Podcast # 12 Marriage and Society
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Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.
Dr. Jerry: Good morning. This is Dr. Jerry. 1490 WGCH, The Psychotherapist’s Corner.
This morning I want to continue some of the things we started to discussed the last two sessions, namely identity, what does identity mean, what does it mean to have a democratic identity in a democracy such as us and also in marriage.
Again, let me just reiterate why I’m calling this The Psychotherapist’s Corner. Really, what I’m inviting all of us to do, myself included, is to make sure we have a certain amount of time each day or a few times a week where we can just sit and kind of think about ourselves. Think about what we want out of life. Think about what life has given us, so that we reflect. So that we don’t just spend our lives going from one thing to the other, without reflecting really on what we’re doing.
Let me start this morning by talking about power and its abuse since this what frequently undermines a society as well as a marriage. And I tie both of these together, our experience of ourselves in society and our experience of ourselves in marriage, because I think all too frequently psychology, my own field included, psychology overemphasizes the individual.
We are not just individuals. We are individuals in a society and how we live in that society affects who we are and who we are affects that society. So we’re not a bunch of ice cubes floating down a river of democracy unconnected to each other.
Now, I think it’s very important to remember that. Otherwise, we tend to view ourselves as simply isolates and then pursue our own needs, not infrequently at the expense of the common good. If we’re going to live with our fellow citizens in a better and happier way, as well as if we’re going to live with our spouses, we have to understand the type of consciousness that’s required.
That’s really what I’ve been trying to talk to you about in a number of these broadcasts. It’s not just our defenses and our childhood. Of course, I’ve spoken about that but I’m really talking about how do we change our sense of who we are. How do we change our consciousness? And when we change, for lack of a better word, how do we broaden our consciousness, that might be a better way of saying it, how do we broaden our consciousness because when we broaden our consciousness, we live in a new world. We live in a different world.
Democracy as we know is not just the ability to vote. Of course, it is that. That is one of the ways the power is equally distributed or, at least, ideally. It’s been a long road for many of our fellow citizens to get that power. But along with that, it demands a different way of experiencing ourselves. It demands a level of openness, of cross identification. Remember we’ve spoken about cross identification. And what does that mean? It means a willingness not only to put oneself in someone else’s shoes on occasion. Try to understand the world from their perspective. It means we’re willing to recognize that we can’t have our way all the time. It requires what I’ve called a democratic consciousness.
Obviously, that notion that we can’t get our way all the time, that we have to cross identify is absolutely crucial for marriage. I have to tell you when I, and I’m going to get to this in a little while, when I hear people talk and lawyers and sometimes the popular papers that discuss movie stars and their frequent divorces and they talk about irreconcilable differences. People had irreconcilable differences. I absolutely chuckle to myself. Two human beings always have irreconcilable differences, unless you marry a mirror and if you marry a mirror, you’re going to have a very dull life. And unfortunately I have to say, my own field and I have to judge the lawyers field, the legal field as well, have, at times, made a bonanza out of exploiting irreconcilable differences.
Democratic consciousness, marriage consciousness means that I recognize I have deep-seated differences but I have enough areas of commonality to try to work towards a more community awareness.
Now, what does that mean in practice? One of the things it means in practices is that I have to give up the pretense and the human need, and we all have it, I have it and everybody listening to me has it as well, that need to be right. Of thinking that we understand what’s going on in the world and that if something is wrong it is really our partner’s, or our children, or our boss, or our parents fault.
And very frequently an understandable need to be right precludes our having what I’ve spoken about before, a sense of that quiet space where we can look at ourselves, where we can say, “My Goodness, maybe I’m having trouble in such and such a situation because, isn’t that funny…its the same kind of issue I have had with my dad or my mom or my brother or my sister.” We automatically bring a lot of the ways that we’ve learned how to relate to our present day situations and we do this automatically, that is we are not aware of it. This doesn’t mean we’re bad. Doesn’t mean we’re malicious. It means we’re relating to people in ways that we’re not fully aware of. So a democratic consciousness in marriage means I have to open myself up and think about different options.
It’s very difficult for any of us to think that we might be imitating our parents, particularly if we may have suffered at the hands of our parents or whoever raised us. That we are maybe perpetuating how our family origin related and yet what I’ve stressed in all of these programs, not in the sense of again bad me, but in the sense of let’s broaden our awareness. Let’s broaden our awareness.
The same thing, haven’t we done that in the U.S.? If you look back, at the most dramatic example we have in terms of the areas of civil rights or the area of women’s rights…. we have progressively learned to broaden our consciousness and to recognize that if not every citizen’s free, none of us are free. If certain citizens can’t vote, in a sense our vote is meaningless. That’s an awareness that’s taken us a long time to understand and it takes human beings time to grow and to understand things. That’s okay. It takes every human being time. That’s what we call education.
The same thing is in terms of what goes by the name of women’s rights. Women’s rights is not just letting women having more access to more things. I mean, that’s obvious. Women’s rights is changing, particularly in men’s minds, changing our experience, and recognizing we have misunderstood the role of females; that is that woman are equal and can contribute absolutely the same and sometimes better than men can. That’s a change in consciousness. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s not just a change in what you do or what you don’t do. If it’s merely what you do or what you don’t do, you really haven’t changed your consciousness. You’ve just been forced to give somebody more power and then you’re going to unconsciously resent it.
Well, the same thing is true in marriage. It’s not a matter of, “Well, I went to psychotherapy and I found out I have to share my bank account with my wife who I’ve been married to for 25 years.” Humorless but I’ve heard that said. Or, “I have to go along and visit her relatives although I don’t like them,” et cetera, et cetera.
That’s two people living alongside each other. And that’s sad because then the two people have not learned that when you’re married, part of you has given up that exclusive sense of personal identity. At times you no longer have, I don’t know any way of saying this, you no longer have just a personal identity. You have a marriage identity. And so that the kind of refrain that I sometimes hear, “Oh, we have to go visit his family again,” that little sense is really saying a great deal and it’s that kind of issue that, if it’s not addressed and talked about and kind of worked out and resolved, builds up a slow resentment, which ultimately starts undermining any kind of relationship.
So when I’ve spoken in the past about what marriage counseling should offer, it’s not just in terms of behavioral changes, what we should do or we shouldn’t do. It’s a different way of experiencing ourselves. That’s what I just meant before when I said people get divorced. People get divorced, I’m sorry to say and I really do believe this, much too easily because they haven’t been made aware, I think all too much, that marriage is not just living together, it’s not just being physically intimate, it’s not just raising children. It’s a willingness to grow and change my sense of who I am, my self-identity.
Even in, at times, very extreme situations, my wife and I have worked with a number of couples where, all too frequently it’s the men, may have had an affair. And I will tell you, I would think the majority of the couples we have worked with, it has not ended up in divorce. The wife wanted an apology, and she got it and she wanted to work to an understanding of what happened that an affair could happen.
That to me is a much more sensible solution at times than when I hear people sometimes on TV or reading a magazine, “Oh, well, my husband or my wife, more frequently the men, I’m sorry to say, had an affair and so I divorced him.” Well, if it’s as simple as that, then that’s really unfortunate, not only because divorce but it’s almost as if the partner was a product and the minute the product proved defective, you threw the product out because who wants defective products? And I just don’t think that’s life. I don’t think that’s realistic. It doesn’t allow us to grow. It doesn’t allow us to say, “Wow. I wonder if I might have done something that propelled him, not directly of course, but hopefully but maybe my way of relating has been so unsatisfying and so unresponsive that, without excusing his behavior, it might explain his behavior.” Well, that’s the kind of thought that is more helpful. Not self-recrimination. A broadening of consciousness….a broadening of consciousness.
Now, why am I relating this to democracy? You remember last week I spoke about that, frankly, that gentleman who felt he had to kill the abortion doctor because he disagreed about what he was doing? Isn’t that the same thing? Well, that’s real pathology and killing another human being is real pathology, but have we educated people to say as painful as it is, we do, in a democracy, have to tolerate radical difference. And the only way of handling radical difference is through legal means. That’s how we change a situation we don’t like.
All right. Let me come back to marriage a little bit. Love, as we know, is a feeling and a desire to do good to and for another person. That’s what I think love is. It’s a certain amount of captivation with the person but it really is a desire to do good to and for another person. As I said, it’s a feeling of being captivated by them. A commitment to marriage, however, also requires a conscious act. It is a commitment, not just to get married, as I mentioned but also to be married.
Now, what does that mean, to be married? That is to try to experience that type of personal awareness that always includes the other. And again, what I have said and my wife has said many times, it may sound funny or interesting or odd but you don’t get married once. If you get married once, you are in trouble. You get married a lot of times over. My wife and I happen to be married 45 years and we’ve been married many, many times. You don’t get married once, because then it becomes an act that you did in the past. Or I had children. Well, any good parent knows, once you had children you always have children. And once you are married, you are married, which means that you have to find deeper ways of working some situations. Be they the extreme situation that I mentioned of infidelity but sometimes sickness. Sometimes boredom. That has to be worked through. It’s not just to be fled.
Love as we know it, obvious, love is like the waves of the ocean. High tide sometimes, low tide sometimes…sometimes mild, sometimes stormy. All of which means a commitment of marriage, to marriage, is the willingness to define myself as together. That is, I’m open to difference… I’m willing to relinquish a certain amount of my personal power for the experience of cooperation. That sounds very obvious. And let me tell you that’s a goal. That’s not easily achieved. Very easily said but it’s not easily achieved.
We human beings hold on to our power and I’m not against power, obviously, but marriage and even in a democracy, for me to allow other people or different political parties, different religious groups, whatever different education perspectives for me to respect them means I give up some of my personal power.
This is a personal decision. Obviously, the willingness to negotiate, not all of our personal power but I’m willing to say that all of my personal preferences are not always going to be fulfilled. That type of willingness is really at the base, if you think about it, of democracy. I believe that’s what it means when we say that the majority wins. Majority wins doesn’t mean if I lose, I go off sulking into a corner. It means, okay that’s part of, remember we spoke about that is, everyday unhappiness…the ordinary unhappiness of life? Well, if I lose in a political election, I have everyday unhappiness but I don’t have rage and I don’t sulk in the corner. Because if I had rage and I sulk in the corner, and I spend the rest of the next two years or four years taking pop shots at the person who won, then I don’t understand democracy. All I understand is holding onto power.
And it’s the same think in marriage. If either party does something unfortunate, doesn’t have to be as extreme as an affair. One party, I’ve had cases where the husband, maybe not maliciously but went out and spent X amount of money without telling his wife. Not on himself but on certain things but didn’t want to tell his wife. Didn’t want to have a big discussion. Well, those things you don’t use those things as a celebration to hit your partner over the head with how right you are and how wrong he is or she is. That’s against, again, that’s retreating back to personal power at the cost of cross identifying and trying to understand and trying to negotiate.
Again, simple term, broaden our consciousness. Broaden our consciousness. It’s easily said, hard to do. We have to give up the fantasy that we are right. That we now have things as supposed to be. In marriage we have to negotiate difference without condemnation. To judge, to constantly criticize one’s mate is to constantly turn that marriage into a playground for the exercise of power. And I can’t tell you how many married couples come to us originally and they just inadvertently, they’re not bad people, but they inadvertently have a long list of what their mate’s problems are. And it’s just very sad that when we impose patterns that we very frequently saw growing up on our mate, we’re no longer living in the present. We’re no longer here. We are really trying to live out maybe a lost sense of power, a lost sense of being right with our mate. That’s not particularly helping us.
Let me stop for a minute and I’ll be just back and we’ll continue this discussion.
Dr. Jerry: Hi. Dr. Jerry back again. The Psychotherapist’s Corner.
We’ve been talking so far this morning on how do we broaden our consciousness so that we can live in a marriage productively, so that we can grow.
Remember last week we spoke, and two weeks ago we spoke about everyday wisdom, we spoke about, of course we have everyday unhappiness. But we also need everyday wisdom to live with just the normal things that life throws our way.
Now, I’ve been talking this morning about tolerating difference. I’ve been talking about the need to be able to cross-identify, not all the time obviously, not all the time. But enough of the time, particularly with our mate, to put ourselves in their shoes…that doesn’t mean we have to always agree with them. It doesn’t mean they’re right and we’re wrong. It means I try to see where they’re coming from. That’s all cross-identification means. I try to see where they’re coming from and a lot of difficulties in marriage actually can be worked out that way. I don’t believe we should celebrate difference and as I said in the beginning of the show, I think my own field, psychology, sometimes is overemphasize the individual at the cost of understanding how we live in community. I think sometimes the legal profession, particularly marriage lawyers that specialize in marriage, have over-emphasized differences at the cost of finding commonality.
These are just human situations but there’s a reason why all of the sudden in the U.S. we’ve been hovering between 50% and 60% divorce of those people who get married.
Now, a more dramatic way of saying this, remember last week I spoke about we have to allow people who have different opinions and certainly that rather deranged individual who killed a doctor who did abortions in the name of life, you suddenly decide to kill somebody is a bit odd, to put those two sentences together. But let me just stay with that dramatic sense that we have in the commandments, “Thou shall not kill.” Thou shall not kill has been interpreted and been ignored at the same time. You shouldn’t kill another human being. We obviously still haven’t learned to obey that rather simple 3,000-year-old commandment.
But Thou shall not kill also means Thou shall not kill people in my mind who I disagree with. It means we shouldn’t kill off different opinions automatically, about different opinions people have about others, about themselves, about the society they live in. It means that I’m willing to entertain the fact that I can’t obviously always be right and a lot of times when people unilaterally dismiss their opponents, they’re really killing them off, with that innocence of satisfaction. That’s the essence of any ideology, I don’t care what the ideology is, extreme, radical, left ideology, extreme radical right ideology. Doesn’t make any difference. Ideology kills off opponents and therefore it doesn’t allow for negotiation.
Self worth has nothing to do with always been right, has nothing to do with refusing to negotiate our positions, self worth has nothing to do with defending one’s personal ideology. I frankly think that’s nonsense, actually nonsense. I think it’s a defense. I think any ideology and no matter what side it’s on, is narcissistic. It’s the queen looking in the mirror and wanting the mirror, in this case the world, to say, “You’re totally right. There’s no one else in the world who is as right as you are.” That’s what the queen asked. That’s just the content of I’m beautiful.
But people who are extreme ideologues are just, I think, at heart basically have not resolved this really pernicious illness we human beings have, that all of us have. We just have it in different degrees, of narcissism. Self worth is not guaranteed by being right. It simply isn’t. Not in a democracy and not in marriage, particularly in marriage.
Self worth is guaranteed by what we spoke about last week in speaking about Erikson. It’s guaranteed by generosity, by a capacity for generosity and a capacity to exercise everyday wisdom. That’s where we get our self worth. We get our monetary worth on how much we have. That’s not self worth. And unfortunately in a capitalist society, sometimes we really confuse those things as if self worth means how much money do we have. No. How much generosity we can experience towards our self and towards those around us, how much everyday wisdom we have. Those are the norms that discuss self worth.
Now, we have to recognize I fully understand that until we kind of broaden our consciousness we can be anxious at the thought we don’t know something. “Oh, my wife is right.” “Oh, my husband is right,” “Oh, so and so is right, I’m wrong.” That can create anxiety unless we get to a point where we say “It’s perfectly okay if I’m wrong. I can learn. I don’t like being wrong.” Nobody likes being wrong, no one likes being mistaken but if you can’t learn, you can’t change. You close all the doors. And then self worth is locked into a fantasy, not into how I live in the society in which I’m living.
So this kind of thought, again, these are basic ideas but let me tell you, in our marriage counseling we have found once you work out these basic, let’s call it, ways of being, a lot of the other problems of life are just the problems of life. Remember we spoke about everyday unhappiness? You don’t overcome everyday unhappiness and you’re not supposed to. You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to handle everyday unhappiness, not pretend that everyday unhappiness doesn’t exist.
Marriage really demands the same type of awareness and commitment that we have to live cooperatively in this society. Consequently, no one person, a husband, a wife, child, should control a family. If anyone does, and I put a child in there on purpose, then it’s not a marriage consciousness and one has to grow.
This may sound ideal and to certain extent maybe I guess it’s ideal but I know it’s possible. Not necessarily all the time but a good portion of the time. Next week we’ll continue this discussion. If there are serious difficulties in a marriage, financial difficulties, sexual difficulties, alcoholic difficulties, any of these at least can be discussed. I’m not maintaining that they can all be resolved and we live happily ever after. I don’t believe anybody ever lives happily ever after unless they’re very ill. That’s not what life is made out of. But I certainly think that human beings can discuss things in a way that at least cuts down acrimony, cuts down difficulties, cuts down the pain that we inadvertently all too frequently inflict on each other. And if we can do that, if we can lessen the pain, then the everyday unhappiness that we live with becomes a little bit more bearable. And the everyday wisdom we should have becomes a little more available.
Thank you for listening. This is Dr. Jerry. The Psychotherapist’s Corner, 1490 WGCH.