Five Secrets To A Successful Marriage (Told By An Expert)
Illustration by Ms Anje Jager
British philosopher Mr Alain de Botton on making a long-term relationship work for you.
Last week, British philosopher Mr Alain de Botton published The Course Of Love, a novel in which he explores the challenges and rewards of marriage. Here, he talks us through his top tips for a long and successful relationship in the modern world.
GIVE UP ON PERFECTION
We should not only admit in a general way that the person we are marrying is very far from perfect, we should also grasp the specifics of their imperfections: how they will be irritating, difficult, sometimes irrational, and often unable to sympathise or understand us. Marriage vows should be rewritten to include the terse line: “I agree to marry this person even though they will, on a regular basis, drive me to distraction.”
One must conclusively kill the idea that things would be ideal with any other creature in this galaxy. There can only ever be a “good enough” marriage.
For this realisation to sink in, it helps to have had a number of relationships before marrying so that one can have ample opportunity to discover at first hand, in many different contexts, the truth that everyone (even the most initially exciting prospect) really is a bit wrong close up.
DESPAIR OF BEING UNDERSTOOD
Love starts with the experience of being understood in a deeply supportive and uncommon way.
This will not continue. Another vow should read: “However much the other seems to understand me, there will always be large tracts of my psyche that will remain incomprehensible to them, anyone else and even me.”
We shouldn’t, therefore, blame our lovers for a dereliction of duty in failing to interpret and grasp our internal workings. They simply couldn’t understand who we were and what we needed – which is wholly normal.
LOVE, RATHER THAN BE LOVED
Confusingly, we speak of “love” as one thing, rather than discerning the two very different varieties that lie beneath the single word: being loved and loving. We should marry when we are ready to do the latter and are aware of our unnatural, immature fixation on the former.
We start out knowing only about “being loved”. It comes to seem – very wrongly – like the norm.
In adulthood, when we first say we long for love, what we predominantly mean is that we want to be loved as we were once loved by a parent.
This is – naturally – a disaster. For a marriage to work, we need to move firmly into the parental position. We need to become someone who will be willing to subordinate their own demands and concerns to the needs of another.
A third vow should state: “Whenever I have the strength in me to do so, I will imitate those who once loved me and take care of my partner as these figures cared for me. The task isn’t an unfair chore or a departure from the true nature of love. It is the only kind of love really worthy of that exalted word.”
BE READY FOR ADMIN
The romantic person instinctively sees marriage in terms of emotions. But what a couple actually get up to together over a lifetime has much more in common with the workings of a small business. They must draw up work rosters, clean, chauffeur, cook, fix, throw away, mind, hire, fire, reconcile and budget.
None of these activities have any glamour whatsoever within the current arrangement of society. Those obliged to do them are therefore highly likely to resent them. And yet these tasks are what is truly “romantic” in the sense of “conducive and sustaining of love” and should be interpreted as the bedrock of a successful marriage.
A marriage vow should read: “I accept the dignity of the ironing board.”
BE READY TO LEARN (AND TO TEACH)
We are ready for marriage when we accept that in certain very significant areas, our partners will be wiser, more reasonable and more mature than we are. We should, at key points, see them as the teacher and ourselves as pupils. At the same time, we should be ready to take on the task of teaching them certain things and like good teachers, not shout, lose our tempers or expect them simply to know. Marriage should be recognised as a process of mutual education