Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GUEST POST: The “Great Marriage Myth”

By Jessica C. Harris, Ph.D. 

On Monday, May 15, I was counted among the millions who watched Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. When the interview began, I expected to walk away encouraged by what, for all practical purposes, I believed was an example of a successful marriage. However, by the end of the interview, instead of encouraged, I was frustrated. To say that I was baffled by my response to the interview is an understatement. I have been surrounded by examples of healthy and loving marriages throughout my life and because of that, I have an incredibly positive and far from cynical perspective on the institution. Nonetheless, after a few days of processing the interview, and my reaction to it, I have been able to pinpoint why the interview left me feeling as I did. I discovered that more so than the Smiths, my reaction was the result of what I feared viewers, particularly female viewers, would take away from the interview.

I was concerned that the glamorized, cookie-cutter, “model” of marriage that many of us witnessed on Oprah would yet again perpetuate what I call the “Great Marriage Myth.” It’s the fantasy of marriage that I have seen lead some many of my friends to the altar and then, just as quickly to divorce court. The “Great Marriage Myth” is this idea that one can expect and will have a healthy, happy, and successful marital relationship, with minimal to no effort. For those of us who watched the Smiths on Oprah, ours, of course, was a very superficial engagement with their marriage.  However, that did not stop the onslaught of text messages, phone calls and e-mails that I received from a number of female friends and colleagues, who after watching that interview said to me, “I would love a marriage like theirs…” There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting and desiring to have a healthy and successful marriage and family “like” the Smiths. But in many instances, that remark was being made with no thought upon the work involved in reaching such perceived heights of martial bliss.

Perhaps I expected too much to come from that interview?  Maybe I expected that the Smiths would have revealed much more about their marital journey—beyond the surface. When you have a platform, such as they have and you are able to reach as many as they are able to reach, therein lies an opportunity to share with others some helpful tidbits about how you have reached certain pinnacles in your life. In this instance, given that the topic was marriage, perhaps it was too lofty of me to have expected them to share instances of  how they may have overcome challenges, what they have learned, what they are continuing to learn, etc. Perhaps they had their own agenda to put forth and with that, their level of transparency would only go so far.

Perhaps I expected too much from other viewers? Maybe I thought that more people would, particularly for themselves, move beyond the glitz and glamour of what they saw to discern the hidden questions about marriage and relationships. But given the responses I personally received and from reading comments spread throughout cyberspace, that sort of processing and analysis, for the most part, did not occur.

While I realize that I have no control over what anybody does or how anybody thinks, I can at least pose a challenge to those who are married or who desire to be. My challenge is simply to keep things in perspective and go deeper. Before looking at a couple and desiring what they have or what you think they have, ask yourself some hard questions. Look beyond what you see—beyond fantasies of a platinum wedding, with a dress from Kleinfeld and a suburban home with 2.5 kids—to inquire and understand more about the journey. As my mom always says, “you can’t have the testimony, without the test.” So with that, I ask those of you who sent me those texts, e-mails, and made those phone calls, and perhaps those who did not, to ask yourself are you ready to meet the challenges and do the work necessary to not only attain the type marriage you desire but to sustain it?


Joyce The Writer said...

I appreciate this post. As someone who is not married, but plans to be one day, I have studied the marriages I've seen that have lasted. And lately I've been asking these couples questions about how they've maintained. Some of the marriages I'd characterize has healthy, some not. Those in the mostly healthy marriages have put. in. work. I've never been a rose-colored glasses girl. And I wouldn't expect that any relationship, much less a marriage, would take anything less than effort and, for me, God. Thanks for the encouragement.

Noel said...

Excellent observations on the "behind-the-scenes" work needed in a successful marriage. As a married man of 20+ years, my wife and I can attest to the fact that much of our longevity is directly attributable to each of us making a decision that no matter what, we are in it for the long haul. This is not to say that we've never had discussions of separation or even divorce, but the bonds we've created are so lasting and strong that consideration of severing them is nearly unthinkable. It is interesting that you were hoping for more from the Smiths' in the way of specific tidbits or nuggets to encourage others. Let me be so presumptous as to answer for them; make a decision that you stay. My wife and I are constantly described as the perfect couple, which we immediately vehemently deny! We are so far from perfect it's laughable, but what we are is committed to one another and working out our differences and problems together.

Diggame said...

Deep post!! A lot more women(and some men) really need to think about what the institution of marriage is. Do not think everything is like a Tyler Perry movie

Anonymous said...

I think the most profound and encouraging things they have shared with the public is the fact they agreed divorce is not an option. There's no way out of their marriage. I don't think stories are needed to support or paint the picture that it's been rough/hard but they're in this TOGETHER so they best get happy.

dejoi said...

Great post. I would have liked to hear more about the challenges and how they've overcome them as well. I agree with you that those seeking marriage must ask themselves if they are ready for the hard work required.

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