Glamour Magazine, in an interview with Paula Haag, author of Marriage Confidential, asked about the semi-happy marriage.
Glamour: Why did you decide to write this book?
Pamela Haag: I was drawn to it by the marriages that I saw every day, including my own. I’m married to a great guy, and he’s a wonderful husband. But nonetheless, over the years, I haven’t felt totally fulfilled by marriage. So I conducted a survey of almost 2,000 people and found that many of them felt the same way.
Glamour: Is that the “semi-happy marriage”?
Pamela Haag: Yes: It’s not that the marriage is terrible, with people who are arguing or miserable. But they’re stuck in an ambivalent stage. I’ve always heard there was a question that Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver used to ask his pitcher Jim Palmer when Palmer was struggling: “Are you going to get any better, or is this it?” That’s the soul of the semi-happy question: Is this all there is?
Glamour: So are we supposed to settle for the nice guy, or go for the one we’re totally crazy for?
Pamela Haag: We grew up with a romantic ideal, but a lot of women aren’t sure if they believe in it. Experts say compatibility is key. But when a marriage is too much like a friendship, it loses energy.
Glamour: So how does one avoid falling into a semi-happy rut?
Pamela Haag: It’s more about how you live in a marriage than whom you choose. I think people in happy marriages live like they’re on vacation all the time, in the sense that they’re paying attention to each other and trying to have some fun. Marriage should be enjoyable rather than just hard work.
Haag’s viewpoint is consistent with a cultural view about marriage. Her husband is a great and wonderful guy, but he is unable to make her happy on a consistent basis. Her view of marriage and happiness is influenced by ambivalence. My understanding of ambivalence is when two conflicting emotions collide with each other such as love and hate, happiness and sadness. Marriage has many more components than happiness, peace, joy etc… It seems that Pamela is unclear on what marriage truly offers couples. Marriage allows couples to form a shared identity that is based upon sacrificial love and faith. In order for couples to form a shared identity they must understand how God feels about their spouse. Our identity comes from God’s feelings and love toward us rather than how we feel about ourselves or each other. Couples will learn that it is impossible to understand everything about their spouse as they embrace God’s view of their own life as well as his/her spouse. The mystery of God’s love for each one of us will put each couple on a quest to look not only look for God’s grace upon our spouse but also his purpose and plan for them. Couples who do not celebrate God’s love and forgiveness for their spouse will become blind to the value and extravagant love that has lavished upon them.
Marriage is a relationship that includes the environments of: shared identity, friendship, and sacrificial love and covenant promises. Couples who neglect any one of these environments will struggle to grow their relationship and eventually look for their marriage to increase their personal happiness. If this happens, marriage will be evaluated by a “what has it done for me lately,” attitude rather than intentionally investing in their identity, friendship and sacrificial love toward each other. I believe Pamela’s last statement may indicate that she and her husband do not have children in their lives. A happy marriage is not like being on a vacation, real life does not happen on vacation. Marriage is all about faithfulness – being faithful to love and serve one another. Vacations come and go but marriage and family life is where you live every day. Be sure to celebrate your shared identity, friendship, sacrificial love and covenant promises.