Marriage is a struggle. That probably sounds pretty pessimistic, but it’s actually the place where every newly married couple should start. Most couples, when they fall in love, imagine marriage as a way to bottle up and hang on to all the romantic, flighty ideals of love and infatuation that brought them together in the first place. But marriage is not a bottle, and there’s no good way to preserve those early feelings of giddiness and love that infuse the first days and weeks of a new romantic relationship. No. Marriage is a challenging, unpredictable, and sometimes frustrating journey of two people trying to understand one another and trying to fill in the gap of “enough” for one another.
We Only Think We Know…
Being enough for another person is much harder than it sounds. We think we know what we want, but that’s rarely true. We know what we think we want, which isn’t the same thing. Even if in our minds we’re very sure of our desires, our own minds are often misinformed about what it would mean to finally have those desires fulfilled.</p)
And this is where a lot of the challenges of “enough” come from. Each partner wants the other person to be an ideal form of some kind. Most of the time the ideal form the partner thinks they want does not fully align with the unconscious ideal that they truly wish for, and so there is the potential for dissonance between these two ideals at any given time. The gap between the conscious ideal and unconscious ideal is often where questions of “enough” show up.
Culture Drives our Conscious Ideal
Why is there this gap to begin with? Our unconscious ideal is mostly informed by the way we were shown and received love as children. Whereas our conscious ideal comes primarily from cultural definitions of what a partner should be like or how a marriage should function. And modern media – especially lifestyle magazines – feed these cultural definitions. They tell couples that sex is always hot and on fire, that passion is the core of long-lasting relationships, that men behave one way and women behave another, and so on.
The problem is, of course, that the magazines are mostly wrong. But they’re not going to tell you the truth. After all, editors are not likely to see magazines flying off the shelves with headlines like, “5 Reasons Why Sex Once a Week is Pretty Darn Good,” or “Security is More Important than Passion in Most Long-term Relationships.”
The success of long-term relationships is often a matter of drowning out the cultural noise of our conscious ideals and recognizing the ways in which our partner meets our attachment and security needs each day. This doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s the beginning of learning to live with the natural dissonance that inevitably exists in any relationship between what we think we want and what we actually wish for deep inside our psyche. It’s the beginning of learning to live in the gap of “enough.”