A female character in one of John Grisham’s books, I think it was Gray Mountain, was counseling another younger woman, both lawyers, about relationships and she opined that “women marry men thinking they can change them. And they can’t. And men marry women thinking they’ll stay the same. And they don’t.”
Her comment was made in the context of referring to a lawyer in the story, a workaholic, and maybe a cad, who was separated from his wife, she from the city and he from the hills, and he apparently coming on to the younger female lawyer being advised – while all the time the older advising lawyer was shacking-up herself with the young stud, unbeknownst to the young and new female lawyer being advised.
Sounds as if the lawyers in the story, which took place in a rural town in Appalachia, were trying to get it together but hey, this is Grisham writing, and he himself is a lawyer, who by the way has been married many years. Besides, as we all know, relationship troubles are not germane to any profession or line of work.
But the line about changing one’s spouse, and spouses not changing, stuck with me and seems to encapsulate in a few words the gist of what men and women may be thinking when entering a relationship, especially marriage.
They say the divorce rate is falling. No one seems to know why. Or at least the main reason why. If the trend continues some research says two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce. Could it be that people are not changing as much as they once did? Perhaps looking for stability in a modern world that’s awash with turbulent change everywhere, a more threatening world. Perhaps.
There’s a lot of comfort that comes in knowing you have someone close by, someone who cares, someone other than you who cares about your welfare as you do. Perhaps this is it; a cultural reflex against societal and global turmoil.
The turmoil like in World War II and after when couples married and the divorce rate was extremely low. People glad to be with someone. Together. Stable. To make it through whatever was on the horizon. Not caring, or trying, to change. Holding the line in their relationships.
Then again that was a different day and time. Change was coming whether it was wanted or not.
How do you know if someone is going to change, for the better or worse? How do you encourage or manipulate (is that the word?), your spouse into changing in a favorable way that is conducive to furthering and enriching the relationship?
How one processes their past experiences combined with their expectations for the future I think contributes to determining whether one is prone to change, or not.
In modern life, we are all exposed to so many visual, auditory, stimuli, and experiences that depending on the makeup of one’s interior I think will determine whether the change, working through desires and needs, will result in mutual enrichment.
I once saw a man, married for 20 years, who saw the movie, Shall We Dance, with Richard Geer, and said he became interested in learning how to ballroom dance, looking for a diversion, as he had a sedentary desk job, and was not very physical. He thought it would be good exercise. He talked his reluctant wife into taking lessons, but after several lessons she quit, upset that during the group lessons everyone had to dance with a person other than their partner. She didn’t like him getting close to another woman in that way. To some this is silly, but to her it was important.
And so, he became even more interested in learning to dance and told her he was thinking about taking lessons alone and would it be okay, to which a right-thinking person would think he’s dense since he’d still have to dance with other women. But he wanted to learn how to dance. To which she said if you do then you’re going to be in trouble. So, he didn’t. He sacrificed his interest in dancing to keep her at ease and comfortable. This, and a few other situations, happened to the couple. Not out of the ordinary. They’re still married.
A glaring example of this notion that women marry men thinking they can change them and they can’t is where a woman marries an apparently nice man who likes his alcohol, drinking much more than he lets her know. She intends to change him. Then after they’re hitched for several months, he’s unable to maintain the façade and lapses back into his old self, retreating to his pre-changed, true, personality and state. In this example you can substitute gambling or pornography, for the alcohol and see the same result. Saw a female patient once who said she discovered her husband’s clandestine pornography habit when she was in the attic one day and discovered three stacks of pornographic magazines.
I think people, for the most part, change as they age. For most, the changes are subtle and harmless. For others, they may be married to a spouse whose developing interests are more dramatic. In which case, if they change together in the same degree then there’s usually not a problem. If they don’t then the opportunity avails itself for a wedge to start, which widens and in time becomes a gap that is not traversable, resulting in two people who are married as one, becoming two people as two people – apart.
A long courtship before marriage, along with one’s gut feelings, is a decent way to insure that one is not connecting with a person prone to change. But one can never be sure, even after 5, 20, or 32 years. But in the end, whether a relationship will be enduring or not, relies on to what extent, and how much each, together, is willing to sacrifice their personal interests to those of the beloved, out of love. It’s in this frame of loving that a marriage can be inoculated -- in the long run -- against malignant change.