The Business of Marriage
Imagine this if you will. A guy named Joe opens up a restaurant near your neighborhood. Not only is it your favorite food type, it’s absolutely fantastic food. Joe is a phenomenal chef. The prices are fair and the service is good. You try out the restaurant, enjoy it immensely and decide to go back on a regular basis.
Joe is a great success. So much so, that he decides to open up a second location and a third. You’re happy for him. On the other hand, it now means that Joe isn’t spending quite so much time at the first location. You can’t count on him coming out to the table each time to ask you about your meal. But when he does, he promises you that the place still bears his name. “You can trust him,” he says.
And at first, everything seems normal. But after a while, you start to notice that the servers don’t seem to be as friendly as they used to be. They aren’t familiar since many of the more seasoned crew have gone on to the other locations. The new staff doesn’t know you. You have to tell them what you want each time, unlike the original team who used to bring you your drinks as soon as you sat down because they already knew your favorites. You start to feel resentful for having to leave a tip for unexceptional service.
Sometimes when you go in, they are even out of your favorite dish. They don’t seem to be as prepared for the crowds. You try and alter the time you eat getting their earlier and earlier in hopes that you can enjoy your meal. Sometimes it works but usually it does not.
And the more time passes, it doesn’t even seem like you get the same quality of ingredients or consistency of preparation. It’s almost like you don’t even know this place any more. You begin to patronize Joe’s place less frequently until you stop going all together.
You entered into a contract of sorts with Joe. And when Joe stops delivering what you felt you had agreed to, you are ready to pull out of that contract. Who wouldn’t?
This metaphor very closely resembles many of the stories I hear about marriage. I see relationships very much like a business contract that two people enter into. They make agreements based on their individual desire to receive certain benefits of marriage. As long as things stay exactly the same everyone is happy. The only problem is nothing ever stays exactly the same. Especially marriage.
Kids come along. Jobs come along. Extended families, illnesses, deaths, financial challenges, purchasing homes, relocations and the list goes on, comes along. Not to mention the fact that what we desired originally also changes. And some years into the marriage, people find themselves frustrated that they aren’t getting enough benefit for the price they feel they are paying. Sometimes they feel blatantly ripped off.
It’s easy to look at your partner like “Joe”. How he or she is no longer keeping their end of the bargain. And perhaps that is accurate. If that is the case, are you justified in just dining across town without bringing the problems to the attention of the owner to see if they might be resolved? Joe may not be aware of the issues and while that’s not your responsibility, it is impacting your dining experience. Perhaps some honest but constructive feedback could help Joe maintain the success he strived for from the beginning.
But its also worth considering that you might be the “Joe” in the relationship. Have you lowered your standards because you are taking for granted that your partner must be okay with the changes if he or she is still hanging around? Do you make justifications of why you no longer have to give your partner what you used to? You may be a whole lot busier than you were in the beginning and have less energy, but simply assuming your partner doesn’t want or need the same level of interest in him or her that they used to get, could be a very unfortunate path. Even if you can’t keep that pace up, it still requires a renegotiation of that original contract and some empathy for your partner, rather than, putting in substandard ingredients and hoping they won’t notice. Or worse still, not caring if they do.
This week, how about taking a look at key relationships and ask yourself if you are giving what you agreed to when you said “I do.”