HAPPINESS (so radical!)
Love cracks you open and pushes you to exceed your own boundaries, to experience yourself as worthy to experience the other as transformative. Love is never about manipulation or mollycoddling. Love is your essential truth meeting another’s essential truth and saying “hell, yeah let’s do this!” every damn day.
Everything else is just about control.
So are you in love, or are you in control?