The Self-Created Pressure To Live Up To Your Parents' Happy Marriage

We're used to the idea that those who are scarred by witnessing bad marriages may later avoid the tender trap. But what about when the parental example was blissful? Weird, but in this guy's case, apparently true.

In case you think the jolly-named Benjie Goodhart is just a commitment-phobe, think again: he's in a long-term relationship that he pursued and is the father of 2-year-old Fred. And yet, while his girlfriend wishes to make it official, he's dragging his feet. Because his parents' marriage was too good. And, illogical as it sounds, he doesn't want to compete.

I know how self-pitying and lame that sounds. I am entirely aware of my own good fortune in being raised in a family filled with love and laughter. But the fact remained that I was terrified of getting married because my parents had done it so well. I felt like an emotional freak. Not so, according to Christine Northam, a relationship counsellor with Relate. "It's like having a terribly clever elder brother at school – it sets a competitive standard," she says. "It's a normal anxiety about a big change, and you've got the added pressure of wanting an idealised version of your parents' relationship."...It seems such anxiety is not uncommon. "As much as it's hard to cope with parents being imperfect, cheating, splitting," says therapist Tracey Cox, "it is sometimes harder to be presented with the ideal happy marriage." Avy Joseph is a cognitive behavioural therapist and founder of CityMinds. "It's quite common for people to put pressure on themselves," he says, "if they've grown up in an environment where, in their view, things have been perfect."

And, of course, it's easy to idealize our parents. Lately, contemplating my own impending marriage, I've found myself wondering if we can recapture my parents' camaraderie and sense of complicity, their spirited discussions and evident affection. Then I remember the fighting, the yelling, the stress, the chaos. There's even a famous story of my parents going to a marriage counselor who, after the unburdening, said, "I don't normally tell couples this, but I don't think you're two people who should be married," which they found so hilarious that they promptly bonded anew. So that's the reality: I can only imagine how easy it must be to embellish when your home is actually, well, harmonious.

Writes the author, "I would hope to have a marriage as successful as theirs. But I know it will take some work. I'm ready for that." But, you think, isn't he already doing that? This, it seems, is what comes of fetishizing the word "marriage." While for many it implies commitment, it seems in this case he'd already made it...so, whither the arbitrary concern? How, exactly, will marriage change his domestic life, save for removing the possibility of an imaginary escape route (which he says isn't the issue), adding the possibility of divorce (which he doesn't mention) or committing to some societal standard (which he says is also not the issue)? If, indeed, he's worried about putting himself in competition with his parents, it seems like he already did that a while ago. While I'm not one to espouse the "just a piece of paper" logic (at least, not unilaterally) in this case, the word "formality" can't help spring to mind. And yet, to each his own. By piece's end, a footnote tells us, the author has married. Parents be damned — or blessed, I guess. Because one thing not addressed in the piece: happily-married parents, whatever else they do, are probably more likely to push for marriage in their offspring.


For Whom The Wedding Bells Toll
[Guardian]