She Doesn’t Get It- Time Magazine’s Featured Article on Marriage – Marriage Conversation:
Caitlin Flanagan’s featured piece in Time Magazine (July 13th) is a harangue on men – shaming, blaming, superior, posturing – but misses ‘what’s missing’ in marriage.
Ms Flanagan’s piece is from the old school. You may think she’d grown up with Cotton Mather or John Wesley. In this vein of thinking men are to be shamed for their sexuality, punished and humiliated for unfaithfulness. Men are culprits, villains, emotional lightweights. Women are their virtuous victims.
I don’t buy it. Marriage is a collaboration. Marriage works when two people each take 100% responsibility for the quality of their relationship. How this works with high powered people is this:
We can safely assume that both partners enjoy the privileges of a high powered, well positioned career of influence and prestige. We can also safely assume that both partners made the deal to pursue such a life style with their ‘eyes wide open.’
We can safely assume as well that the demands of such a life style impact the emotional well being of both partners. Who ‘acts out’ under such pressure is not the most relevant factor in looking for ‘what’s missing.’ In fact the one who ‘acts out’ (John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Ensign and Eliot Spitzer for example) may be the one who most needs the distance and lack in their relationship to be exposed.
Virginia Satir a noted family therapist coined the phrase ‘the identified patient’ (cf People Making, Conjoint Family Therapy). It was a brilliant observation because it pointed to the reality that the person in the family who was most obviously disturbed or dysfunctional was living out a family drama where the other players were covertly compliant – they ‘hid’ their stuff and projected it through the ‘volunteer’ patient.
This is a good way to look a many affairs. We call marriage a collaborative process – couples collaborate around money/ use of space/ careers/ parenting etc – because it rarely works to point to one person in any relationship challenge and make that person solely responsible for the breakdown in intimate connecting. Relationship competence is a collaborative affair. When marriages collapse it usually is because both partners fully participated in the collapse.
Does this point of view ‘excuse’ the adolescent behavior of our above named politicians? I don’t believe it does. Many men are embarrassed for them.
Shaming them doesn’t help however. There are questions that could be asked: when did their partners first notice the lack of intimate connecting that was going on? What was their response to the ‘busy schedule’ thing? Where was their authority when it became obvious that the marriage was drifting? Did they aggressively seek coaching or counseling? Did they confront their partners with their needs and the needs of their marriage? Were they conscious of their marriage’s needs for time, space and intimate connecting? Were they competent in teaching their partners about the needs of a healthy marriage?
It takes two people to work towards consciousness of the need for competence in marriage. Most dysfunctional marriages are victimless. Ms Flanagan might have helped the conversation by leaving her judgments behind and focusing instead on ‘what’s missing’ for women in marriage as well as ‘what’s missing’ for men in marriage. That’s a conversation worth having.