There’s a powerful tendency in long-term relationships to favor the predictable over the unpredictable.

In her excellent book Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel associates our quest for security with a deadening of passion:

There’s a powerful tendency in long-term relationships to favor the predictable over the unpredictable. Yet eroticism thrives on the unpredictable. Desire butts heads with habit and repetition … without an element of uncertainty there is no longing, no anticipation, no frisson.

There’s hard science to support this theory. In a recent study at the University of Michigan and SUNY–Stony Brook, researchers found a direct link between boredom in marriage and long-term decreased marital satisfaction. Scientists have concluded that the reason for this link lies in a lack of closeness. When couples become bored, or feel as if they are stuck in a rut, their level of closeness decreases significantly, which in turn decreases their overall satisfaction.

So, if trust and safety aren’t the cornerstones of a long, healthy, and exciting marriage, what are? Self-respect and self-representation, at the risk of rejection, are the essential qualities that can actually lead to a growing, vibrant marriage.

I can hear you now: Wait a minute … do you mean to tell me that feeling unsafe in my marriage is the key to happiness? Well, yes—to some extent. Allow me to unpack this a little. We’ve all heard that trust and safety are the essential qualities and goals of a committed, intimate relationship. When we enter a relationship, we tell ourselves, “I need to be able to trust you. I need to know that you’re going to be able to accept me and honor me, and I need that from you before I will entrust myself to you.” And some of this is helpful. After all, Jesus was right in his admonition not to cast your pearls before swine. But here’s the problem: How many hoops does your spouse have to go through before he’s proven that he’s not a pig? And what happens if he does earn that approval, then breaks it once? Then how many more hoops does he have to jump through? It is a myth to think that trust can be earned. It’s never earned. It can never be fully earned. At some point, no matter how trustworthy someone appears to be, you still have to take a risk in revealing yourself to him/her. You still have to confront your feelings of insecurity, your lack of trust, in order to open yourself up to another.

We’ve all done this in one form or another. We keep score with our spouses to make sure that things are even. To make sure that no one is taking advantage of us. To make sure that we are withholding just enough to keep ourselves … you guessed it … safe. But safe is dead in a marriage. What keeps a marriage alive is risk. What keeps a marriage breathing in life is adventure and mystery in the form of risky self-representation—without knowing how your spouse is going to respond. Digest those words very carefully, because you’re about to explore them fully in chapter 3.

Runkel, Hal Edward. The Self-Centered Marriage (pp. 47-48). Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

Runkel, Hal Edward. The Self-Centered Marriage (p. 46). Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

Runkel, Hal Edward. The Self-Centered Marriage (pp. 45-46). Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

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