Even though most couples start out with the best of hopes for their marriages, it is inevitable that they experience some disappointments and unmet expectations along the way.
Loving each other deeply does not translate into always wanting the same thing at the same time. How couples respond to these disappointments can have a huge effect on their happiness and security.
How Consumer Values Undermine Marriage
William Doherty, a well-known author and Marriage & Family Therapist identifies “consumer” attitudes as a particularly harmful response to the disappointments in marriage. As he explains in his book “Take Back your Marriage,” the marketing messages in our consumer society are designed to convince us that what we have and who we are is never enough, and that we can earn more money, have nicer things, or appear younger, slimmer, and more attractive if we purchase a certain product. When we carry the same attitudes and values into our marriages, we can dwell on our disappointments with our spouse, lose sight of their positive qualities, feel deprived, and becoming convinced that we deserve more than what we are receiving. When these thoughts are focused on over time, those feelings of resentment, comparison, and deprivation diminish our ability and desire to appreciate the good and to engage the marriage in a healthy way.
Quiz: Is your marriage becoming a consumer marriage?
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) compare my spouse unfavorably to others.
- In relation to our problems, I (often, sometimes, rarely) dwell on my spouse’s deficiencies; not my own.
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) concentrate on how my spouse is not meeting my needs.
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) keep score: I add up when I do good things or when I think my spouse does something bad.
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) think that my spouse is getting a better deal in this marriage than I am.
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) focus on my spouse’s defects rather than his or her strengths.
- I (often, sometimes, rarely) wonder if I should have held out for someone better when I chose a mate.
- When we have hard times, I (often, sometimes, rarely) ask myself whether the effort I am putting into this marriage is worth it
“If most of your answers are “rarely,” congratulations. You do not treat marriage like a car that you can trade in when it ages and develops a touch of rust. If most of your answers are “sometimes,” ask yourself if things that you want are things that you absolutely need. Try discussing your spouse’s needs and wants. If three or more of your answers are “often,” consumerism has severely infected your marriage” (Doherty, p. 43).
Since nearly everyone allows “consumer thinking” to slip into their marriage from time to time, it is important to identify better alternatives for dealing with disappointments – most often (excluding situations of ongoing infidelity and abuse), couples don’t have to choose between the two lonely options of (1) suffering in silence as a resentful martyr or (2) divorcing.
If we are willing to take an active part in improving our relationships, there are much better options available to most of us! As Doherty explains, “The best way to keep the consumer culture from dominating your marriage is to see yourself as a citizen of your marriage, which is another way to say to be intentional, committed, and part of a community.” He goes on to identify other ways of proactively committing to being part of the solution in one’s marriage:
- Take responsibility to make things better and not just be passive
- Value the marriage itself and not just your own interests in it
- Struggle to make it better by naming problems and changing yourself first
- Take the long view that values your history together over short-term pain and struggle
- Accept the inevitable limitations and problem
- See how your marriage affects many other people in your world
- Hold on to the dream of a more perfect union (From “Take Back your Marriage, p. 47, emphasis added).
If these seem like good suggestions, try them! If you feel like you could use some support in making these changes, we have an excellent team of highly trained marriage counselors who would be glad to support you and your loved one on the path back to connection and happiness in marriage.