When the tabloid institution, that became known as Brangelina hit the rocks, my daughter asked: if they couldn't make it, what chances do the rest of us have?
She wasn't the only one asking this, even though the answer seems all too obvious. Celebrity marriages never last, as Donkey insightfully pointed out in Shrek. Money, success and fame don't prevent marriages from falling apart.
Is there anything that does?
And more importantly, is there anything that should?
This question opens the gates for more questions:
Should marriages be considered just a temporary arrangement? Is serial polygamy the New Normal? Should we just accept the fact, that an happily ever-after marriage is an ideal that only a few of us can ever live up to?
Would answering yes to these questions take the drama, and hence the pain, out of break-ups?
The answer is, of course, no.
A totally rational take on relationships is perhaps possible for the Vulcans but for us humans, relationships are the last places to practice reason.
Even if they did a study in Harvard that would prove humans to be polygamous by their nature and marriage an outdated institution, that never really stood any real chance in the real world, we would still get married. We would get married because lasting love sounds so...right.
We would get married because that's what we do. We have been educated to think that marriage is the foundation of our society and in the Western world this indeed seems to be the case. Unlike in most other parts of the world, we live in nuclear families. This construct either rises or falls with the partnership upon which it is built.
And this, I think, is the in the core of the problem.
How can anything permanent be built on the shaky foundation of romantic attachment between two individuals, raised in the individualistic West?
The answer is simple. It cannot.
India, the subcontinent where extended families are still the norm, is known for arranged marriages. Arranged marriage means that you don't get married for romantic love but for stability. The presupposition is that if the couple stays together for long enough, love will eventually follow. It may not be the kind of head-over-heals infatuation us Westerners obsess over but rather calm contentment and peace with what is. The key is commitment, something that us hedonistic Westerners are not very good at.
The divorce rate in India is lower than in the West but this is due to many reasons, many of which have nothing to do with how the relationships work. It is, for one, very difficult to get a divorce in India. Divorcing is also considered socially unacceptable. But there is something in the concept of arranged marriages that makes it more resilient than the so-called love marriages.
Love marriages are in the rise even in India. Thank you, Bollywood, for putting romantic ideas into peoples' heads! Love really seems to have spoiled the institution of marriage, even in India.
How very sad!
But what are two persons to do when mutual infatuation messes up their lives? Just wait until the craziness passes? Or tie the knot, knowing that it will be just a prelude for a very painful ending?
For the beauty of marriage is in direct relation to the ugliness of divorce. Divorces don't only break hearts. They break families and futures and finances.
Sometimes people walk out of the ruins of their marriages as stronger, happier and more confident human beings. Post-traumatic growth does happen. I have witnessed it with my own eyes.
But can we grow without the trauma? Can there be pre-traumatic growth?
The Austrian psychiatrist Theodor Reik said that genuine self-regard is the ultimate basis for developing the capacity to love. If we learned to love ourselves and made self-love our priority, would we be able to keep our marriages going even after the sweet limerence is over?
I would think we could.
Love is all you need to keep your marriage going but you must start with yourself. Needless to say, self-love, or self-regard as Dr Reik calls it, is different from the emotional turmoil we call romantic love. It is loving acceptance and kindness and gentle appreciation. It is peace and awareness and, above all, forgiveness. It is looking into the mirror and smiling and saying to yourself: Hey! I know you and because I do, how could I not love you with all my heart.
If we loved ourselves like that, we would never really feel love deprived. And as love is one of the rare resources that only grows the more it is used, we would most likely be able to love everybody else, including our spouses, as well.