The other night I had the chance to attend one of three lectures about family issues, with the promise of ice cream and cookies afterwards. How could I lose?
The first two rooms I passed were discussing 1) aging parents and 2) how to discipline children. Since my parents are crazy healthy and my remaining children at home are girls, these classes were only of passing interest.
The third class was on Marital Happiness. The lecturer was a Dr. Bowen - a mental health professional.
The first set of statistics was interesting. I'd heard how 50% of marriages end in divorce. But the interesting part was the statistic that 80% of those who remain married are living parallel lives - physically in the same marriage, but not much more. Only 20% of those who remain married (10% of those who marry in the first place) are enjoying thriving relationships.
I left with many handouts and lots of thoughts about how to apply what I'd heard to my own marriage. One book that was mentioned particularly was "And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment." I bought the book on Amazon, and took some time to browse the pages that Amazon lets you view. The core idea is that chastity is great (abstaining from sex outside of marriage) but in the context of marriage sex is not only nice but necessary. Far too many good people, the author contents, fundamentally hurt their marriages either through ignorance of how to sexually fulfill their partner (and receive fulfillment) or are hindered by the idea that sex is nasty and sinful and disgusting. To make matters worse, they perpetuate that ignorance or that prudish worldview in how they teach (or not) their children.
At the same time I've been trying to do research for my novel, in which one character (historical, I didn't just make this up for the fun of it) falls from grace because of his obsession with physical love. In the course of the research came across a variety of websites that I found surprising. There are even more words I will now no longer use because I know their connotation. On the other hand, folks who approach sex unburdened by hang-ups and willing to "improve" their skills in providing pleasure in the pursuit of receiving greater pleasure will reap the blessings, if you will, associated with honoring that aspect of their physical being.
One fun comment Dr. Bowen made was "Sexual intimacy is best after thirty years of marriage." The unspoken qualifier is that it's among those who learn how to become truly intimate, the 10%. And it would not apply to those who constantly seek new partners in pursuit of a hot fling.
Of course, such stuff simply reeks for those who would, themselves, be capable of intimacy, but have either remained single or lost a spouse due to factors beyond their control.
A final note is about what it takes to start of well in marriage. Dr. Bowen asked a volunteer to rank their connection with their loved one based on Physical, Emotional, Social, Intellectual, and Spiritual aspects. On a scale from 0 to 100, the volunteer ranked their relationship as 60, 70, 80, 95, and 90, stating they were 100 as far as commitment to the relationship. Dr. Bowen turned to the board on which these scores had been plotted and drew a line at 80. "If you are not yet married and have any of these areas that are not at least 80, then don't marry." That was surprising. But on reflection I thought of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," where the heroine, Lizzie, could have married Mr. Collins. It would have been a marriage, but doomed to be one of those "parallel" marriages (as Austen demonstrates when the practical Charlotte does later agree to marry Mr. Collins.
May we all become like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, rather than like Mr. Collins and the hapless Charlotte.