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July 29, 2016
by Megan Lundgren, LMFT

Could Adjusting Inflated Expectations in Marriage Relieve Relational Pressures?

July 29, 2016 09:53 by Megan Lundgren, LMFT

“And How Are You Crazy?” 

Alain De Botton posits in a popular May 28, 2016 New York Times article entitled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” that this question is one that should be standard early in the dating process. Beyond claiming that individuals highlight their strengths and rarely disclose their flaws in the context of dating, De Botton suggests that people are generally dismissive of the idea that they are anything but “really quite easy to live with.” As a result of this optimistic self-perspective, De Botton frames marriages as a “Gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be.” 

Though marrying for a feeling of love may be widely more acceptable in modern Western culture than marrying for previously popular calculated reasons (e.g, strategic arranged marriages designed to benefit monetary or status gains), De Botton is critical of the idea that today’s couples marry to seek happiness. “What we really seek is familiarity,” suggests De Botton, “Which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness.” 

Take, for instance, the example of a child whose first experience of love was with a parent who had difficult regulating feelings of anger. From De Botton’s perspective, that child may grow up to seek a familiar brand of love that vacillates between care and angry outbursts. “We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate love with feeling happy,” writes De Botton. To quote Stephen Chbosky’s novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Of course, the idea that warped perceptions of love developed in childhood may complicate adult relationships is not a new concept. Therapists at Relationships For Better have long suggested that individuals may be tempted to ‘re-do’ their childhood relationship with their parents through romantic relationships, perhaps to seek corrective experiences in attempts to heal past wounds. For example, if a child felt rejected by a narcissistic parent, they may be more likely as an adult to pursue a romantic relationship with a narcissistic spouse in hopes of satisfying the need to be loved by a person reminiscent of their parent. Rejection breeds obsession – and parental rejection may result in obsession with love from a spouse with similar qualities. Though this practice holds a certain kind of logic, the outcome may well be disastrous for long-term marital happiness. 

If individuals forgo a naively romantic expectation that their spouse will satisfy their childhood yearnings for love, the result may be a measured awareness that that one’s chosen spouse is merely human. In other words, a spouse may not be able to completely undo childhood wounds because they did not create those wounds in the first place. “It might sound odd,” write De Bosson, “But pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.”

If individuals release their partners of the responsibility to fulfil their unmet emotional needs, what criteria might they prioritize in a potential spouse? Perhaps sober-minded individuals may consider seeking a spouse who is simply adept at coping with disagreements: to borrow a brilliant phrase from De Bosson’s, “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” 

Rather than attempting to marry a perfectly compatible partner and ultimately feeling resigned with the awareness that the union is problematically imperfect, perhaps general satisfaction in marriage may be more realistically found in the awareness of the limitations of one’s partner to meet all of one’s emotional needs.  Unromantic as it may sound, the understanding that each individual must take responsibility to tend to their own emotional wounds may offer a more feasible course of action for dealing with inevitable conflicts that eventually arise in marriage. 

Projecting ideals like perfect compatibility and uninterrupted happiness onto one’s relationship may be immediately gratifying. Conversely, a depth of awareness into early violations of love and trust within one’s family of origin may sound like a topic one may do well to avoid on a date. However, couples that avoid the latter may not anticipate the emotional ‘work’ that is the trademark of sustained marriages.  

Imagine if feelings of relational discontent were to be examined through an awareness of how childhood wounds have been triggered, paired with mutual efforts to take responsibility to personally address those wounds. Imagine if partners were simply be aware of their inclination for warped expectations based on unmet childhood needs and attempted to choose more realistic expectations based on the reality that spouses are not, in fact, their parents? 

The result of such a process may be emotional and relational growth, a sustainable model for marriage, and a sense of pride for facing personal obstacles side-by-side. “And how are you crazy?” may not be such a bad question to ask after all. 


Botton, A. D. (2016). Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. Retrieved July 24, 2016, from 

Chbosky, S. (1999). The perks of being a wallflower. New York: Pocket Books.

About the Author

Megan Lundgren Megan Lundgren, LMFT

What brings you here today? If you are seeking therapy in hope of a warm, safe environment to talk openly about your closest relationships - you will find that here. All are welcome.

Megan Lundgren has a clinical practice in Monrovia, CA

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