Did you see Ben Affleck’s speech accepting the Best Picture award last night? If not, he made a moving and authentic statement about marriage. Read more about it here.
The part that has people in a tizzy is this:
I want to thank you for working on marriage for ten Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.
The criticism centers around this statement as lacking in cuteness, and focusing on the negative. It wasn’t the “right forum” for this type of declaration, it was a possible indicator that “something is wrong” in the marriage, he should have just stuck to “I love you and adore you and you’re perfect” — basically whingeing that a major Hollywood star was uncomfortably honest about his relationship and said overly blunt things about marriage in one of the most public forums on the planet.
Anyone who actually agrees with the above criticism doesn’t get marriage.
A fundamental reality of human relationships is that two people are not meant to be in a single monogamous partnership for all eternity (or even til the end of their lives). Humans crave sexual novelty. We get bored. We lose interest after just 2 years. We find our intimacy crushed by the weight of daily routines. Marriage is a voluntary commitment that flies in the face of all scientific research and human evolution.
We enter this voluntary (some say insane, and they’re not entirely wrong) pact because we do a cost-benefit analysis and decide that the benefits of getting married (or otherwise partnering for life) outweigh the potential costs — breakups, emotional pain, financial disarray, the list goes on. We make just about the biggest emotional leap of faith a person can make, because we think, feel, and hope that the rewards will be great.
But at no point can we ever assume that these rewards will come without putting in the work to achieve them. We’re signing up for a daily struggle — some days it’s a small struggle, some days larger — and a distinct set of tasks that must be completed in order to keep the whole thing from falling apart. These may range from the tiny (say “Good morning” to your spouse in a cheery voice even though you wish you could shoot a nuke through the sun and return to sleep) to the sizable (find a way not to explode with rage and stomp out when your partner loses her temper and insults your mother) to the enormous (comfort your partner and assist with all the logistics after the agonizing death of his parent).
Large or small, it’s still work–there is no way around that. And failing or refusing to do this work means the death of the relationship, maybe not today, but eventually.
I learned this the hard way. Like so many women, I had the initial thought going into my wedding, “Oh thank God, my single time is over — the work is done! We’ll be married and finally I’ll feel safe and secure and I won’t have to spend so much time and energy doing things just to keep the relationship going.” HA. A week after our honeymoon we had an argument — I got mad at him in public, blame was broadcast, insults were hurled, tears shed. Eventually I sat down alone with my newly-married self and took stock of the situation, which had gone from peaceful to chaos in a matter of minutes. I realized that I had let my work lapse — I’d been resting on my laurels, expecting my marriage to unfold perfectly on its own. I’d stopped putting in the work. Getting married hadn’t saved me from a life of toil or reduced my level of risk–I’d simply traded in the toil and risk of dating for the toil and risk of having a good marriage.
Since then, my husband and I have discussed and sifted and accepted and listened and compromised. I’ve softened a few fossilized ideas I’d been carrying around my entire adult life, for the sake of understanding someone else’s point of view. I’ve done and said a few things my single self wouldn’t recognize — if she did, she’d probably be all judgey and self-righteously appalled. Eh, screw her. I adore my husband, I cherish our relationship, and when you ask me “What is the single most important thing in your life?” without hesitation I say, “My marriage.” The work, as Affleck wisely stated, is the best kind of work (if you don’t think so, you shouldn’t be married — no judgments, it’s just not for you), and there’s no one I’d rather do it with. If you’re partnered for life, if you’re fighting this good fight against biology, then you understand that — and you see that there is nothing Affleck could have said that would have honored his wife, and HER work, more.