Paul's Perambulations a personal blog

January 3, 2011

A sustainable marriage (NYTimes 12/31/10)

Filed under: Family,Love,Peace — admin @ 6:21 pm

This NYTimes article focuses on what makes a sustainable marriage. The author proposes that relationships succeed when they develop “self-expansion” via a mutual contribution to increased knowledge and new experiences. The concept is interesting and speaks to the relationship between Fran and me. I took their “quiz,” although I don’t put that much credence in it. What I found most interesting were the comments that ensued. You can see them for yourself online, and I have copied my four comments at the end of this post (#s 69, 159, 174, 207 for NYTimes article).

As a Quaker, I am particularly led by two testimonies focusing on 1) Inner (personal) peace and 2) Outward (world) peace. These two are closely related, and while my comments on this NYTimes article relate particularly to the first sense of peace, it is true that with more of this first type, we would also have much more of the latter type (and vice versa).    


#69. I am married to the love of my life — smart, exciting, physical, surprising, adventurous, happy. It CAN happen. We have VIGOROUS debates — she can challenge me at times, which is good because we have the security and confidence of our love. We’ve been together eight years. It’s quite amazing, actually. BTW, although I see no need for this sort of quiz for us, my score was 98 (plus or minus two, I would say).

#159. I find these comments about relationships better than the quiz itself (which has limitations that have been pointed out already. Here are my hi-lites, and at the end I reply to #93 that was critical of my comment #69 — don’t miss it.

  1. #67 An “expansive marriage” is no doubt sustainable, but I’m sure it is only one of many different kinds of sustainable marriages. Agree; it depends on the particular partners. This happens to be important for us.
  2. #79 Fact is a sizable majority of people are threatened by things that are unfamiliar.
  3.  #80 It’s about being an open, mature, secure human being.
  4. #84 I feel like this quiz, and the comments, are intended for people pre or post kids. This is a good point.
  5. # 86 I’ve been challenged and forced to grow in my marriage but not always for good reasons. This has been expressed in a number of comments  A one-sided marriage is not a good marriage, so one partner taking this test tells only a partial story
  6. :# 92 They are not necessarily good for each other, but are afraid to try anything else. Although sometimes this fear may be reasonable. Individuals may have limited options in some circumstances.

I was greatly encouraged to read some very positive descriptions among these comments. Others have been less fortunate, and there is always the question of what to do when things are “soso.”

And finally  #93 I love the modest folks who brag about getting scores above 70, especially the one claiming 98. Did I miss something, or the maximum possible a 70?!… I’ll take average – seems sustainable.

Reply: Guess I’m too accustomed to working on a scale of 100 and I just subtracted. Make that 68 or 70 if it makes you happier. But the test score is trivial compared to what I actually wrote at #69. And I must question if you were simply unhappy about my math or didn’t want to believe that I was being honest with what I said there. Relationships run the gamut. Neither my wife nor I is perfect, but our relationship of eight years is, I repeat, amazing.  We are not inexperienced in life, so when you find something amazing, I think there is real value in letting other folks know that such things are possible even in this day and age. Counting points is simply irrelevant to what I am trying to express.  

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Much as I love this opening line by Tolstoy, that doesn’t mean I believe it. I take it as the sort of thoughtful challenge that we humans have evolved to raise and debate.

#174. I understand and respect #163, who wrote: “It’s GREAT if you can find a person whose presence is so inspiring that it makes you grow. But not everyone is that lucky. Also, the fact remains that usually – not always, but usually – one person simply gives more, and has more to offer, than the other one.”  (Were my wife and I fortunate or unfortunate to have previously been in difficult one-sided relationships? We learned a great deal, searched extensively, could function well independently and held out for the best, and then, was it luck or fortitude, met one another in the woods one rainy night.)

I know people who do much better with a dog or cat than a human partner, and that can be fine and appropriate. A dear friend is happily single. This wouldn’t work for me (although it’s better than a bad relationship), but that’s not the point.

Guess this is why I find the Comments more interesting than quiz scores.

#207. Good point by #183 that “the headline is fairly misleading and skews both the data and the intent of the writer. It seems disingenuous to focus on the word “me” and suggest that sustainable love is entirely self-serving.” New York Times seems to have headline problems more often than I would wish. I admit that I never read the original full article until seeing this post.

My wife/partner and I share values, commitment, caring and good mental health — that is assumed as the environment in which our special activities occur and thus I did not even mention these things in #69. While those four make for a solid relationship in themselves, they can also serve as the underpinning for a really great relationship. If anyone has interest in how things work out for us, you can read more at and search for “marriage.” But everyone is different in some ways, and that can be one of the beauties and surprises of life.

Re Comments about the importance of sexuality: There is a wide range of needs and values placed on sex, generally (but not always) related to the age of the couple. It is important for us (in our 60’s and very healthy), but we’re prepared to do work arounds as we get older, and it seems that many couples that we know are no longer sexually active. Being matched yet flexible in this regard is important, and the cause/effect relationship is indeed complex.


  1. The fact of being married (including duration thereof) does not inherently indicate the closeness or quality of a marriage. Is it a truly happy and loving relationship? To better express that Fran and I are in a truly close and loving relationship, I recently changed my Facebook status and “unmarried” Fran. My Facebook post helps explain this, as follows:

    “Fran and I have been married for more than five years. She is the best experience of my life, and our relationship continues to grow in creative and sometimes unexpected ways each year, and so I have changed my Facebook status from married to Fran (sounds rather static to me) to RELATIONSHIP with Fran. However what showed up on Facebook was that I was in a relationship (unspecified), and Fran went from being married to Paul, to simply being married (unspecified). Facebook lacks subtlety to get this. Hurrah, Fran eventually accepted me for RELATIONSHIP and so we are out of Facebook limbo. Does this mean that now we’ll see a new set of ads on our sidebar? Maybe more ads for sending a dozen roses at Valentine’s Day; fewer for knee replacement and health aids?”

    Comment by admin — January 4, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

  2. This is an interesting blog that I found on the Comments regarding the Sustainable Marriage article. I posted the following three Comments on Molly’s blog.

    I like your attitude. Good. I had four posts on this NYTimes article and reposted them on my blog. Fran and I definitely help one another grow, and that is important for us. It might not be so important for some others. Can you really be happy sitting together in front of the TV? We don’t own one, so I guess I can’t speak for others. In any case, Fran and I have an amazing relationship. Sometimes it seems almost unbelievable, and I noticed that when I posted about our happiness together, there appeared to be some cynicism/disbelief that such things could be true. Some of the posts were so sad. I was unhappy in a previous dysfunctional marriage, and the difference for me is like night and day. That marriage taught me (among other things) that no amount of talk or counseling can overcome serious mental illness. Also, that along with my being the (sic) responsible adult member of a family of five, I had to take some responsibility for myself and my self development.

    Based on this personal life experience, I am led to let folks know that wonderful relationships do exist. I know of a number besides Fran and me (my parents, for example), and so, for those who are looking for true love, keep up the search. Incidentally, I met Fran one rainy night on a hike in the woods, but that’s another story. Chance favors the prepared mind.

    I posted the following on a related post about love and dealing with stresses, as follows:

    Fran and I drove to visit family in New England…right in the teeth of the blizzard. Very stressful briefly (and I would say for good reason, we did a 180 in the dark just west of Tappen Zee Bridge). Stress was resolved by struggling off the highway and finding a motel for the night, followed by having a fun time together with this extra holiday. So we experiences stresses, and sometimes for good reason, but it seems so minor afterwards. And hopefully we learn…don’t try to outrun a blizzard. And we also learn to be thankful.

    Personally, I tend to prepare ahead for most exigencies. For an example (and this is a way my wife and I differ, which is great), when we go backpacking into the middle of nowhere, I always check maps for cross-paths and emergency exits, in case one of us has a serious accident. But I don’t put excess time into this preparation, and thinking about what might happen and my successful resolution means that I don’t worry about it and never stops me. I’m the “plan ahead” Boy Scout at times. Fran is adventurous.

    I posted the following in response to Molly’s post about how can we present ourselves honestly online:

    For the very concern that you raise here, I sometimes tried to put some of the most “off-putting” things first in my dating ad. With modern media connectiveness, the issue is to get your message out to hundreds, get hundreds of immediate rejections, and hopefully find one appropriate person. “Quaker pacifist revolutionary socialist seeks girlfriend….” I dated three good and interesting (you can believe) women with that piece of honesty that opened one ad. Well, a little over-the-top perhaps, I admit.

    First contacted wonderful Fran online. My dating strategy was to go for a vigorous hike. THAT sure weeded them out. But I knew I’d be happier single unless I found the right person. Fran responded on nearly nine years ago. Our first “date’ (after two days of exceptional phone calls) was for a hike in the woods behind Swarthmore College after work. It started to rain that afternoon. I called, just to confirm that she’d show up. Fran says “Be there, or be square.” I got smitten that night, as well as wet

    I posted the following in rsponse to a reply by Molly:

    I really believe that for every decent mentally-healthy individual, there is someone out there. I did learn to be open and not define what I was looking for in advance, and Fran is different in some ways from what I could ever have imagined. Incidentally, although her extraordinary intelligence and creativity is significant for me (and she has blind spots that I complement), I am grateful that she is not an academic like I am. Both practically and intellectually, I prefer getting away from it at times.

    I’m on a bit of an online roll at the moment, but that will back off when school starts and it feels like the holidays are over. How do folks get the time for this sort of thing? Syllabus is revised and ready, but I need to get outdoors and also to talk with people face to face. We’re social activists among other things, so how do we allocate our time? Our own silent retreat this spring was a change for us, and also a challenge to be quiet, together. Solo backpacking can be a good experience. Where my friends worry for me (I don’t see anyone for a few days), Fran is fine with it. She’s driving back from downtown Philly at the moment, after doing a day of her usual volunteer work in what folks here in the suburbs consider one of the most dangerous parts of the city. We support one another.

    One last post (I hope) on Molly’s blog re dating, as follows:

    After a while, you find that you get tired of just “dating.” At least, that was my experience – been there, done that. The fun and excitement wears off. So I guess it’s a matter of where you’re at this moment and what you’re really looking for. I ended up not wanting to waste my time with anyone who didn’t look like a real prospect. Dating becomes a habit in itself and keeps you from focusing on meeting the right one. I have friends of both sexes and I like meeting people (except that I’m not a spectator sports person…it’s really hard for me to spectate), so I didn’t need dates for company or social stimulation

    Comment by admin — January 5, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

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