In marriage, two individuals commit to a bond of unity. You know, two souls becoming one. This is surely easier to do if the two are already similar in many areas, such as social, religious, personality, economic, and political. In fact, psychological research provides substantial, but not universal, support for the idea that greater partner similarity correlates with greater marital satisfaction.
No matter how similar partners may appear, however, they still enter marriage with their respective non-identical backgrounds, preferences, choices, personalities, and dreams. While there may be similarities, even overlap, between the partners in these areas, clearly no married couple is a pair of precise duplicates. Therefore, every marriage is a mixed marriage!
In my opinion, this is a really good thing! Why? It is because marriage is not designed for the partners to be or become carbon copies. Rather, marriage is designed to transform precisely those precious differences into true synergy. What is synergy? It is combining disparate elements into something new and better, in which the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. The sum is better because it makes possible mutual enhancement, strengthening, growth, support, and safety. These, in turn, allow greater healthy risk-taking and development.
To reap this happy harvest, the partners must, despite their differences, jointly create a context of mutual trust, cooperation, fidelity, consistent availability, and commitment to the other’s wellbeing.
Every couple has aggravating points of difference. In My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” If she only were, then she would both understand and agree with his every belief and decision. Likewise, wouldn’t every wife like her husband to totally understand her uniquely feminine outlook and choices? If either of these were true, then there would never be friction in the couple. Life as a couple would be so easy. Yes, they would truly be one, but how boring that would be! How stagnating! How pointless!
Speaking psychologically, the very point of marriage is for two people to create the synergy described above. This synergy is the best vehicle yet invented for individuals to improve their character, including their sensitivity to others, their capacity to give of themselves, and their ability to restrain their baser impulses.
An additional reward is the partners’ ever deepening insight into themselves. As Stevie Wonder sings in Knocks Me Off My Feet, “I reach out for the part of me that lives in you, that only our two hearts can find.” The yang to this yin is that each partner also acquires an ever deepening connection to the heart, mind, and soul of their partner. For all these reasons, I call marriage an ongoing journey of discovery. And best of all, the discoveries keep coming, even decades into the marriage.
None of this could happen if the partners were precise duplicates. They must have points of difference, areas of friction, and periods of unavoidable negotiation and compromise. We should all be thankful that every marriage is a mixed marriage. Bon voyage!
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.
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