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Marriage: Understanding Another Person Who Is Imperfect

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February 27, 2017
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Marrying the ‘Wrong’ Person Can Be the ‘Right’ Choice

Marriage still holds the dream, for so many of us, as the romantic partnership that will make our days loving and pleasant, with our future grounded in a friendship filled with laughter, transcendent moments and great sex. That dream may even include a couple of beautiful, perfectly-behaved children.

Hold the dream, but erase the expectation of perfection and add the perspective of Alain de Botton in his article, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” in The New York Times.

“We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic, and at points comedic, awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will, without any malice, do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness.”

With the understanding that there is no such thing as a tension-less, happiest place on earth marriage, de Botton encourages a “get real” approach to creating a satisfying state of wedded un-bliss.

“…none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

The Search for the Perfect Partner Begins in Childhood

Some people look for a partner who is much like the mother or father they loved. Others look for a mate who is opposite of the parents who raised them. No matter how hard we try to pick someone who seems to bring us “happiness,” de Botton says, “…what we really seek is familiarity.” The search for familiar feelings,” he says, “may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness.”

“The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes.”

Unspoken Reasons That Make Us Choose Marriage

One reason some people choose to marry is to escape the pain of loneliness.

“No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable,” says de Botton. “We have to be wholly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to be appropriately picky, otherwise, we risk loving no longer being single, rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.”

Some people marry because being together and sharing lovely moments like sunsets on the beach or romantic candlelight dinners makes them wish to make those feelings permanent. But marriage is going to be made up of many other moments that are challenging.

Creating Love Day-by-Day

Some might consider de Botton’s view of love as pessimistic because it’s not about years of spotless tenderness and joy. It’s about often not understanding another person who is imperfect and being imperfect ourselves. It’s about annoyance, frustration and sometimes disappointment. In a discussion on the radio program On Being, de Botton explains his view of a healthy partnership as more like the Greek theory of love – each person in a relationship teaches the other to be their best self.

“Compatibility is an achievement of love, not a precondition,” says de Botton.

In his “realistic” look at what might create an enduring relationship, de Botton says to forget the idea that true love is free of conflict.

“The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours, it’s to do with being human,” says Boton. “And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.”


De Botton, Alain, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” New York Times, May 28, 2016

De Botton, Alain and Tippett, Krista, On Being, Feb. 7, 2017

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