Society is changing at a fast pace and so do couples. In our grandparents’ time, marriage was based on a social agreement, i.e., on mutual caring and with the aim of producing offspring. At the time, dowry agreements and matchmaking were the norm. The wife assumed the responsibility of the household and the children and was subjugated to her husband while the man was responsible for procuring a livelihood for the family, seeing to the education of the children, and guaranteeing the safety of all in the family according to the rules he set. Of course, this necessitated their full implementation unquestionably by the rest of the family members.
In the present day of globalization, however, there has been a weakening of the taboos such as homosexuality, the woman’s older age compared to the man’s in couples, as well as the difference in nationality, color, or religion between the people in the relationship.
The basic element uniting the two people in a marriage these days is love which, inadvertently, makes the conjugal relationship particularly vulnerable. It used to be that the sacrament of marriage was lifelong. Today, however, individual freedom of choice is non-debatable, and therefore the duration of the marriage is anything but predictable.
The new values that determine one’s position in a couple’s relationship are infused by great flexibility which considers that individuals are as different from each other as are the phases in a man’s life.
Our western civilization is characterized by individualism which makes it difficult for people to undertake a more mutual responsibility toward their children. There has to be a spirit of self-sacrifice that is missing in many people nowadays.
About 23.5% of divorces occur after 25 years of married life. The main factor of this is boredom that has settled in the couple. Faced with the fear of committing themselves to a serious relationship, they opt to flee from it rather than to handle confrontational situations daily. Happiness in marriage largely depends to a great extent on how soon peace is restored after a row.
Today’s relationships have become a disposable product rather than a long-lasting commitment because they are viewed as a threat to personal freedom. In our fast-paced life when time is at a premium for all the things we have in mind or desire to do, we do not delve into thought processes such as, “Who am I, Where do I really want to go and for what reason?”
In actuality, separation from a relationship is usually not so simple. There is a serious dilemma as to whether one can go on living life as a couple with all its difficulties or abandoning it no matter what the consequences might be (i.e. loneliness).
At this point, I’d like to point out certain behavioral patterns that make for the better function of a couple:
- We shouldn’t take our partner’s presence for granted. It is necessary to show them how valuable their presence is for us.
- We must be supportive and work with our partner. In a healthy relationship we stand by our partner in times of need, not out of obligation but in a genuine fashion.
- We shouldn’t cast doubts on the relationship itself. A healthy relationship develops only in an atmosphere of security and acceptance.
- There has to be respect of the boundaries between partners. Being “together” does not mean becoming one body. We shouldn’t check the other person’s belongings or rearrange them our way.
- We must not set limits to or curtail the independence and autonomy of the other. It is very important to recognize the other person’s choices whether they pertain to their professional development or friendships.
- We have to have the time and willingness to listen to each other in earnest. Many couples talk very little and only regarding the absolutely necessary topics because if they open up a genuine dialogue, it will escalate to an argument.
The question was asked to the men of three generations of a Greek family: “Why do people get married?”
The eighty-five-year-old grandfather answered this way: “Well, this is man’s destiny.” His fifty-seven-year-old son said this: “So that people have children, raise them and educate them in order to make them useful members of society.” The twenty-five-year-old said the following: Marriage and children can’t be the basic aim for man today. What is important is that man develops a good relationship with his partner which will be based on equality, sincerity, and understanding. “
It is in these words that I hope and believe some people will find the help they need in order to understand where human relationships stand today, so that they may take them a step further with faith in themselves and love for their fellow man.
Spyros Metaxas, Psychiatrist/Psychotherapist