Should marriage require effort to keep it going?

Submitted by CuriousFellow on
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This question came up in a recent conversation. I'm also reminded of a friend whose wife of 35 years left him, perhaps in part because he was a workaholic and neglected her. He got a divorce, and is now happily together with his high school sweetheart. He told me that every week without fail he buys his girlfriend a card and writes a love note in it.

That sounds sort of effortful to me, like he is overcompensating for past neglect. It also feels a bit like bribery to me.

My opinion is that marriage should not require a lot of effort to keep it together. People should stay together because they enjoy each others company most of the time. As Marnia says, "You are the gift to your partner". If it feels like it is taking a lot of work to keep the marriage together, there is something wrong with the relationship.

I think I acquired this outlook from my parents. They have been married for nearly 60 years, and they are still in love. Recalling how they interacted with each other while I was growing up, it certainly seems to me that their marriage was effortless. Indeed, Mom once scoffed at the idea that some couples have to "work at their marriage" to keep it going.

Of course, if a marriage is in trouble (as mine is, for example) then I expect it does require a lot of effort to get it back together. But my hope is that it doesn't require much effort - at least it will not feel like a lot of effort - to keep it going after the marriage is repaired.

What do others think?

Touch of Gray

Wise man say: nothing worth having comes easy. True or false, I'm not sure, but it makes sense to me. And to me, not much effort means easy. I think marriage requires effort, sometimes a lot of effort. Being in love doesn't do much to keep a marriage or relationship together. I think it's a necessary ingredient for a healthy partnership, but it's not going to be the mortar that holds it together. Being in love is not a magic potion for a healthy relationship. Marriage is difficult work, sometimes, and other times it's a light breeze on a warm sunday afternoon. This is what I think is going on...

The nature of our consciousness is towards automation. We want to be lulled back into sleep. We have to fight (I'm looking for a healthier metaphor) to stay aware, to stay awake. If we stop fighting, we'll wake up one day and say how the hell did I get here, wherever that may be. And the same is true in our relationship. Without being vigilant (effort) we will lapse into taking our partners for granted--stagnation soon to follow. It requires effort to keep ourselves awake enough to continually appreciate our partners, to constantly change our strategies, thoughts and behaviors so that we can grow, develop, and enjoy our relationships. Without effort--sometimes a little, sometimes a lot--our relationships will fall apart. I don't believe there is any such thing as an easy relationship, and that's what I hear when you say 'doesn't require a lot of effort.' And just because something requires effort doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. You might say that the more effort you put into something, the more you invest in it, the more joy you will reap from it.

Does skiing require effort?

Let's imagine one of those kids who grew up skiing all the time almost before they could walk, and watching their parents do it too. By the time they're in their teens, they can whiz down the most challenging trails without even breaking a sweat. If you asked them if skiing should require effort, they'll think you're ridiculous. For them, there's no effort involved, because they already know how to do it in an effortless way.

Now let's imagine someone trying to learn to ski for the first time at age 40. You can imagine it's going to take a lot of effort for them to even stay upright. The greater amount of effort it takes them to do the same thing doesn't prove that they're a better skier! However, if they're not willing to put in the effort, they will never get to experience skiing at all. They will just sit on their butt forever. But maybe, if they practice hard enough, they will get to experience that effortless feeling somewhere down the road.

When it comes to marriage, some people saw good examples from a much younger age than others, so some people are going to have to try a lot harder than others to learn how to make things work. But maybe once you've learned, it starts to feel more effortless. After a lot of practice, even if you're doing the same things that took effort before, it might *feel* like less effort because now those same behaviors feel more natural.

Marriage Metaphors

I studied trumpet long ago. My teacher had a clear plastic mouthpiece which he used to show me exactly what was going on inside. He also made me keep a notebook and he would check my notes from the previous lesson to be sure that I had got it right. He wanted to break the technique down and drill it into me. He said so many musicians practice until they master the skill, but don't exactly understand what they're doing. They sail along until mid career, then something happens. If they don't remember all the little pieces of technique, they can get lost and not know what's going wrong or how to fix it.

Marriage can be like that. You sail along on love alone, but if you don't understand what might happen to your emotions / perceptions, you can fall out of love without realizing it. I expect that the people who keep their marriage going for 60 years have grounded their relationship with a few simple rules that they keep to. For example, a friend of mine told me that his wife had carved out Thursday nights for them. That was their "couple time" and NOTHING short of a death in the family would interfere. They don't always go out Thursdays, but whatever they do, they do it together. Once you have worked out that kind of principle, marriage can indeed be "effortless".

Curious Fellow,

didn't you also once tell me that your parents engage in bonding behaviors very holding hands, eating together, going to bed at the same time, putting their arms around each other, etc?

I think a lot of couples who find marriage effortless make these small, regular efforts and discover that the bigger issues are a lot easier to work out as a result. If you feel "sweet on" your partner, you also want to do more for them...yet it doesn't feel much like work, because you're doing it joyfully, as a gift, a way to "spoil" your partner a bit more. When both partners feel this way, both end up feeling spoiled. It's lovely.


My parents are masters at the bonding behaviors. They also have several common interests. They are both musicians, and they enjoy outdoors activities like hiking, boating and camping. So they spend a lot of time doing things together.

They are an extraordinary couple. I have never heard them yell at each other in anger, or say anything demeaning to each other. While most couples go through a lot of drama and eventually divorce, informally separate, or just learn to "endure" each other, my parents have gone serenely through life, quietly enjoying each others company. Swans. Smile

I get the impression from some of your (Marnia's) writing, and also from one of Gary's videos on this site, that you both find your marriage to be pretty effortless. You don't have to "work at it" to keep it going, is that right?

I would also say (and agree with Marnia) that "effort" is in the mind of the doer. If I'm feeling loving toward my wife, I might not mind spending a couple hours doing something that she asks me to do. If I'm not feeling so loved or loving, I'm apt to feel like those things are a chore, wonder what's in it for me, and not be much inclined to do them.

To us it seems amazingly effortless

because we would both say we were pretty much the opposite of swans by nature...despite very good intentions. That is, we both knew we wanted a life companion, but we both had personalities that made that challenging. Gary's pattern was to get depressed and drink. Mine was to get sharp of tongue. Wink

Truly, the bonding behaviors (and keeping our feet off the "orgasm accelerator") have made all the difference. We know it's not "just because we get along," because when there is a rare orgasm we often notice a subtle...malaise creep in for a while.

It's really comforting to know *why* we get along so well. That way we have faith in the future. Swans can be "made," they don't have to be "born." Wink

My experience is that it can

My experience is that it can take A LOT of work to break down the false barriers and walls that block the flow state, and that this is well worth doing, in any kind of relationship. At least at first, it can be quite difficult. The problem with assuming it should "just work" is that it assumes we already know who we really are, which most of us don't. Most of us are ignorant of our true nature, which is love. Accessing our true nature can be quite the journey, tho thinking of it as "work" rather than "returning", "awakening" or "basic nourishment" may be the biggest problem of all. But it is not always easy nor should it be, in my opinion. A healthy relationship can weather all kinds of stuff and come out stronger at the end of the day.

Good luck

Your experiences have been very different from mine it seems. Mine have taught me if *work* is required to keep that relationship alive it will always require work. It's emotionally, physically and spiritually draining for me.

Better to move on and find joy with someone where being awakened, alive and nourished together is natural. Rather than always having to chase those things down while in the presence and interacting with your mate or be on guard to resuscitate it while with your mate or walking on eggshells lest they shatter yet again while with your mate.

If that is *always* happening...whether married or no...that relationship is not Tao.

P.S. Best wishes and joy to you. :)

u kiddin me?

sure it takes tons of work. you are two different people at any and every moment. one you commit and have kids then you have to sacrifice your childish wants and desires and serve the family. couples vary, for the lucky it may be easier. for the unlucky breaking up might be the best solution, but my guess is that the average requires lots of self sacrifice, committment and work. i wish is were otherwise. willow (sorry i am souning a tad self righteous...not intended. mine is so much work! :)

But EVERYTHING is Tao. Work

But EVERYTHING is Tao. Work and friction included. How could anything NOT be tao? My understanding is that the Tao includes the thousand and one things, and beyond - that which is unnameable and transcends duality (in this case "working" or "not working"). Since opposites are mutually defining (as in the yin yang symbol), one simply could not have not working without working.

Then why

did Lao Tzu feel the need to write the Tao Te Ching if it's so innately obvious to everyone?

Life includes effort to achieve goals, yes but that's not what my post was about. Perhaps I should have said, "not aligned with the Tao". It's hard to express in words the meaning I'm trying to convey. A *very tiny* part of the meaning I'm trying to capture is in the phrase, "you're trying to hard". Not nearly enough but a tiny part is.

If you are constantly having to 'try to hard' in a relationship then it is not aligned with the Tao. It is spiritually and emotionally draining. To put it in a sports analogy - even pro athletes don't play 100% at the top of their game 100% of the time. If you are having to deliver 100% effort 100% of the time to keep that relationship 'nourished', 'awakened', 'bonded' and 'enlightened' something is off. The Tao includes rest as well as work. But you never see relationship counselors and marriage books stating marriage is rest. But oh how they love to repeat the mantra that it's work (and usually they mean *never ending work*).


I see now why it is futile to convey in words what I am trying to get at. It is turning something that is lived (the Qualia) into a Concept but the map is not the territory. It is a reality that is lived and when it is lived it is WRONG.

Yet all too often that is precisely the kind of relationship I see so many people in my own social network have at home (see the post from U Kiddin Me as a case in point). It is the undertone of so many relationship counselors, self-help books, marriage workshops, etc. And it is so dismally depressing.

Who the hell wants to enter into a relationship with all that crap going on much less keep it going decade after decade after decade.....

That's why I find Cupid's Poisoned Arrow (I pre-ordered it and devoured it in 3 days) such a brilliant ray of hope and much needed corrective to the corrosive societal mantra that marriage or long term relationships somehow need constant *work* to work. For the first time ever I feel like I've discovered 2 people WHO GET IT. Their discoveries and information need to be shouted from the rooftops.

Cupid's Poisoned Arrow is very Tao, very Zen.

To see what I mean check out this Reuniting essay:

Thanks for your kind words

I'll add them to the other feedback.

It's true that our relationship doesn't feel like "work" or "negotiation," and that past relationships always did. We're convinced that this lovemaking practice strengthens inner equilibrium and that accounts for the difference.

There's obviously more to learn, though. I have always loved this story: I can't help wondering what a group of people coming into alignment with the Tao would bring about effortlessly....