Jeannie Peters, MFT

I recently read an article by Mandy Len Catron called, ‘What You Lose When You Gain A Spouse.’ I have decided to reflect some of my own responses to this article as a way to explore the concept of marital loneliness. As someone who has grown up in a hetero-normative family with a Mom and Dad that are still happily married, this concept of marital loneliness was new to me. Of course, society has imprinted in our minds that there is a huge financial and interpersonal benefit to marriage, which may be true for some, but it really depends on the couple involved. The same can be said for marital isolation- it depends on the couple.

I think it is important to understand everyone’s individual meaning behind marriage. This understanding of oneself and one’s partner will allow both parties to understand each other’s values, beliefs, and marital goals. Understanding the similarities and differences around specific marital beliefs can help couples manage their expectations for the future of their union while allowing couples an opportunity to set marital goals. For instance, if one partner sees marriage as a way to check a box and have a baby, and the other partner sees marriage as a committed, loving bond filled with lust and adventure, those are two different expectations and meanings of marriage. Len Catron’s article mentioned that marriage often represents a ‘public marker of a successful union,’ but I think it is important to notice that this is viewed from the outside perspective. What does marriage mean to each individual partner involved on the inside of this marriage?

Sure, it might be an expression of a successful union but what else can it be and what other expectations come with it? Non-monogamy? Children? Sex three times a week? Equal distributions of family chores? Only seeking support from a spouse? Whatever it may be for you, it is important to be mindful of your own beliefs and also your partners. It is also important to understand that these beliefs, values, and expectations will change over time, which makes your ability to have these open conversations with your partner/spouse that much more meaningful and essential for the growth of the marriage. It is possible that marital isolation occurs when expectations, meanings, and values are unknown to the other partner.

In the list of potential beliefs I listed above, I keep going back to the idea ‘only seeking support from a spouse.’ This mentality overlaps with the article’s reference to the social alienation that comes with marriage. I have started to think about the natural drift that occurs between married and non-married friends months/years after a given wedding. In Chicago, married people might move to the suburbs and leave their non-married friends in the city to go to regular happy hours, work out classes, and dinners on weekdays. Married people, suburbanites commuting home or not, may even have children at home requiring care and nurturance that comes first to mom’s social activities with the girlfriends in the city.

As this marital shift occurs, what comes at a cost? Len Catron identifies the cost as isolation. Single people ask for help from their families, friends, coworkers, significant others (this list goes on), yet most married people only turn to their spouse for assistance. That is a lot to expect from one person and if the spouse lets them down, then I expect this amplifies the sense of isolation. If your friends are in the city, your parents are a state away, and you’re not yet friends with the parents of your children’s friends at school, then who do you go to when you feel like you cannot confide in your spouse?

For you readers who are married, what does your support system look like inside and outside your own marriage? How has that changed or stayed the same?