The Internet is loaded with marriage advice, but rarely does one single tidbit resonate strongly with so many people. On Saturday, writer Seth Adam Smith posted an essay on his blog titled, "Marriage Isn’t for You," about his utterly selfless approach to marriage, generating both praise and vitriol.
Twitter was flooded with commentary:
Then came the backlash.
“Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me,” Smith begins, before pulling a bait and switch on the reader and launching into his pro-marriage stance, which he developed after getting cold feet before his wedding to wife Kim. “Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?”
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Smith, who works as editor in chief of a motivational website, turned to his father for guidance and says that what he learned was life-altering. "He said, 'Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.'”
His father’s words prompted him to rethink his marriage philosophy. “No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you," he writes. "It’s about the person you love — their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, 'What’s in it for me?', while Love asks, 'What can I give?'"
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While Yahoo Shine could not reach Smith or his wife for comment, Smith addressed the controversy on Today.com on Tuesday. “Writing this post was the capstone of everything I’d been learning,” he told the site. “Hopefully someone going through a similar experience…will be able to turn around their relationship. That was my hope.”
According to Andrea Bonior, PhD, a Washington, D.C.-based licensed clinical psychologist, Smith's intention may be good, but his message is muddled. “People live crazy, hectic lives, so taking time to appreciate your partner and the commitment you made to each other is a positive thing,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “However, marriage is not just about one person's needs." Science substantiates that: One recent study conducted by Monmouth University found that couples who focus on their own personal growth, as opposed to their partner's, are more committed and enjoy longer marriages.
The message can also be confusing to women, innate providers to begin with, says Bonior. Culture encourages this maternal instinct from childhood by giving little girls dolls to care for, and this mentality often carries over into adulthood, sometimes to extreme levels. We already know that women do the lion’s share of chores and childcare, but they work longer hours outside the home, too, according to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The average number of hours per week that men spend at their jobs has declined from 42 to 37 between 1965 and 2011. Meanwhile, women have increased their office time from 8 hours to 21 hours. “If women are taught to further put their personal needs on the back burner, what would their lives look like?” asks Bonior.
The post also left unanswered questions. Sure, marriage means for better or worse, but what are love’s limits? Should a husband prioritize the needs of a chronically selfish wife? Should an abused woman put her husband’s feelings first? Or does the rule apply only to more minor issues in marriage — for example, forgoing girls' night to watch his baseball game? There’s a natural ebb and flow to marriage and people’s needs and ability to fulfill them waxes and wanes over time. It’s common for couples to go through periods when one person gives 80 percent, while the other can muster only 20 percent. But, warns Bonior, couples who keep score of each other’s efforts don’t operate as a team and are likely to feel resentful toward each other.
Ultimately, marriage is highly individualized and Smith's marriage sounds like a happy one. The most interesting layer to this story might be less about the Smiths' union and more about what people glean from it. “Marriage doesn’t come naturally to most people; it’s a lifelong learning experience,” says Bonior. “The essay may have struck a nerve because it makes people question their own marriages — are they good partners? Should they be giving or taking more? Questioning your relationship with the intent on improving it is always a good thing."
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