Finding balance in the second half of life

Marriage (an All-Over-the-Place Post)

In Romance on December 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm

My wedding anniversary is later this month. That, coupled with all the press  lately about how the institution of marriage is changing, has made me think of Age of Unreason. In that book, Charles Handy discusses mostly business ideas and his concept of a portfolio life (“a portfolio of activities–some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause”). But he also throws in the idea of a portfolio marriage. His vision isn’t one of changing marriage partners; his vision is one of changing patterns in a marriage–“a portfolio of possibilities,” he calls it.

Handy believes that in successful marriages spouses are able to flex over the lifetime of their relationship. Sometimes you get to take the lead, other times you play a supporting role. There will be times that your roles are ambiguous and overlap and other times your roles are clear and separate. Occasionally you might be “friendly rivals” in your careers and there may be periods when you each want, above all, just to pursue your own interests–maybe in retirement.

Writes Handy, “Too often a change in partner is the way many people match their need for a marriage with the need for change. . .If they do not realize that it is only the patterns which are changing, then it is the relationship which breaks.”

There are many reasons marriages founder, of course, but I do think Handy was on to something. Circumstances change, people change, relationships change, and we (the two people in the marriage) have to be open to all of it and adjust.

I think the same is true on a societal level. Almost 40% of people think that marriage is becoming obsolete, but if we (the collective we) could flex a little, say on the whole gay marriage thing, we could preserve what’s best about the institution–love, commitment, devotion, continuity. But if we don’t realize that it’s only the patterns of marriage that are changing, then the institution might break.

I don’t think it will, though. If you look at the history of marriage, as Stephanie Coontz did, what you realize is that marriage is the cockroach of institutions. It’s a survivor.

 –Christine MacLean

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  1. The cockroach of institutions! I’ll remember that on my anniversary, also upcoming. So romantic!

  2. Christine, my favorite book on marriage was published in the 1960’s: “Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress.” Here is a passage: “Society has rigid ideas of what constitutes a good wife, but a good mistress is one lone man’s business. An affair is free to make its own definitions and rules…….. Marriage radically needs more of this public-be-damned attitude. A wife can too easily become occupied with proving the system right, and fitting herself into it, instead of giving her allegiance to the hearts that live within the framework, her own and her husband’s.” For me, this is what matters, in a nutshell.

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