October 30, 2014West of Tomorrow and Change in the 21st Century

21st Century Relationships and Paradigm Shifts

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Disappointed Woman

When love is gone it's gone...

Part III in the Shifting Paradigm Series:  “I just wish he would have an affair!”

This was the title of a recent post by Monique Honaman, on her blog at the Huffington Post.  She is the author of THE HIGH ROAD HAS LESS TRAFFIC, a road map for marriage, divorce and coping.  She began her post with this quote:

“My husband is so nice.  He’s a good guy.  I just wish he would have an affair.”

Ms. Honaman goes on to comment, “I’ve heard these comments or comments very similar to this, numerous times, lately.  What’s going on?  I’m not sure I have an answer.  In fact, I’m sure I don’t have an answer.”

Her perplexity is understandable, on the surface of things.  The admission with which her post leads off seems out of character with women as we’re accustomed to thinking of them.  It’s even more difficult to account for, when Ms. Honaman includes the amplifying comments.  Women making these statements, she observes, admit there’s nothing “wrong” with him and they (the women making these confessions) feel considerable guilt as a result.  That guilt is crystallized in the question, “What gives me the right to leave my husband when he has done nothing wrong?”

Why might she want her husband to have an affair?

SO what is at the root of these startling confessions and why might women be making them to Honaman, who hears from a number of women who have found inspiration from her book?  Honaman’s readers have opinions, predictably.  An incomplete list of representative comments included below.

  1. They (the women who say this) want an excuse to leave “him.”  (The pretext seeker)
  2. She is just being self-indulgent.  She has it too easy. (Quit Whining)
  3. She wants out but she doesn’t want it to be her “fault.” (See #1, above)
  4. Relationships are work.  Do they work!  (See #2, above)
  5. Wen you’re on your lats breath and dying, who will be there?  (See # 2 & 4, above)
  6.    In our disposable society, is it any wonder that marriage has followed suit? (we’re going to the dogs)
  7. She wants “him” to have an affair so she can.  (see #6, above)

While these comments may touch on part of the truth, part of the time, they miss something much more fundamental, in my view.  Humans, even in simpler times have always been complex critters, even if their needs and desires at times seem straightforward.  What seems to be missing in all of these answers is an awareness (or at least acknowledgement) of the implicit footnotes to marriage. The hidden paradigm.

The Insidious Relationship Paradigm…

Let’s begin by agreeing the paradigm for marriage as most of us have tend to accept it goes something like this:

  1. Marriage is the only truly valid form of relationship (of the romantic variety, anyway)
  2. Marriage is (or should be) “til death do us part.”
  3. Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only responsible framework for procreation.

But there is (at least) one other assumption underpinning the marriage paradigm as we know it.  The traditional marriage paradigm assumes our marriage will not outlive our love; a heroic assumption, especially given 21st Century realities.  Marriage has its roots in a much earlier time; a time when life expectancy was much shorter and the rate of change our ancestors endured was orders of magnitude less frantic than it is today.  Consider how the following might affect our marriage paradigm how the realities of our changing time may be modifying it.

Paradigm Creep?

  1. As late as 1850, the life expectancy of a white male in America was on average 38.3 years; white females 40.5 years.  For all others it was significantly less.  In other words, a successful marriage on average spanned a generation.  Mortality rates in ancient times are much harder to estimate, but seem to have been about the same.  Today, an average white male is expected to survive into his 70s.  That’s a longer time for two people to remain on congruent growth paths; especially if women and men are both employed and subjected to different thoughts and experiences.
  2. Technology’s capacity to transform how we live (& the pace of that life) have grown faster  than some of us are capable of assimilating.  (Alvin and Heidi Toffler called it Future Shock in their 1970 best seller).  How those stress components affect us over time depends on a lot of independent variables, many of which we probably haven’t even identified, yet, but few would be silly enough to call trivial.
  3. The entry of women into the work place as professionals in their own right has rendered men optional,  as a practical matter, rather than a necessity.  Women can (and do all the time) make their own way, even as single parents.  It may not be optimal, even today, but it happens with increasing frequency.  As of 2008, of the 4 million women 15-44 who had given birth in the last year, 1.5 million (38%) were either not married, separated or married with an absent spouse.

in light of the foregoing, it is difficult to imagine our attitudes about marriage would not change.  The single greatest effect of the Womens’ Rights Movement is found in how women view themselves.  And because women, much more than men have been traditionally defined by their relationships, an significant change in how they view themselves is virtually certain to show up in how they view their relationships.  Other than the relationships of mothers with their children, it is hard to imagine any more profound than that with their men, if heterosexual.

The peppery comments about self-indulgence, or relationships requiring work may well be applicable in some cases, but completely inappropriate in others.  The truth is, we have a society whose paradigm pushes marriage.  It isn’t even subtle.  Consciously or unconsciously, we conclude there is something “wrong” with someone who isn’t married.  Men opt out of marriage but still enjoy the company of women we label “commitment phobics,” or even “arrested adolescents.”  Women who opt for lifestyles in any other form than wife and mother are selfish or worse.

Time for a new paradigm?

But what if we’re operating from the wrong paradigm? What if it’s marriage as we have traditionally defined it that is

woman wondering

Time for a new Paradigm?

flawed?  If women (for example) feel trapped in a relationship they can’t make work for whatever reason and cannot bring themselves to end because someone must be wrong before the marriage itself is…should we be surprised women might hope for a way out that preserves their self-image?  Is there a better example of cognizant dissonance?

Do I know if any of these possibilities apply in the cases to which Ms. Honaman refers in her post?  No.  But neither can I look at the world in which we live without asking the obvious.  Does not our consumptive society rest on the inefficient model of mom, dad and 2.4 children precisely because it is inefficient and promotes consumption?  Does the nuclear family as we know it not persist because it’s good business in the industrial and post industrial world…just like the myth of unlimited, sustainable growth?

In my next post on the evolution of relationships between men and women, we will take a closer look at how the paradigm upon which marriage as we know it may be directly impacting our ecosystem; along the economic model that assumes perpetual growth.  We will consider some of the practical outcomes of these essentially philosophical questions and speculate how they might affect the existing paradigm as their impacts become more obvious.  However we define (or redefine) relations between men and women, it is difficult to see them remaining static.  But in answer to Ms. Honaman’s question, “What is going on?”  The marriage paradigm is shifting…or so it seems to me.  What does everyone else think?

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Showing 40 comments
  • Clementina

    I’m learning how to write well for my articles. Any tips? I would really appreciate your help.

    • Dirk

      Hi Clementina:
      I’ve sent you an email. Let me know what I can do…
      Dirk

  • Candy R.

    Nice post. Many thanks to the author. I pretty much agree with your thoughts. Thanks for sharing. I’ve known several women like you describe in your post.

    • Dirk

      Thanks, Candy. It’s sad, but it’s also where we are. There’s some good news, for what it’s worth. For most of us, the answer seems to be careful thought about what WE want in our relationships & finding someone who wants the same thing. Oh, yeah. That’s what we used to do before, isn’t it? What a concept!
      Dirk

  • Adrize

    Thanks for sharing this. I thought I was alone on this one.
    Adrize

  • Edmundo

    Nice post! Thanks.

    • Dirk

      Glad you think so. Oh…and you’re welcome… ;-)

  • Toni R.

    This is an awesome site. So much interesting content and so much of it full of great insights. This post in particular really spoke to me. I know exactly how these women feel and I think you’re right about our increased longevity as being part of it all. When it goes bad in your 30s, the remaining 30 or 40 years feels like a life-sentence in prison. Sorry…I know you’re a guy, but…!!

    • Dirk

      I hear you, Toni! Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.
      Dirk

  • Nancy Linder

    How long have you been running this weblog? It appears like you’ve got a good web site right here and I will be bookmarking you. I’m also going to submit this site post to Digg so my followers can check it out, too.

    • Dirk

      Thanks, Nancy. Love those Diggs!
      Dirk

  • Rich

    Nice blog…neat post.

    • Rosaura

      You’ve really captured all the essentials in this subject area, haven’t you?

      • Dirk

        Thanks, Rosaura!

        I’m sure I’ve missed something… ;-) Probably a lot of somethings. That said, for those of us with a pulse, I suspect most of us recognize change…significant and enduring is in the wind. How it will turn out remains to be seen. That change is coming is undeniable, IMHO.
        Dirk

  • TQ

    I think 21st Century Relationships and Paradigm Shifts provides a useful and interesting way of looking at how relationships might be changing in the 21st Century. Not sure I agree totally, but still interesting.

    • Dirk

      Hi TQ:
      Don’t expect everyone to agree. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
      Dirk

  • Ennya

    you write your posts with great mixture of whimsy and substance that they are easy to read and yet valuable.

    • Dirk

      Whimsy…okay, thanks! (I guess) Appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment. Glad you enjoyed.
      D

  • Edelmira

    I am always learning new things with your blog. This is a great post. I will keep these thoughts in mind.

  • Rosana j.

    Makes so much sense. Thank you.

  • Adele

    hey, looking forward to your other posts that are about to come.

  • Antonia R.

    Seriously! This takes us to new places! Which I guess is the purpose of this post. I’m impatient to see your next post and where you’re going to take this whole thing, even though I’d bet I’m not necessarily going to like it. I have to agree about one thing. we haven’t looked at marriage and its place in our lives for a long time…just taking for granted that it’s the right thing for most if not all of us. Not sure that’s true and for that reason if nothing else, this is a good discussion to have. Neat blog and great topic!
    Antonia

    • Dirk

      Thanks for stopping by, Antonia…and for your comment. I agree there’s a great deal more than meets the eye in our traditionally bound thinking about marriage/relationships. And you’re right, the whole purpose of this post is to get people to think about it. I don’t have the answers, necessarily, but I sure as hell have a lot of questions… :-)
      Dirk

  • Jerald Piek

    Good post. I learn something new from the blogosphere everyday. I’d like to share some of your content on my blog, whether or not you don’t mind. Naturally I’ll provide you with a link… Thanks for sharing.

    • Dirk

      Hi Jerald:

      Really? You’ll use it whether or not I mind? ;-) Good thing I don’t, then…
      D

  • Albina

    You know, your blog is very well written, and so very close to life. This post really struck home with me…

  • Alzira

    when i come and see what you’ve posted i notice that they are always so good.

    • Dirk

      Thanks so much…glad you’re finding things of value ,here!
      Best,
      Dirk

  • Carmella Marucci

    I can’t thank you enough for how much your article has added to my understanding of this situation. I have found it difficult to understand why some of my friends have “checked out” of their relationship, even with they remain under the same roof…until now. I think you have discovered a truth most of us haven’t wanted to face until now. It certainly changes how I see myself and any man with whom I might share myself. (I’m still single). Thanks so much for these thoughts. You have a gift!
    Carmella

  • Anete

    thank you for all the things that I have been able to learn from your site and particularly this post. Also, congratulations on the success of your site and your upcoming book. Keep up the good work.

    • Dirk

      Thanks, Anete!
      Dirk

  • Valarie N. Springer

    Love your blog, in fact arrived by checking yahoo and google for a comparable issue to this post. Which means this might be a late post nevertheless keep up the great work.

    • Dirk

      Thanks, Valarie…
      It is a recent tho not the most recent post. Thanks for stopping by & taking the time to comment. Look forward to hearing from you again.
      Dirk
      Author of WEST OF TOMORROW

  • UL Helska

    Congrats ~ Found your blog on Google while searching for a related topic, your site came up, it looks good, keep them coming! This is a way-different take on relationships. Looking forward to more!

  • Anna J.

    I really can’t believe a woman would want her husband to have an affair. It’s really damaging for all concerned. Your seven reasons she would don’t ring true, to me.

    • Dirk

      Hi Anna:
      Let me answer your last observation first. The reasons I listed aren’t mine, but those who responded to Ms. Honaman’s post. With regard to WHY a woman might wish her husband would cheat…when there seems only one way out, most people will take it, even if it may involve pain. Or perhaps she doesn’t want out @ all, for some reason, but she’s SO OVER him that she wishes he’d go somewhere else for his companionship. Why would she stay, in that case? I’m none the wiser, myself. But why do women stay in abusive relationships? The illusion of safety? Fear of reprisal if she “tries” to leave? I suspect the answers are as diverse as the women who find themselves in that uncomfortable position. Just my opinion.
      Dirk

  • Denise

    I’ve heard this one before. Because we live longer, marriage is somehow less durable. Really? How did you get to that conclusion?

    • Dirk

      Hi Denise:
      I suspect there are multiple reasons for the increasing ephemeral nature of relationships in general & marriage in particular. So in that regard, I hear & agree with your skepticism. Hard to argue with the statistics, tho. All of which doesn’t mean there are those who beat the odds.
      Dirk

  • Neiresha

    How do you think the marriage paradigm is shifting? Are you saying you think more and more people will be cheating in marriage? Or fewer people will be marrying in the first place? Or is all of this in the next post?

    • Dirk

      Hi Neiresha:
      There’s already a study out that suggests more are “cheating,” and both genders. The study is quoted in one of my articles on this site about relationships & the link is imbedded. It’s a free pdf for download, if you want to read the whole thing. The conclusion of the researchers is that position, rather than gender is the principle cause of the opportunity for infidelity & that when powerful women are confronted with opportunity, there is no statistical difference between how often they indulge. Not a conclusive study, but I find it intuitively believable. It is also already true that people in western society are marrying later. But I suspect that with the balance of power between the genders now trending toward equality, marriage will be less attractive to both. It’s certainly unnecessary to form & commit to a relationship…(just my opinion.)
      Dirk

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