December 16, 2006

"A young man, a newlywed, thought his role was to be responsible for all the decision-making for the couple."

"However, the couple had never discussed those issues, and his assumptions came as a surprise to her."

People keep getting married without finding out first what each other's ground rules are. But it's a touchy thing actually go through a checklist about all the things you might be forgetting to talk about. People don't want to hear the information that might knock them off the course they've got their heart set on. But maybe you really ought to clarify a few things in advance:
A commitment to fidelity, for example, is a crucial issue, but one that is rarely addressed, said Robert Scuka, the executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda, Md. “It’s important to make those implicit assumptions about fidelity explicit,” he said. “Once the commitment to faithfulness is made explicit, it becomes more difficult psychologically to engage rationalizations.”
Ah, you can imagine all those dreadful post-marriage conversations! Spouse #1: But we're married! That means you must be faithful to me! Spouse #2: So I'm supposed to go the rest of my life without ever having sex with another person? When did I ever agree to that? You crazy control freak!

IN THE COMMENTS: Internet Ronin starts things off -- as I anticipated someone would: "I thought the standard wedding vow to forsake all others was pretty explicit. Or maybe no one says that these days." Oh, I think they still say it. But here's my imagined post-wedding conversation for that:
Spouse #1: But you took a vow to forsake all others!

Spouse #2: When did I ever give you the slightest indication that I took vows seriously. Vows?! You continually amaze me with your repressive Puritanical mindset. Vows! It's like you're from the 18th century. Vow wow wow. I'm married to an insane control-freak dog. From the 18th century.


Anonymous said...

I thought the standard wedding vow to forsake all others was pretty explicit. Or maybe no one says that these days.

Unknown said...

Yeah, a lengthy checklist is probably not the most romantic or even practical idea, but a checklist of deal-breakers, like fidelity, children and decision making is probably worthwhile. Odd that some people cannot figure that out for themselves. Some states have begun pre-marriage counseling requirements to lower the divorce rate; I suppose these issues are covered; no idea if these programs are working or not.

Troy said...

I would imagine there were clues to the man's expectation of women that were missed or ignored all along. Very few folks can truly fly "beneath the radar" and hide all traces of their darker, annoying, or even good attributes. There are exceptions I'm sure.

Troy said...

and the fidelity thing has almost always been part and parcel with marriage. The explicit convo about the lack of fidelity might accompany an open marriage, but most would at least hold fidelity as an ideal of marriage even if it's not always the case.

Ronin is right (as ronin so often are) -- the vows are very explicit. But when one does not hold to the One on whom the oath is taken -- it really doesn't mean much does it? I'm standing in this church I never attend that worships a God to whom I don't adhere. Why should I stick to some stinking "vows" I took based on a fairy tale, especially when I'm hard-wired to mate with as many as possible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Troy - Thanks for the compliment, but my motto ought to be: Often wrong but never in doubt.
(Before I forget, sorry about calling you Tony on another thread ;-)

dick said...

Capt Ed and his wife have written about a program they are involved with where the hold "retreats" with people who are planning to marry and much of what they discuss are these very subjects. According what he says it is amazing that people have not talked about these subjects. Back in the day when I was young (a long time ago) the responses to these questions would have been understood from the beginning but after the 1960's and birth control times have changed and people really need to make sure they agree on these things. They really are deal breakers.

CB said...

I'm starting to worry that my generation (people in their 20s & 30s) are becoming infected with the baby boomer disease, i.e., assuming that you are entitled to everything your narcisistic little heart desires in every aspect of life. However, as a general rule, the people profiled in the fluff sections of the NYT are complete idiots and not representative of society as a whole, and I'm highly suspicious of any "trend" reported therein.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Speaking of fidelity, does anybody know whatever happened to the "Open Marriage" folks? I think they went by the name of O'Neil or something like that. Their book had a great influence on the enlightened class. I wonder how things turned out for them.

reader_iam said...

Nena and George O'Neill. He died in 1980. She died this year.

Kathy said...

In certain religious circles, pre-marital counseling to hash out these very issues is pretty much expected. My husband and I didn't go through the counseling, but my sister and her husband did and their counselor even had a follow-up session with them six months after they married, when some of the disconnects would have started to come up. She found it very helpful.

Dave said...

Marriage: been there, done that.

So over it.


Seriously, tho, seems people go into marriage wild-eyed and naive, then realize how dull it is, become bitter or else divorce, and move on.

Life's better when you're in control.

No doubt many on this blog will recoil in mortal horror from those words. So be it.

Gerald Hibbs said...

I think it was Dr. Laura who recommended the first date as essentially a job interview wherein you go over each others list of deal breakers and expectations.

To me that seems a little early and if you were to actually implement such a plan you might get a response like, "One of my deal breakers is not to get involved with a weird freak like you. Good day! I said good day, sir!"

However upon considering getting serious with my now wife that is precisely what I did. She thought it quite odd at the time but I felt before I got really serious I needed these answers. They might not hold up over time as we grow but I would still recommend it to everyone.

bearing said...

I thought the standard wedding vow to forsake all others was pretty explicit. Or maybe no one says that these days.

When my husband's brother got married in a design-your-own ceremony a few years ago, the vows (which included things like "work together as a team") ended with

"...all the days of our love."

Simultaneously, my husband and I flinched.

Simon Kenton said...

Gerald Hibbs - I recall, on a first date, being grilled about children, views on long-term-committed-relationships (LTCRs, as we fondly term them; for some this is too reminiscent of the old Landing Craft Rubber), career prospects, finances, until I finally said, "Miss? Miss! Is it alright if I finish my beer before I propose?"

Bearing - I went to a 'Committment Ceremony' down near Taos, and recall evincing a wince (if that is what one does with a wince) when the soon-to-be-exes committed to 'hold space for one another's soul quests.'

Anonymous said...

"...all the days of our love."

Oh my. Why even call that a wedding? Those are let's be boyfriend-girlfriend vows.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Since my first post I've been informed that the O'Neils of "Open Marriage " fame were divorced shortly after they published their book. I'm shocked! How could such a thing have happened?

Ann Althouse said...

Here's my old post on the book "Open Marriage," based on an obituary for one of the authors.

bearing said...

Freeman: If you'd been there, you would have been even more impressed. They hired a rent-a-priest whose male lover was the photographer. At one point during the ceremony he broke out in a strange language, ostensibly native-Hawaiian.

Robert said...

Blogger appears to have eaten that post, Prof. Althouse. Here's the Google cache.

PG said...

Fidelity means different things to different people, though.

Would you consider it being unfaithful if you informed your spouse ahead of time that you were going to have sex with another person? (Infidelity = dishonesty)

What if you were only having paid sex with another person? (Infidelity = possibility of emotional entanglement with another person)

What if you wanted to get a happy-ending massage? (Infidelity = intercourse)

What if you wanted to have a threesome? (Infidelity = exclusion of spouse)

Money seems like an issue that's much more likely to go undiscussed before marriage, though. Fidelity is something that is relevant even when you're dating, and people usually talk ahead of time about whether they want children, how many, etc. But we view money as something fairly private, and as something that it's rude to ask about, as well as something that it's unseemly to exert control over. Most women have no trouble saying "This is what you can and cannot do with your penis if we're together." Telling someone what he can and cannot do with his money is far more uncommon.

bearing said...

Happy-ending massage is perhaps the best euphemism I have heard all day.

It was a euphemism, right?

Ann Althouse said...

"Blogger appears to have eaten that post, Prof. Althouse. Here's the Google cache."

Thanks, Robert. Actually, that was my fault, not Google's. I spotted a typo, corrected it, then hit "draft" instead of "publish," which took the whole thing private. I've hit publish now.

Simon said...

Internet Ronin said...
"I thought the standard wedding vow to forsake all others was pretty explicit. Or maybe no one says that these days.

Well, I'm a textualist on such matters, but I suppose that it is no longer surprising if someone might come along and say that their marriage vows should be construed in light of their evolving needs to get laid. ;)

PG raised a good point, too: what was Clinton's bullshit excuse about Lewinsky? That he didn't lie because according to his church, it wasn't sexual relations (and thus infidelity) because there wasn't actual vaginal penetration or somesuch? Crazy.

reader_iam said...

From the Martin Mull film, "Serial":


"Youness, meness,
Usness, weness
Yourness, mineness,

Martin Mull's character:


Unknown said...

Considering statistics that well over 50% of couples will cheat on their spouses, it's rather silly that people consider this a deal-breaker.

People make mistakes and people need to be realistic about human nature.

Personally, I'd be more concerned about the lying than the actual infidelity.

Not saying that people should tolerate the cheating. They should just be realistic that it might happen at some point over a lifetime. Might help reduce the absolutely pathetic divorce rate.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I went through the pre-Cana counseling at my church before we were married, almost exactly 12 years ago. It was awesome, since it forced us to think about things that we hadn't yet, and to recognize areas where we were different.

Maybe the silliest-sounding but most useful excercise (for us) was the one called "noodle", NUDL -- wherein you each get a list of about 100 things, and you have to classify each as a necessary, useful, desirable, or luxury item. That one exercise put a lot of information out there that we hadn't covered -- things like a computer at home (a luxury to me [then!] and to him, a necessity), vacations, spending time with extended family... it was very interesting to see how and where we differed. It was a great way to cover all these questions without being confrontational about it, since we were both doing the list at the same time.

In a Catholic marriage, fidelity goes without saying. For the write-your-own-vows types, I'm thinking that it would be very wise to discuss it beforehand. My first marriage was in that category, and fidelity turned out to be a huge issue. Reading PG's taxonomy of infidelity was like reliving a bad memory. It is very easy to accept any of those definitions of infidelity in the abstract, but when faced with a cold reality, you realize that they're all just different aspects of the same problem.

When I've been asked for advice of the should-I-marry-him variety, I ask about faith, finances, and family, since these three areas are the ones where disagreements will most often be irreconcilable. (Is that even a word?) If you cover at least the basics of those three topics, you're likely to cover the most necessary points.

Paco Wové said...

No doubt many on this blog will recoil in mortal horror from those words.

Oh, Dave, stop being such an emo-queen.

Kirk Parker said...

Regarding write-your-own vows and flinching:
My wife and I definitely responded like that when, at a friend's wedding the bride and groom promised "to live with you and to lie with you." What can I say? It was the '70s. (Oh, and also, the marriage didn't last all that long.)

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Me and any future wife will exchange our answers to about 300 questions on any possible marital subject. We will have to write those answers in a notebook and give it to the other.

As for fidelity, I am trying to prime myself into being ready to forgive, so long as she wants to continue our relationship after she cheats. The general hope is that neither of us will cheat, and that if we do, we can forgive and mood forward. That's usually near impossible though.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Reader i_am: Youness, meness,
Usness, weness*...

Are you sure you're not talking about a bris?

*Wee penis is a weness, right?

Cat said...

Somebody came out with a book titled "100 questions you should ask before you get married" a few years back. Questions about "if you have a baby, will mom stay home or work" to finances questions. Good stuff.

Yes it's stupid to marry someone without having these discussions, but I have to say that most of my girlfriends who married were focused on the wedding, not the marriage and ignored HUGE red flags. Being the queen (and a total bitch for 6-12mos prior!)for a day, the white dress, etc. was all that mattered, especially before 30. If they were 30 and not, like married, they would "kill" themselves. Then they were always surprised when the problems that were prior to the nuptials didn't go away (lack of interest in sex before your marriage is a good sign there will be little after the wedding).

The wedding was the goal and I think it is for a many, not the marriage.

me said...

Yes, the wedding industry is completely out of control. Maybe because fewer people are doing the whole nine yards, the ones who do want to make it 15.5 yards that costs 30 grand plus. INSANE. Got married recently in a small ceremony at a B&B, most expensive item was the dress since I couldn't find anything not a "wedding dress" that I liked. Check out if you want the full treatment. You absolutely MUST have "out of town guest goodie bags" with various trinkets, floral centerpieces to decorate your many, many tables at the reception, swags to go on all the pews at the church, etc. etc. It adds up REAL quick if you want EVERYTHING. Really a test of organization skills, too bad the groom is never involved and watches in horror as his fiance turns into Bridezilla.

What got me in the article was the woman who had over 200K of student loans and her hubby DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT. How long could they have been dating? I actually hope it was a short courtship, otherwise the bride is a deceitful brat. My husband and I were together A LONG time before we married, I think it was good because we know everything about each other, good and bad, and we went in with eyes wide open and no rose-colored glasses to cloud the view. :)

verification word: yjddsin
"yes Jesus, I lived in sin?" :)

Simon Kenton said...

Cat wrote: "but I have to say that most of my girlfriends who married were focused on the wedding, not the marriage and ignored HUGE red flags."

When a bachelor I referred to these as institutional marriages - simply inhabiting the institution of marriage was far more important than who you inhabited it with. Some very crappy excuses for husbands get selected for institutional marriages; conversely, just a hint that I was being selected for an institutional marriage was enough for me to press the red button, blow off the canopy, fire the seat, deploy the parachute, and float gently to earth, miles away.

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