Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#059: If Marriage Was a Corporation…

In episode 059 of the Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz, Mel declares that if marriage was a corporation, it would be bankrupt!

Marriages and loving relationships fail more often than not. Why do we accept this as the norm? What fundamental shift in focus and attention would help rectify the situation?

In this episode, Mel discusses…

  • why we should receive a relationship education much as a CEO is expected to have a business education
  • why the Beatles got it wrong… and what we need as well as love
  • what are we really committing to when we commit to a partner?
  • why the impulse to “put our best foot forward” actually sabotages relationships from the start
  • the deep questions to ask our partners and ourselves when beginning a committed relationship
  • his playfully controversial — but utterly feasible — healthy alternative to “’til death do us part”
  • why it’s imperative that we re-envision how we approach relationships
  • why staying subjective opens the door for empathy
  • the personal and interpersonal prerequisite skills for a successful marriage

Do you have a Masters in Marriage Science? Have Mel’s suggestions helped you and your partner maintain a committed marriage or loving relationship? Be sure to leave a comment!

Want to watch this episode?

Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #059

Welcome to today’s show.

We’re going to do a deep dive today into committed relationships and marriage. When I refer to marriage, think “committed relationship” as well, as many committed relationships increasingly are not part of marriage vows.

When I wrote my first book, The Art of Intimacy, The Pleasure of Passion, I was asked to develop an elevator pitch, so as to promote the book and to get a publisher. An elevator pitch goes like this: if you get on an elevator on the twentieth floor, before you hit the lobby… what’s the pitch? how do you interest someone? That’s how I developed my pitch for my first book, “The Art of Intimacy.”

It went like this: You know the fact that half of marriages, or something close to that, end in divorce? That’s not the problem. It’s not good, but it’s not really the bigger problem. The larger problem is that from my experience professionally and personally, the majority of intact relationships — marriages or committed relationships — five, ten, twenty years down the road? They are very, very far from happy.

People tend to confide in me, and when they do so, they open up and share their discontent, their conflict, and disillusionment. So I concluded only a small fraction of marriage actually thrives. Only a small fraction of committed relationships thrive.

If marriage were a corporation, it would be bankrupt.

We’d never accept that rate of failure anywhere else in our lives. Why do we do so in our committed relationships?

Because we go into them blindly. We think that we fell in love and we will be different, but over time, love and intimacy fade. You know the Beatles song “Love is All You Need?” Not true, my friends. Great Beatle fan… but not true. Love isn’t all you need. You need far more. Love is the foundation.

But you need to learn the skills, the insights, the techniques, the very value of relationship, to succeed. It’s the only way that we can replace the disharmony and the conflict and the boredom that sets in.

So why? Why do we fail? Well, we don’t get to start a business without having some training, some experience in business; perhaps a degree or a graduate degree in business. What are the degrees that we got in relationship?

Think about it. Did you ever learn emotional intimacy? Effective communication? Emotional intelligence? Did your parents model for you and teach you how to do this, and if not there was nothing in our education. So there’s a great myth about love and romance being enough. They are not.

Now: let’s dig a bit deeper. We meet, we fall in love, we either secure commitment to the relationship, or even go further and say let’s get married. B ut what are we committing to? What is the commitment?

The commitment is generally to the outcome, like “I’ll love you forever, and I’ll never cheat on you.”

Well, how’s that working out? Not only do half of relationships, half of marriages, end in divorce, half of secure committed relationships have at least one occasion of infidelity. So, “I’ll love you forever; I’ll never cheat on you?” Nonsense. A great ideal. It doesn’t work.

To commit to a relationship means we need to commit not to the outcomes, not to the marriage vows “I’ll love you and honor you forever and respect you forever.” We need to dig deeper and ask, “how?”

If you have a kid who’s in school and they’re getting a C in the course, and they come home one day and say, “You know what, mom, dad? I’m really devoted to this. I’m going to get an A,” you might feel enthusiastic and say, “Great! How?”

If they shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know; I’ll just do it,” it’s not likely going to work, is it?

So: we have to commit not to the outcome, but to the process. How do we do it?

Let’s look at what happens when we begin a relationship: many of you’ve heard me speak of this previously. We put our best foot forward. We don’t want to upset the apple cart. We want to be liked. We want to be loved. We filter, and are selective about what we’re going to share. We pretend to be the best version of ourselves. That is not getting to know each other in an emotionally honest way.

Do we ask deep questions of each other?

“How did that feel for you?”

“What was the greatest heartbreak in your life?”

“Have you ever had your heart broken?”

“What were your great disappointments? How did you deal with them? Do they still impact you?”

Do we share our insecurities and our vulnerabilities, which is our genuine self? Or do we hide and tuck away and disguise that which we think the other person will judge?

How is that going to work out? Months, years, down the road, those insecurities, vulnerabilities, pieces of ourselves that we can’t hide any longer will come out, and then we’ll look at each other and say “You’re not who I thought you were.”

As well, we need to share our expectations about parenting, about friendships, about money, about lifestyle, about a whole host of topics that we don’t talk about. My goodness! We are committing to securing a relationship with each other where we’re going to take in no other partners: you’re going to be my closest ally and my closest friend, but I’m not going to reveal my true self to you?

That is crazy-making. We need to open up the process.

Another thing that destroys relationships; longstanding committed relationships: They end up stagnating. We end up getting bored to death.

Why? We get zoned into this place of predictability: every day, every meal, every conversation is predictable. We’re lacking in curiosity. We don’t ask each other, “Well, what did you think about that? How did that make you feel? Tell me what that word means to you; I’m not sure it means the same thing to you as it does to me.”

A relationship, to thrive and to be vital, has to open up and have learning. It has to be full of curiosity, or it will stagnate. It’s like watching the same TV rerun or movie rerun every single night. How passionate, how focused are you going to be on what’s on the screen? Or are you going to blur it out because you’ve heard it all before?

Relationships become predictable, they stagnate, and we sleepwalk.

Another thought: have you ever heard the expression, “my other half,” referring to your partner?

Wow, imagine that. “My other half” suggests that I’m a half a person, and I found another half to complete me. That is a relationship built upon dependence and codependence.

How would it be if my goal was to complete myself, more or less. We’re never completed, fully, nor should we be, but if I see myself as a half, and I have to secure another half to fill me in… how do you think that will work out?

Now, marriages — even though I’ve lumped marriage and committed relationship together, there is a difference: marriage requires a large, dramatic event to end it: divorce. Committed relationships still have heartbreak, separating out financial consequences, relationship consequences, family consequences. But if we really were going to commit to the process, the process of a marriage, it shouldn’t be an infinite process.

Imagine this: what if marriage were a five-year renewable contract?

Now before you judge that thought, let’s lean in and consider it.

With a five-year renewable contract, that would mean there’d be no drama. No attorneys. Either party could simply choose not to renew. Now, the skeptic would say, “Well, where’s the commitment?”

Ha! Just the opposite of what you’d think: that’s a real commitment. It’s a commitment to the process, the renewable, contract, marriage.

Here’s why.

As you got into years three, years four, if things weren’t going well and you wanted the relationship to survive, you’d really have to focus on the qualities of what keeps the relationship vibrant. You’d have to make that marriage and relationship alive. You’d have to tune in. You couldn’t disregard the things that really matter.

A renewable contract for a marriage, arguably, would have a much greater success rate than marriages as we know them that require the drama of a divorce to end.

So, even though your relationship, or your marriage, is not based upon a renewable contract, think of it that way. Think about the importance of tuning in and trying to tend to each other’s feelings, each other’s disappointments, opening up without judgment, in harmony…

The rules of relationship by the way we play them caused unimaginable and inestimable failure. What could be more important in our lives than thriving in our relationships? We need to re-envision relationship. We need to commit not to the outcome, but to the process. We need to treat relationships as a evolving art form that we have to cultivate, which is not a place to go to sleep once we’ve secured the fact that “you’re my boyfriend / you’re my girlfriend / I’m in a committed relationship / We’re married / You’re my partner.”

Those close down the evolving form. A relationship should be exciting, stimulating, challenging. We need to work on it together.

Ask new questions… and each person needs to devote themselves to cultivating their own emotional intelligence. Do you want to be the same person at sixty or eighty that you were at thirty? Do you want your relationship to be the same at that age? Well, you want it to grow, stop watching the same rerun, stop having the same conversations. Don’t participate in a relationship that becomes bankrupt.

You know, going back to my idea of marriage being bankrupt if it were a corporation? When the corporation files for bankruptcy — chapter 11 bankruptcy — it needs to come up with a new game plan to be able to stay in business.

Relationships need a new game plan to thrive. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most valuable focus and energy that you can ever create in your lives.

Today’s episode was meant simply to stimulate you and to catch your attention. If your question is, “How do we do this,” well, let the learning begin. Check out all of my other episodes on relationship, on communication; read my books, read other people’s books… dive into the vitality and the importance and urgency of thriving in your relationship — and by the way, this is not just applicable to romantic relationships, or what should be romantic relationships. These skills: emotional intimacy, emotional intelligence, effective communication, will be applied in every relationship you have.

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