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Marriage: Husbands, Wives and Other Imperfections
Nothing elementary about marriage
By Steven Martinovich
Love and marriage, Frank Sinatra once sang, was elementary. This, of course, came from the man who was married four times in his life. As Sinatra really knew, and most of us ultimately learn, there is little elementary about marriage, least of all maintaining the love that forms the basis of it. That's the message Iris Krasnow delivers in the recently issued in paperback Surrendering to Marriage: Husbands, Wives and Other Imperfections.
The wedding ritual is one that has been designed from the ground up to set us up for eventual disappointment. From a ceremony that most people want to resemble something out of a fairy tale to opening years of bliss, it's only after two people truly begin to learn about each other that the difficult work begins. It's also where many marriages begin to flounder and the reason why the divorce rate has hovered around the 50 per cent mark for the past two decades.
Krasnow does nothing to dissuade her readers from believing that marriage is terribly difficult, stating at one point that it's easier to be a parent than to be married because love for a child is something that comes easy for us. Marriage, on the other hand, is the unity of two people who are often very different even if they share many of the same interests and traits. Surrendering to Marriage is filled with stories of marital dissatisfaction, wandering eyes, lust and even adultery, things that she maintains are present in many marriages to some degree. It's enough to dissuade even the most diehard romantic from tying the knot.
Singlehood, however, is not what Krasnow is promoting. Rather, Surrendering to Marriage is an argument that being married is hard work. For every high point in a marriage is a corresponding low point and the secret to a successful marriage is working through those lows. Those stories of marital dissatisfaction, wandering eyes, lust and even adultery are an eventual endpoint for two people who, Krasnow argues, are unwilling to give up short term gain for longer term quiet happiness.
It's a message that fell on deaf ears for many of Krasnow's fellow Baby Boomers. The Me Generation believed it deserved all that life had to offer, a booming career, great sex, marriage, children and a lavish lifestyle, without realizing that for most people it's impossible to have and balance them all. Krasnow argues that in order to have a successful marriage, it's necessary to give up pursuing pleasure every single second in order to realize - and even enjoy - the peaks and inevitable valleys of a normal relationship between two people.
At times Surrendering to Marriage reads like a more erudite version of a Cosmopolitan piece and Krasnow is prone to banging on the same drum one too many times. She also occasionally sounds like a teen that's just discovered something her parents have known for decades, and in the belief that she's discovered something new, has to explain it in the clumsiest possible way. Love isn't enough to stop us from acting on our temptations, she seems to believe, but the sad examples of failed marriages and the causes of their problems.
Despite that, the obviousness of many of the things that Krasnow discusses might not be so obvious to the oblivious with love. Even though marriage seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance thanks to the increasing conservatism of many Generation Xers, some lessons are learned the hard way. Or as Krasnow puts it, the fantasy usually disappears after you've shared the same bathroom with someone after a month.
The secrets to a successful marriage are obvious: communication, intimacy, shared interests, a willingness to put up with the bad in hopes of enjoying the good, and telling her how good she looks on a daily basis, among others. Although Surrendering to Marriage is a bit breezy and entirely obvious to anyone with a solid grounding in life, perhaps it's enough to remind people ahead of - and after - their special day that little about marriage is elementary.
Steven Martinovich is a freelancer writer in Sudbury, Ontario and very happily single.
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