Gwyneth Paltrow — the most beautiful woman in the world, according to People — confessed to what Ben Affleck admitted a few months ago — marriage is hard and it takes work.
“It’s hard being married. You go through great times, you go through terrible times. We’re the same as any couple,” Paltrow said of her nine-year marriage to Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin.
It isn’t much different from what Affleck said of wife Jennifer Garner while accepting his Oscar for Argo, “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It is work but the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with,” which caused a bit of a kerfuffle.
Why do so many believe marriage is “hard” and “work”? And why does the idea of marriage being “hard” or “work” cause so many to get incensed?
Marriage is only hard if it’s a bad marriage, someone Tweeted me.
Then, CafeMom Sasha Brown-Worsham wrote, no, marriage isn’t “hard” — it’s “challenging:”
Marriage is so many things at so many different times. It can be hilarious, wild, sexy, frustrating, boring, exciting, and productive and then suddenly turn on its head and be 15 other things all at once. But the one thing almost everyone tells brides-to-be and women in general is that marriage is “hard.” I am not sure I would agree, though. tweet
I guess it really depends on your definition of “hard.” It can be challenging, but many good things are. Sometimes compromise can be a bummer and you would really rather do your own thing. Sometimes sharing the remote is depressing when you would rather watch your own show, but I would never say that marriage itself is “hard. … Saying it’s hard somehow implies that it isn’t worth it or that there are many parts of it that are bad. I disagree. Why would anyone stay in a marriage that feels like drudgery and makes you unhappy? tweet
(If you want to know judgment, just try telling others you want to get out of a marriage because it “makes you unhappy”!)
But, really, “hard” or “challenging” — is it all about semantics?
Marriage never used to be considered work; marriage was considered a duty, which I’ve written about before. I’m not sure that’s any better, because duty implies there’s no choice and we certainly like choice in marriage nowadays. But along with the rise of marriage counseling came the idea that marriage is work — and that it’s mostly the wife’s job to do it — and the rise of “professionals” and “relationship experts” and an entire self-help industry to help us with that.
Which makes me re-examine my own two marriages — one in my early 20s that lasted under four years, and the second marriage that lasted for 14 years and that produced two wonderful boys, now young men.
I never saw either of my marriages as “work,” but I was unhappy in my short first marriage — we were wrong for each other — and while I thought I was doing all the right things in marriage No. 2, my former husband wasn’t happy for his own reasons (which included infidelity).
All of which makes me think if you’re a kind and loving person, you tend to be that way lifelong; that would seem to be helpful in a marriage. Is kindness and being loving enough to make married life somewhat easier?
If you marry with unrealistic expectations, it’s a recipe for disaster. At the same time, it just isn’t easy to live with anyone for decades on end, no matter how kind and loving you are and how much you genuinely like each other; there are going to be what Paltrow calls great times and terrible times.
A huge part of the problem is that we get habituated, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, whose book, The Myths of Happiness, details actions and words to help keep love alive once infatuation and passion disappear (as they inevitably do). Gee, actions and words — does that sound like work to you, too? We’re being asked to do something for our marriage; does action = work?
But, you don’t have to be married to experience habituation, as Susan Saradon, who lived with partner Tim Robbins for 23 years, understands:
“The one thing that’s been really clear to me is that you have to think of your own life and your relationship and everything as a living organism. It’s constantly moving, changing, growing. I think long-term relationships need to be constantly re-evaluated and talked about.” tweet
Do re-evaluation and conversation take work? If that’s how you chose to look at it, yes. If you see that as challenging, fine. If you accept it as part of what just is, great. It’s glass half empty, glass half full; what filter are you using?
- Is marriage “work”?
- Is marriage “hard”?
- Would a long-term relationship outside of marriage require the same, more or less energy?
Photo © green308/ Fotolia.com