Merriam-Webster defines marriage as:
1: the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law
a : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock
c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
2: an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
3: an intimate or close union
My addition to the lexicon of “marriage”
Through my years of training, research and experience (professional and personal) working with couples at various stages of marriage; I have come to know marriage in a very profound way. Through my understanding; I have discovered that many people think of marriage as being a type of a relationship defined mostly in the terms listed above. However, I define marriage as being comprised of four relationships (five if the couple has children). Some of these relationships as well stem from a different type of love that two people can experience for one another.
The five elements that make a ‘marriage’
- Romantic partnership (Eros love)
- Co-habitantship (otherwise known as room-mates)
The amazing unique-ness of marriage
It is the combination of all these relationships into one that makes marriage completely unparalleled by any other relationship of human existence. Whether a marriage is good, bad or indifferent; it truly is unlike anything else anyone has ever experienced. So matchless it is, that many other relationships are often compared to it as well.
Unique = Challenging
It is the amazingly, wonderfully, unique quality of marriage that can also make it extremely challenging. It is those very challenges, when one or more of the core relationships listed above has fallen into disarray, that I commonly help couples through; ultimately healing and helping their overall marriage. The funny thing is that most couples wind up in my office thinking that they only need to fix their marriage; never having considered the state of any of the sub-relationships listed above and their significant impact.
Let’s explore this further
In order to explain further the challenges of combining multiple relationships into the one that is known as “marriage” let’s take a look at a more common “combined/dual” relationship. Take for instance the example of friends who decide to become room-mates. The transition into this new combined/dual relationship is usually met with some basic challenges right off the bat. If not navigated effectively this combination could potentially ruin all relationships. And that’s only two relationships combined into one; less than half of the five relationships combined in a marriage where children are involved!
Time to kick up the complexity!
If we’re going to get closer to explaining the complexity of marriage we will need to stretch our imaginations a little further. Conjure up the story, If you will, of two people deciding to be in a friendship, co-habitanship (room-mates) and business partnership. I’ll give you a moment here… but while I do I will remind you of the age old adage; “never mix business with pleasure.” There is a reason (beyond just goofing off when doing business) that this saying has become so widely known and accepted as common knowledge. It is because many friends and or family members have tried to go into business with one another only to have it destroy the relationship altogether. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it would be a stretch to imagine this relationship being prime for a new reality T.V. series. And guess what??? In the above case it’s still only three out of the four to five relationships that are combined in marriage. At least we’re beyond the halfway mark (Phew!).
Let’s take it up another notch; shall we?
I will break down the Business Partnership aspect of marriage more in following posts but for now let’s get back to the conversation of the complexity of combining all these relationships into the one that is “marriage”. Given the demonstrated perplexity of merely combining three relationships; we can only imagine how much more convoluted the matter can get if we were to add yet another sub-relationship and dynamic into the equation. Evermore so when that “other” relationship is none other than a Romantic Partnership. The romantic aspect has a way of altering the flavor of all the other relationships when combined in a way that can either improve or complicate them further. But many times the romantic partnership will lead to a co-parenting relationship which adds the fifth and final layer to this mosaic otherwise known as marriage.
By understanding the multifaceted components of marriage, we can help to deduce which sub-relationship(s) is/are in need of fine tuning. We can then take the necessary measures to address the idiosyncratic needs of each sub-relationship. Once we have all of them working together in harmony we can sit back and watch Marriage be what it was meant to be; a beautiful medley of the most intimate relationship experiences in humanity.
Please read more where I go in depth about each of the 4/5 relationships and how they can effect a marriage.