All or Nothing: Marriages and Self-Fulfillment

By The Road To: Articles Comments

The other day I met with a web designer to discuss future collaboration with my innovative endeavors. As so often happens when meeting woman to woman, our meeting soon became a personal conversation. She is a young mother of two toddlers, super motivated, intelligent, full of energy, still holding on to the dream of success but not certain of the path taking her there. She left me with a feeling which resonated so strongly, namely that sense of being handcuffed by the daily routine of motherhood; a restriction that we, as mothers, willingly impose on ourselves and which men, in many cases, don’t feel the need to do. I felt great empathy for her conflict, all the harder with very young children, and identified personally with her struggle. I can only hope for her sake, as well as for my own and for all the other ambitious women out there, that we find a way to navigate the challenge of pursuing self-fulfillment while, at the same time, nurturing and maintaining healthy family relationships. The major challenge of the modern world, I was reminded, is not only the ability to live a fulfilling life—true to our needs and desires (in search of self-fulfillment and self-actualization)—but simultaneously sustaining and cultivating our meaningful relationships. This is something over which we each have great influence but which, nonetheless, requires the cooperation of our partners.

The understanding that managing our close relationships with our partners and children is an ongoing commitment can have debilitating side effects. The process of trying to "have it all”—a family and a career—can be so overwhelming that it forces you to give up on one or the other.  Some give up a demanding and fulfilling career to preserve their marriages, others pursue self-fulfillment to the detriment of their relationship which leads to an unhappy marriage and often separation.  A fascinating article in The New York Times entitled "The All-or-Nothing Marriage" offered me new insight into the subject. The article presents a historical overview of the evolution of marriage and changing expectations over the years, concluding that: "The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore."

The importance of this article is twofold. First, it emphasizes that you are not alone; new winds represent both the need and the readiness to change the rules of the relationship-building game. Second, it explains how the expectations and outcomes of marriage have significantly changed throughout the years: "Our central claim is that Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership. If they are not able to do so, their marriage will likely fall short of these new expectations. Indeed, it will fall further short of people’s expectations than at any time in the past." These days, the set of goals we expect marriage to meet are less based on needs of physiology or security and more on the need for respect and self-actualization. These are higher expectations which require sufficient time investment and psychological resources to ensure that both partners develop a deep bond and profound insight into each other's essential qualities.

As discussed in the article, recent publication of research regarding the so-called suffocation model of marriage in America has suggested several promising options for corrective action for those struggling with an imbalance between what they are asking from their marriage and what they are investing in it.  One proposal is to lessen expectations of marriage as a facilitator of self-actualization. For those interested in further reading, visit the full version of the research.

No matter what advice or research we read, we nonetheless each have to follow our own journey. No one has the perfect solution for that specific set of circumstances that consists of YOU: where you come from, your childhood, your choice of partner, your children and your ecosystem. Personally, I try to abide by one main rule: be the master of your life by making conscious decisions. Mastering your relationships could be the first and possibly the most valuable step you will ever take. I am beginning to understand that being an entrepreneur requires you to go through a long line of people, all of whom need convincing about your passion, determination and long-term vision. Start by convincing your partner. This may, in fact, be the hardest, but it is a worthwhile checkpoint that could turn into the most valuable foundation for a balanced and healthy life. I would like to leave you on an optimistic note, namely that "our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own." So, though sometimes dissolving a marriage is inevitable—you gave it your best shot, there is insufficient cooperation or an unwillingness to lower expectations, or it is a simple mismatch—this should be a last resort. A last resort not because of conformism but rather because it is the first of a long list of hurdles to be surmounted on the way to self-fulfillment, and one that may just be your best and more rewarding energy investment ever.

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