Marriage is Not a Convenience Store

What do an all-inclusive resort, a mobile device, a phone company, and marriage all have in common? We have come to expect the same thing from all of them: one-stop, all-in-one convenience.

marriage

Last August, my wife and I attended a conference in Honolulu. The hotel had three restaurants, two bars, six gift shops, a convenience store, a business center, two pools, and beach access. You could fly to Hawaii and have a perfect vacation, without ever leaving your hotel.

All-inclusive convenience.

As consumers, we have come to expect this.

An iPhone is a one-stop shop in our pockets: phone, email, text, iPod, maps, news, personal calendar, family calendar, eBook reader(s), weather forecasts, Netflix and YouTube, and the list goes on and on.

All-in-one convenience.

As consumers, we have been trained to feel entitled to this.

In Chicago, AT&T bundles home phone, mobile phone, internet, and cable service. They recently added home security. I wonder when they’ll add babysitting to the bundle. I bet they’re beta testing it right now.

As consumers, we’ve been sold a lucrative lie called convenience, and it has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

Including marriage.

Why Marriage is Ripping

In the last several decades, we have come to expect our marriages to serve an endless list of functions for us. We want our marriages to be the place we find romance and friendship and community and entertainment and security and self-esteem and direction and purpose and meaning.

Marriage has become life’s ultimate convenience store—an existential one-stop shop expected to meet all of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.

I think the biggest threat to marriage is this idealized, consumer-oriented, convenience store mentality we now bring to our wedding day.

Because when we act like we’re marrying a Walgreen’s instead of a person, marriage becomes an end unto itself. It becomes our one focus, our one purpose, and our one source of satisfaction. Our lives shrink as the expectations of our partner expand.

Many of us have put all our existential eggs in the marriage basket. And the basket is ripping beneath the strain of it. So then we compound the problem by spending all of our time trying to stitch the marriage back together, hoping it will hold all of our hopes and expectations again.

Maybe, instead, we need to spend some of our time finding other baskets.

Marriage is Not an All-Inclusive Hotel

I suppose it sounds like I’m recommending infidelity or lukewarm love or questionable commitment, but I’m not. I’m suggesting we will become more loving and more committed when we quit making marriage the only place we find purpose and meaning.

Last August, we were with friends in Honolulu, and one of them got angry about the all-inclusive hotel and its plethora of services. He said it was the hotel’s way of tricking people into spending all their time and money there, discouraging guests from going out into the city and seeing the beautiful island.

He insisted on spending most of his time outside of the hotel, discovering new things. Then, after a day of exploring, he would return to the hotel to rest and recover.

I think that’s how marriage is supposed to work. It’s not supposed to be the one place we experience satisfaction in life. It’s supposed to be the place we return to—the safe place to recover—after we have ventured out into the world, to explore, to discover, to live.

Marriage is the Hub of a Rebellion

What if we can’t find enduring purpose and meaning in marriage alone, because it’s simply not there to be found? What if purpose and meaning are found as we venture out into the world,

discovering we are strong enough to endure and good enough no matter what,

discovering a community or a cause that echoes the cry of our heart,

discovering how our gifts fit the needs of a broken world,

discovering how to love the unloveable (including ourselves),

discovering the grace that contains it all,

and discovering the courage to live all of it one day at a time.

Marriage is not an existential convenience store or an all-inclusive bundle of emotional services. Marriage is not the place we fight for good thingsit’s the place we return to after we fight for good things, in ourselves and out in the world. It’s the place we return to:

to celebrate our victories,

to mourn our losses,

to lick our wounds,

to regain our strength,

and to be sent back out into the world again.

When lived in this way, our marriages become a celebration—a place of rejoicing and encouragement and support—and the hub of a rebellion against a world riddled with shame, meaninglessness, loneliness, despair and darkness. 

Two people living with that kind of purpose become a light no darkness can withstand. 

Last night, in the midst of a “family cleaning night,” I heard my daughter in her room, cleaning up and making up a silly song of her own: “By myself this is too hard, but together, we can do it. Together, we can do anything.”

Yes.

Marriage isn’t everything. But from within it, we can do anything.

Question: Do you agree or disagree with this view of marriage? Why or why not? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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To read more about marriage as a rebellion, pick up a copy of my eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down. It’s available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also available for Kindle and Nook.

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Next Post: A Daddy’s Letter to His Bossy Little Girl

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jacqueline

    Totally agree … if only my 2 ex husbands had the same thoughts … unfortunately some men are just too full of themselves and their view is that women should still be the submissives they were in the 18th century 🙁 They just want an “all inclusive package deal”. Then you eventually learn that “all you were was a trophy wife” …. Forget the brain, the nurturing mother, the housekeeper, the employee, the nurse, the educator ….. i need not go on …

    • Good

      Couldn’t agree more, and they have this image of perfection that is impossible to live up to – as in, get real!!!

  • Christina Davila

    I think this perspective is true of all relationships. My generation (17-25 years old I’ll say) are increasingly deciding to pursue a casual or ‘open’ relationship with multiple partners. The motive behind this juggling is that one person cannot satisfy their needs, being exclusive with one person would be too restrictive. Instead of cherishing a connection with another soul, they’ve begun to treat boyfriends (and girlfriends) like apps that you can constantly replace when the newer version releases. It dehumanizes any emotional attachments and I truly believe it is in the dating stages that a marriage is already set up for failure. My boyfriend and I work every day to make each other feel loved and secured. We’ve both been burned by this ‘friends with benefits’ philosophy and yearn for something deeper…something more real. Specifically with marriage, approaching your partner with a consumer mindset alleviates you of feeling any responsibility for its breakdown. Once you’ve decided your partner was supposed to fulfill every need, it dissolves accountability from our own actions. She wasn’t affectionate enough, he never wanted to exercise with me, etc. At no point during this mindset do we turn on our selves and acknowledge any flaws. I believe the cure to stabilizing marriage and other relationships is to cultivate the ability to be vulnerable.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Christina, this is an interesting perspective I hadn’t considered specifically: that the consumer mindset is a way of keeping the focus on the other’s shortcomings, rather than looking at ourselves and what we might change. Good stuff. Thanks.

  • Bill Coffin

    Love your ref to daughter’s use of the Daniel Tiger song at the end of your post. I’ve been watching a few of those shows with my grand kids and the one on 2/20 re empathy was especially applicable to marriage…thinking about how someone else is feeling.

    Kelly…I sometimes repost your email here http://scoop.it/t/healthy-marriage-links-and-clips so it can be seen and shared by others.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I didn’t know what she was referencing, Bill, thanks for clarifying! And thanks for passing along some of the posts, and for encouraging people in their marriages.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    Kelly, I think this is spot on in so many ways. I do think it is critical to be able to engage in meaningful struggles in the world and return home — radiantly excited about our progress or dejected after inroads have collapsed and must be rebuilt — to share those things with a partner who values those experiences. And I suspect, as much as the shifting roles of spouses to parents, it may be the shifting of some of these meaningful struggles to the in-home early Sissyphisian task of keeping babies fed, clean, rested that may draw our broader world gaze inward when we make that irrational, emotional, and incredibly common step into family life with kids.
    I’ve noticed the ways that the mundane challenges of growing small creatures into socialized people is reported in families at the end of the day, with the parent most involved in the gladiator-scale struggles telling the epic tale to the “hmm-mmm-ing” other parent before the events of the outside world and the drama that ensues when it is tangled with are given center stage. This isn’t a quirk of my dinner table alone, but something that happens when we get together with friends and family, too.
    There is something about the tales we tell of our dragon slaying — or slim escapes — outside our little castle walls that may be an important reminder that the walls will not fall down because your three year old colored on them

    • drkellyflanagan

      Shel, what a great reflection. And very intuitive! I had a whole section on how to balance all of this with the realities of raising kids, but I cut it for length reasons. But you did the writing for me. Thanks!

  • Giselle

    Great post! I was going to send a copy to my ex, but then I realized that it would not make a difference or an impact, so I will save my energy for something worth-while.

    • Alfie

      Gisselle:
      It might help him in his future or present relationship/s.

      But could also open up a whole new can if worms if the communication would be reciprocated. Pick your battles wisely.

  • Aria

    Really enjoyed this article. I married for love – the inescapable excitement of good chemistry. I made a good choice but my partner and I do not connect intellectually the way some of my friends connect with their partners. I have sometimes been jealous of this or questioned my relationship with my partner because of it. I know this is unfair and I think your article does a great job of bringing light to the fact that not all things can be found in one person and we really, REALLY, need to appreciate the good people in our lives for who and what they are. We have built a great life together and I am blessed to have him…even if he doesn’t get my jokes. 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Aria, this is really touching, and I hope it bears fruit in your relationship.

  • Kira Blaski

    I’d say this could be true for a lot of people, but I don’t think it is true for everyone. For myself, and my husband, we find our greatest joys and purpose in our FAMILY, which includes each other. We are not people who are tied up in our accomplishments in the world, we’d rather have accomplishments in the home. We are sort of the opposite; we do great things together and at home and for our family, and we go out in the world to celebrate and share our accomplishments, rather than doing great things out in the world and coming back in to celebrate them or “lick our wounds.”

    For some people, like us, family IS where we find our purpose and when we do venture out, it’s usually together.

  • Marsha Craig

    What an incredibly brilliant insight into the increasing demands we put on marriage. I think this even spills into relationships prior to marriage. Ever since I was a teenager, I could tell people had a fantasy idea of marriage (myself included). We want marriage to meet all our needs. That is simply a set up for disaster. No one person could meet ALL our needs – ever! The more equipped we are at identifying and diversifying the meeting of our needs, the happier, healthier and interdependent we become. Now, I’m not married because I’ve been focusing on deep healing work so that I’m bringing a whole person to a relationship – not a half. I’m not looking for someone to complete me and I’m not looking to complete someone. I believe we are all inherently whole, perfect and complete as we are and when we enter into a relationship from a place of wholeness – what is possible is unlimited! Dr. Kelly, I so appreciate your insights, wisdom and take on life. It’s so inspiring. Thank you!

    • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

      Marsha, I really like the way that you articulated this. You are so right that people are whole, just as they are, but only with the kind of focus and work that you are putting in. Without that effort, anyone can slide into putting too much onto their partner. And this does no one any good.
      What a wise woman you are, and what a gift you give yourself and the others in your life to do the work you are doing now.

      • Marsha Craig

        Aww, thank you so much, Shel! Bryon Katie puts it well, “I could find only three kinds of business in the world—mine, yours, and God’s. Whose business are you in?” and then in another passage she goes onto say that when we are in “your” business or God’s business – we are experiencing separation. It’s so easy to slip into projection, avoidance and blame when we are focusing on anything external. It’s an inside job. 😉

  • Cindy

    Excellent article! So appreciate the wisdom. And so wish I had known all this as I stepped onto the marriage road. 50 or 60 years ago, what was life outside of marriage? Work, church and immediate/extended family. Maybe the people on the block. Where you lived your life was in your family and a narrow territory around you. Changing and experiencing the world amounted to being on the social committee at church, the company baseball team, gathering in front of the TV after dinner and the annual family vacation where you didn’t know anyone but your spouse and your kids or maybe your sibs and cousins. Since the world has widened out, there is pressure to access it and make a fulfilling, interesting life outside of marriage that we bring back to our families seeking validation and recognition for experiences using our connections there the way differentiating toddlers do as they expand their worlds and step away from and return to mommy and daddy. I guess that adult differentiation is a good thing, but my experience has been that without firm ground to return to, without a good marital connection to provide that safe station, differentiating in a marriage turned into a lack of attachment and there was no harbor. Just two people doing their own thing and calling it a marriage because the law says it is. My husband likes the radical independence of leaving the resort and very much avoids sharing his time in the world at large. He is a consumer. And he takes advantage of the resort on his way to the exit. This is where marriages succeed or fail- in creating, or not, the common ground, the solid base, the center, from which to go out and have the new, big, all-inclusive experience that you bring back and share. Just as toddlers need stability, connection and substance to return to, so do couples.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Cindy, this is a rich reflection. It points out how the conditions around marriage have changed in modern times, and it points out how our times require the balance between a life lived in the world and a marriage that can receive that life as a team when returning home.

  • ruby20

    Absolutely agree with this view of marriage. In our home, we also look to Christ for the help and guidance as we “do life together.” (What a sweet little song your daughter made up!) This post instantly inspired fresh appreciation for the person my husband is, warts and all (and believe me, we both have warts to spare). Thank you for the surge of love in this reader’s heart today.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Ruby!

  • clair estelle

    i agree and weddings aren’t cheap!

  • Daniel

    Great insight. One thought to add…shouldn’t an aspect of marriage be venturing out in the world to make a difference together, not just returning for strength and recovery after going it alone for a bit?

    Completely agree marriage should not be the only “basket”. Our world needs to hear that. I just think there is also a role in marriage to work together on important things that make a difference in the world…sometimes that teamwork is needed.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I think that’s a great addendum, Daniel. Would love to see more couples spending time in the world together, redeeming it by each other’s side.

  • Ajo

    Kelly, it was a great read; I am going to send it to my newly wed daughter. Only having been married for 33 years here in india, what I want to say is that fighting the battles inthe outside world to seek fulfillment, and coming back to our homes and marriage to ‘celebrate victories’, licking wounds, regain our strength, requires partners to be strong and mature and be there for each other, one for the other.

    And that is hardly ever the case.
    In a staunchly patriarchal society, where women serve as mirrors for their husbands, in-laws, own families, men – husbands, fathers, brothers, sons often divest themselves of the big chunks of emotional support to women, all the while perpetuating the myth of being stronger, superior and wiser than the women in their lives.

    It is only now I. The last decade and half, that educated men in some not all, strata have begun to open their minds to realizing that they have a greater more vital role in a marriage other than siring and perpetuating the family lineage.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ajo, I rejoice in hearing that roles are changing in your cultural context and moving toward more egalitarianism. You are worthy of that!

  • Rena Perozich

    Love it. Great article. Thought provoking and encouraging. Together we can do anything.

  • Lucinda Farrah

    I absolutely agree with this view of marriage…And I find myself in a relationship with a partner who has withdrawn physical/sexual intimacy. I am finding it very difficult to give expression to and meet my own needs in this part of my life inside the boundaries of a committed monogamous relationship. He is happy to be sexually expressive alone and this does not work well for me.

  • Nana

    I do agree. Lets de-labour marriage. There is so much that the world offers. Enjoy it with spouses and other people out there. WE should not cage each other because we are married.

  • Nancy Beise

    Thank you for your insights; I am enjoying your blog tremendously, as well as finding some peace in your Marriage Manifesto. Unfortunately I am one whose Type 2 marriage ended when my husband of 23 years chose a new lover.
    I do want to respond to this post simply by saying that, in my experience, a marriage being the place of refuge, etc is true, what is not true and somehow implied in this particular post (at least I heard it) is that because it is a place of refuge, it requires no work.

    No, it is not meant to be the all-inclusive resort; but if, on the other hand, all the living and exploring and discovering is done on the outside, what is left to bring home to the spouse?
    In my case, a stay-at-home homeschooling momma with a flight attendant husband, what he brought home was only the expectation for me to meet his only need not satisfied by working (prestige, admiration) with women (flattery, flirtation) on overnight, two-to-4 day trips (room service, restaurant meals, entertainment, diversion)….so, I was never enough.
    The danger is, by seeing the marriage as refuge and the Out There as life, the spouse who is tending the refuge is used up and the Life-Liver finds a new base of operations.
    Marriage is meant to be a full partnership, each finding adventure in and with the other, each finding refuge in and with the other.

    My experience. So there are others like me.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Nancy, so glad you found the blog and are enjoying the eBook. And I couldn’t agree more with you: to create a place of refuge requires a lot of work!

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  • Judith Lapp

    excellent! it’s so good for me to be reminded of this perspective. ultimately, it’s realizing God is enough. in every area. anytime we want to get all we need or want from one person, we suffocate the relationship. no one can be all things – all the time. that’s God’s position.

  • Laura

    Good afternoon, Dr. Flannigan. I have loved your posts for the past couple months, thanks to my 15 year old daughter who introduced me to you. I downloaded your “Marriage Manifesto”, and although my husband and I have a great marriage, one that has weathered up and downs in the past and is currently undergoing a time of mutual support and growth, your words brought tears to my eyes. Such good stuff! I went on Amazon looking for a hard copy of the “Marriage Manifesto” and found nothing. Is there a way to purchase this as a book? If not, would you object to me printing the PDF file, for personal use only? Keep up the good work; I prioritize your posts when they enter my inbox. 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hi Laura, thanks for sharing! There currently is no way to get the book in hardback, but by all means, feel free to print it out, and I’ll be sure to notify you if the availability changes.

      • Laura

        Awesome! Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  • Lissa

    So much to love about this piece, including the declarative calling out of an all-too-common expectation – the romantic ‘you’re my everything’ myth hopped up on metaphoric modern-day-convenience steroids. Oy.

    On our wedding day, my husband & I (his 3rd, my 1st – ‘mature’ bride here) were clear what our lives were about, and that our marriage was meant to nourish, sustain, support and serve that. It’s been 13 years, and clear as we were, there’ve still been moments when the desire for someone to be our ‘everything’ still pops up and makes things messy for a bit. Clarity of purpose – and the ultimate meaning & reason for our marriage, our teaming up with love & respect – is immeasurably helpful when we need to find our way again.

    One thing as a point of clarification: as a businessperson, I have to admit it drives me a wee bit bonkers the way business is held with such all-encompassing scorn, held to account for our personal ills as if we are without the capacity to think & choose for ourselves or act responsibility. Kind of like people thinking the other person in a marriage is more responsible for our choices (& the natural consequences) than we are… (feels a little like projection to me).

    Now, I know there’s plenty to be pissed about: businesses big & small have been very (very) bad when they had another choice. But not all business.

    And there’s no question advertising is highly influential.

    But business & society? They’re like a married couple: one doesn’t do much of anything without some involvement of the other…

    And advertising is a reflection of what we think & believe of ourselves.

    Business creates, advertises & sells what many, many people want to buy. Will buy. Buy over ‘better for you’ options. We buy what reflects our wants, dreams, desires and, in some cases, our despair.

    MILLIONS are spent finding out what we think and want and how we want it.

    And folks, we WANT convenience (and easy, and simple, and…)

    Business responds to us. We have much more power in this relationship than we like to think we do. If we don’t buy, if we endure inconvenience, they aren’t in business for long, so you want to bet they’ll change if we do (think JC Penny’s public apology and swift change after in-store changes drove customers away, resulting an a year of unrelenting losses).

    If we don’t like the focus on convenience, then we need to stop wanting & buying it s’much…

    (this is me, getting down from my soapbox now – thanks for listening).

  • Katie

    Sorry I’m behind in my reading! But yes, I agree with this perspective of marriage. I have said before, my husband makes me brave. The knowledge that he loves me and wants what is best for me gives me the strength to go out in the world and explore (and to explore within myself). I have grown more since I met him because I know that he is there, supporting my quest to find my place in life. And I try my best to support his, because I know that if we are stronger individually that will make our marriage stronger. We cannot be everything to each other, that just isn’t possible. But we can be the most important thing, the foundation, that allows us to each support all the other things.

  • Good

    AI’m afraid too many people regard marriage as a convenience, or the other partner as a womb or meal ticket. They just get married for show and the moment they actually are married the problems start to come thick and fast. My ex husband said to me that our relationship was “never the Grand Passion” but that I “had to give him babies” and I almost fell off my chair. I divorced almost a decade ago now and although I have dated since then I am not convinced by any romance or relationship talk. Many people of my generation are unhappy in their marriages and want out, or are unhappy generally, and you knew at the time they got married that they were just doing so because they wanted to have it all. I have a lesbian cousin who only married her partner so she could get IVF and some childcare for her kid, and I think the partner cottoned on to what was happening and is now giving her grief, they fight all the time. Another person I know got married for the second time, they split after 6 months, had a child together, ended up in bed at their divorce party and subsequently he ended up.in prison because his ex accused him of rape ( she was unfortunately a
    lawyer).
    Most people I know who are single and don’t bother with all the partnership malarkey have simpler and easier lives. Yet most people still need to have their attractiveness confirmed by someone (generally unspecified – it doesn’t really matter who you are as long as you give them some attention). I have that increasingly nowadays when desperate single men latch on to
    me in “wanna get a flat?” mode, despite not even particularly
    seeming to like me!!! At which point I walk, because it really is all
    about the flat. A girl I know is getting married for the second time and it’s only because her mother is getting old and she is
    the only child and doesn’t want to look after her – the guy has
    already shown himself not to be kosher. Is it fear that drives us
    into these relationships or what.
    Needless to say I only go out with men if I fancy them, as the
    rest of “partnerships” seems to be about a matter of barter and
    trade, and to me that’s dishonest.