You may have heard of the phrase “good enough parenting”, which was coined by British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott back in the 1950s. Along with this phrase was a bunch of psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo that I won’t bore you with here but his basic premise was this – you don’t have to be a “perfect” parent, you just have to be “good enough.” He argued that perfection is not only unobtainable, but unnecessary for the development of healthy human beings and the relationships between them. This begs the question; does the same concept apply to a spouse? My personal opinion is of course, why wouldn’t it?
While cultural attitudes towards marriage shift over time and vary widely among people depending upon their own background, religion, or personal beliefs, the concept of finding one perfect soul-mate that will meet your every wish and desire seems to be an enduring one. Who hasn’t dreamed about a partner for whom you feel undying lust and passion? Who can anticipate your every need? Never irritate you by leaving their dirty clothes on the floor or forgetting to feed the dog? The concept of the “perfect one” may be enduring, but not realistic or the least bit necessary for a healthy, long-term marriage. Why? Because as Dr. Winnicott suggested, the quest for perfection is unobtainable and unnecessary. It is simply not a realistic, or particularly mature, viewpoint on relationships.
That being said, the feeling of being “in love” is extremely powerful, and many of these unions turn into satisfactory, long-term and lasting relationships. However this initial feeling of sexual excitement and passion typically does not endure over time, instead it matures into something else or the union dissolves altogether. Relationships that endure are those built upon mutual respect, healthy communication, compatible beliefs, goals, and lifestyles, and a commitment to the marriage and family as something which is bigger than the individual. Not that sexual attraction and intimacy isn’t a very important part of the relationship, of course it is. But if we think that alone will sustain us long-term, I believe we need to think again.
Marriage can be messy folks. And yes, at times it may be boring. Your partner may irritate the hell out of you. You may find yourself day-dreaming about the “perfect somebody” out there waiting for you. Problem is this…they really don’t exist. Repeat after me – they really don’t exist.
Yes marriage is boring, and thrilling, and frustrating, and challenging and fabulous. It is all these things at different times, in different places, and this is okay. Your partner isn’t perfect… and guess what, neither are you. Somewhere along the way we’ve been taught that we shouldn’t “settle.” But of course we settle, every one of us settles. We settle because we are all imperfect, and the word “settle” should really be replaced with the words “compromise” and “acceptance”, which is a hallmark of a healthy marriage when done appropriately and with good boundaries by both partners. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be extremely thoughtful regarding our choice for a long-term partnership. Few decisions are more important, but if we have an illusion that our partner will be perfect and that less likeable characteristics won’t have to be tolerated it’s just that – a dangerous illusion. I know it will be difficult to remember all this the next time your significant other leaves dirty clothes on the floor. Please just remember that the odds are that you yourself will do something equally or possibly even more annoying – after all, you are only human too.