This cannot take place unless husband and wife really know each other. “But we do know each other!” the average married couple may exclaim. I wonder. Getting to know someone else—and yourself for that matter—takes effort. How do you get to know someone else?
The story is told of the great Russian writer, Boris Pasternak, who was being interviewed. When the interview was completed, a photographer came over to take pictures. Pasternak looked up wonderingly and said, “You wish to photograph me. But how can you make a good portrait of a person unless you know him well?”
When you stop to think about it, this is a penetrating comment, the other side of which is that, as a great photographer once remarked to me, you can also know a person too well to photograph him. The reason is that when you know him that well, you no longer “see” him. In the last analysis, it is the eye behind the camera that must “see” a person, otherwise the camera will not “see” him either.
What has all this to do with marital compatibility and sexual fulfillment? Simply this. Many a married couple really do not know each other. They are aware of many surface likes, dislikes and reactions, but neither really knows what makes the other tick down deep inside. They have ceased “seeing” each other. Thus, many marriages lose their drive and undergo cycles that can almost be predicted.
And then partners think that the relationship is over….
There is, at first, an early sense of newness. You are discovering your mate’s surface attitudes and behavior patterns. He is discovering yours and the entire process is exciting. Then, gradually, the bloom comes off the rose. In a year, two, or three, many couples lose their sense of discovery. Their lives become routinized. They feel that they know their partners so well, and they fail to “see” them any more.
Unless the couple sets about to take positive preventive measures, the marriage becomes simply an automatic matter with set habit patterns devoid of real meaning to one or both of those involved. In contrast, the next time you are with a couple who have been married eighteen or twenty years, but who have not lost the art of “seeing” each other, take the opportunity of observing them.
Note their awareness and enjoyment of each other, the interchange of talk as if this were the first time each had met the other. You probably will feel that they are very lucky people and you will hope that some day your relationship with your mate can be as good. But are they merely lucky? Perhaps luck is an ingredient, but there’s more to it.
The husband and wife happily married for many years are likely to be sure of each other. Don’t misunderstand. Neither can predict all the feelings or reactions of the other. Neither just takes the other for granted. But there is a range of common ground and a range of security that each derives from the other. Further, husband and wife gain comfort from feeling reasonably sure that the other will react in a mature, grown-up fashion to problems as they arise.
This comfort permeates the marriage. Its implications for sexual fulfillment are obvious. With husband and wife both open-minded, both flexible and both willing to please the other, sexual incompatibility is reduced to a minimum. The relaxed feeling of this type of marriage permeates every aspect of it.
Along with the comfort, security and relaxation, the happy marriage remains vital and dynamic. It is only natural that this vitality should spill over into the couple’s sex life. The husband and wife are stimulatingly aware of each other. At parties, they do not escape into opposite corners, but, circulating freely, they meet periodically for a glance, a laugh, a touch. Clearly, they are husband and wife but also they “see” and “hear” each other. They connect, each delighting in the other’s company.
This is not just a pose for the sake of convention or appearance, for they have long since been able to do without playacting. Each one seems more joyful, more alive because of the other. And why not? When they first married, each thought the other the most wonderful person in the world. Neither expected this attitude to change with the years and it hasn’t, for both took pains to keep this feeling going.
I cannot forget what one wonderfully happy couple told me after thirty-one years of marriage. “We have always found each other charming,” the wife said, “and stimulating in a great many ways.” The husband chimed in, “And we have always liked each other a great deal, as people, in addition to the love we feel and the physical satisfaction we share.”
In just a few words, that couple had provided a revealing self-analysis that has ramifications for couples everywhere. They “liked” each other, as the husband said.
“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me . . .” These are words from a popular song in the play, The King and L Lovers may wonder what these words have to do with them. The word “like”, after all, is not often found in the vocabulary of lovers. Like denotes friendship, not love, they might say.
But liking is as vital to husband and wife as loving. Learning to like your partner is absolutely necessary to marriage. In all its aspects, the sexual one included, marriage should be based on friendship and companionship as well as on passion. Marriages sometimes flounder because it is much. more difficult, at times, to like your partner than to love him or her. True friendship, lovers should always remember, is an art, and as with any art, takes time to learn.
Many couples are in too great a hurry ever to come to know each other well enough to develop liking for each other. They are so anxious to achieve the ultimate relationship of marriage that they cheat themselves of the great experience of friendship before and during marriage. Not so a young couple I know, married a little more than eight years. Like all married couples, they have their emotional ups and downs, their financial problems, their happinesses and sorrows, but overall they are extremely happy.
In part, their happiness stems from their deep love. But there’s something more. They realized early in their marriage the value of friendship—of “liking” one another. When the husband does something that profoundly dismays his wife (this happens in the happiest of marriages), she is likely to say something along these lines: “I love you as always, but I don’t like you at all at this moment for what you have just done. . . .”
This type of remark has always served as a signal in their marriage. It triggers, almost invariably, a discussion of what the husband (or the wife for that matter) has done to disappoint the mate. The results are worth thinking about. The discussion clears the air—even if it has involved heated voices and charged emotions. Further, it serves to resolve the point at issue. In this way, the marriage is strengthened.
Why is this achieved? Because there is sufficient loving and “liking” along with generous amounts of mutual respect to carry this couple through the disagreement. They remain good friends throughout. I emphasize this because “bad friends” can feel love, passion, desire for one another and translate those qualities into a temporary compatibility.
After a while, the happy husband and wife learn how to react to what the other person is rather than to what he may do or say at a given moment. If you are such a spouse, you will have learned still more that is vital in marriage. You will have learned that your fundamental feeling of friendship and liking can carry you through moments when your partner is downright disagreeable, silly, unattractive, disgusting, or a complete failure in life.
Obviously, the younger couples who divorce soon after marriage have failed to allow themselves sufficient time to become real friends with each other. Obviously, too, the deep, insightful understanding that is necessary to sustain marriage has not had time to be developed in our teenagers.
Ways to Marital Understanding. Once married, how can you begin to know your partner? The surface attitudes require no discovery, for these emerge quickly for you to understand. I am talking about the deep-down values—the Dues that come to light in moments of stress, when everything III the marriage does not go the way you thought it would. Inevitably, there will be some of these moments in regard to the physical love of marriage.
First of all, the human heart is shy of opening its innermost corners when there is fear of being hurt. This means simply that if you want to know a person and know him well, he must be sure that you do not want to hurt him in any way.
What is likely to create such a fear? A habitually sharp tongue can do it. Continuous mockery of others or of self can do it. Dishonesty in simple human relationships can also lead to this type of fear. So can expressions of hatred, lust, greed, jealousy, envy and insecurity. If, instinctively or otherwise, your mate discovers that your first concern is yourself, the underpinnings of your marriage are bound to become shaky. Love and fear do not mix well together. To know each other fully, neither partner must have reason to fear the other.
Second, you must make the first gesture of “liking” and of loving. You must be for your partner. Friendship between two people never springs full-blown from a single moment. It is the result of many moments through the years, of warmth, of support, of loyalty and of genuine concern each for the other.
T’his is especially important to remember in times of stress caused by bad times or by the anticipation of bad times.
Whoever first thought of the phrase, “when the chips are down”,was correct. It is when the chips are down that a fellow really needs a friend. It’s also the moment when a fellow finds out what kind of a friend the other person is. In no aspect of living is this more important than in marriage.
Third, in true friendship, the other person gains a sense that you value him for himself, not for what he can do for you. One of the greatest things we can do in this life is to give other people a sense of their own worth in our eyes. Once again, this is part of the ability to “see” in marriage. It has magnificent powers in all phases of marriage. In the sexuality of marriage, it helps immeasurably in maintaining mutual respect and admiration which lead to sexual fulfillment.
When husbands and wives act towards each other as if the other was valueless, they erode the foundations of their marriage. They decrease their loving and liking; they rouse feelings of frustration and failure that sooner or later may become the predominating tone of the marriage itself. With such a tone, there is not likely to be a release from sexual tensions, but rather a deepening of them. Mutual trust and respect are the antidotes.
But, say the young married couple in love, we aren’t interested in friendship. We’re interested in love and love-making. Everything will fall into place when we experience passion together.
To sustain a marriage over the long haul, loving and liking must go together. Love without friendship is like icing without cake. A little bit is fine. Too much alone provides nothing of real substance. Ask anyone who has been married happily for ten years or longer. He will tell you that plenty of practice in the art of friendship provides a head start towards successful marriage.
Getting to Know Myself
It might seem surprising to discuss “getting to know myself” after “getting to know you”. It might seem that getting to know another person should come after one understands oneself and not before. I doubt it.
“Getting to know myself” is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. Not only is it tough to accomplish, it is even tough to start doing. People shy away from it because they have a feeling that they will not like what they discover. In addition, the incentive for getting to know oneself must come from outside oneself. It is far more likely to be the result of stresses and strains in life than of easy living.
Whether or not we like the idea, marriage involves some basic stresses. I know a young man twice married and twice divorced who admits readily that he cannot withstand the stresses of marital responsibility. It places real demands upon us, sometimes involving sorrow and pain. This is inevitable. Even the most harmonious marriage has difficult moments, moments in which we must decide which comes first, the marriage or “myself”. This is why I have postponed a discussion of “getting to know myself”. I believe the real stimulus for that is “getting to know you”.
When Boris Pasternak refused the Nobel Prize he told his friends, “This and much else is hard and sad. But it is these fatalities that give life weight and depth and gravity and make it extraordinary, rapturous, magical and real.” His conviction is borne out in all our daily living.
Have you ever seen a photographic print made from an under-exposed negative? The outlines of the picture are extremely thin because there is little or no shadowing. Everything is light and shallow, without depth or roundness. Thus, everything in the photo loses its real meaning. If there had been the proper exposure, shadows would appear.
The dark would fill spaces, marking contrasts with the brilliant play of light. I think this is what Pasternak meant with regard to living. If you give yourself to life fully and deeply, plunging yourself into it with all your heart, you will not be able to escape dark, shadowing experiences, some of them difficult and tragic, others stressful and disturbing.
Still others will bring ultimate joy. You will be living life in the round, and from the more painful experiences will come knowledge of your own capacities as a human being. You will learn how and why you cope with situations, live with them, accept or reject them.