Do you want to know the key to a successful marriage? Well you’ve got to be your own person and cultivate a balanced relationship.
Let’s take a look at how debunking the common view of marriage can help you and your partner by being your own person in a marriage.
Taking a stereoscopic view of committed relationships.
KEY POINTS A “needs-based, business transaction” view of marriage is grounded in psychological theories that promote self-interest. Marriage is not about the obligation that results from the quid-pro-quo business model of marriage; it’s about caring for and about each other. A stereoscopic view of marriage is about creating a relationship while also being separate individuals though collaborative negotiation. Negotiating collaboratively is about promoting the well-being of each spouse while enhancing the quality of the marital relationship.
Unlike the idea that in marriage, you become “one,” it is important to be aware that you are an individual as well as a spouse. As a spouse, you focus on maintaining the quality of the relationship; as an individual, you focus on maintaining yourself as a separate and autonomous person.
It’s like taking a stereoscopic view of marriage. While we perceive one unified image, our visual system is made up of two separate images. Each eye sees a different image; it is our mind that creates the unified vision we “see.”
I think that is a good analogy for how we should think about being married. We “create” a “relationship”—togetherness—while also being separate individuals. Marriage is about being together and being separate at the same time—simultaneously.
Let’s Get Rid Of The Business Model Of Marriage
There is a common view of marriage, widely discussed in self-help books and blogs, that it is about each of us fulfilling each other’s “needs.” This is the business model of marriage. In this view, marriage is a transaction—an exchange of needs. Marital satisfaction is determined by how well your needs are fulfilled compared to how cumbersome it is to fulfill your partner’s needs. The general idea is that you should get a fair return on what you contribute to your relationship.
What you are not told is that this view of marriage is based on the idea that people are primarily motivated by self-interest, more commonly known as selfishness. That we are motivated by self-interest has become scientific dogma in our current society.
We are told by evolutionary psychologists and biologists that self-interest is the natural human condition. And if we both act in our own self-interest, everything will turn out equally and fairly in the end. Self-interest has become the societal norm for understanding how we should conduct our lives in and out of our relationships.
I don’t buy it. The whole thing about one human being loving another human being involves something more than keeping track of how well my needs are being met compared to how bothersome it is to fulfill my spouse’s needs. Author Noah Berlatsky put it well when he said that marriage is not about the obligations that result from a quid-pro-quo, business-like transaction. Rather it’s about caring for and about each other.
Where Did This Business Model Of Marriage Come From?
The concept of “need” became popular in psychology during the middle of the 20th century as an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest. Psychologists wanted to get away from more philosophical ideas like wants and desire to be more like the hard sciences. So, they adopted the theoretical idea of “biological need” (which morphed into “psychological need”) as a more scientific way of talking about wants, desires, and preferences.
Other psychologists, trying to help couples “satisfying each other’s needs,” adopted ideas from “social exchange theory” for how to negotiate their differing needs. In this theory, human interactions are like an economic marketplace where self-interest is the guiding force in interpersonal relationships.
Theorists who promote this “needs-based, business transactional” model of marriage tend to adopt the idea that husbands and wives must fulfill each other’s biologically-based gender needs.
We should not be surprised that the divorce rate in the United States is about 50 percent for first-time marriages, 60 percent for second marriages, and 73 percent for third marriages. And most divorces are initiated by women. The “needs-based, business transaction” is grounded in the idea of self-interest turns out not to be a good model for marriage.