[In R. Chester & P. Divall. Mental Health, Illness and Handicap in Marriage. National Marriage Guidance Council, Report no 5, 1986]


David Smail

I hope that what I have to say is not going to sound too out of place in a seminar devoted to research, for I certainly do not regard myself as any kind of expert on marriage, and I have conducted no disciplined survey of the area I propose to cover. However, speculation based on subjective experience forms a necessary part of any scientific enquiry, since obviously research cannot even take place without someone somewhere having a subjective idea or two, so I will comfort myself - and I hope perhaps even appease you - with the reflection that what follows could at least be seen as a contribution towards research, a kind of prodromal thinking about some things one should possibly take into account when investigating the ways in which married people deal with their own and each other's emotional difficulties.

My experience of marriage has three main sources - personal, social, and professional. That is to say, nearly all of what I know about marriage has been derived from my own marriage, the marriages of friends and people I know, and those of patients whom I have got to know very intimately through psychotherapy. The extremely limited nature of this 'knowledge base' serves, I'm afraid, only to underline the temerity of my talking to you on this subject today; what I feel particularly lacking in is any historical perspective on marriage, nor indeed have I much idea about culturally relative views of marriage. I feel I know a bit about the dynamics of marriage within the contemporary, Western emotional economy, as it were, but I can't really evaluate this in any comparative way, apart from a few not very well digested views gleaned from my haphazard reading in social history.

I find this lack particularly acute, because without some wider framework in which to fit a consideration of marriage, it becomes very hard to say what marriage is, or was, or might be for. Presumably there has always been quite a wide range of reasons for people to get married - some social, some economic, some semi-biological, some moral, some religious. And no doubt some personal and emotional. Whatever may have been the case in the past, and whatever may be the case elsewhere, it does seem that here and now marriage is frequently not seen as for anything other than itself. For many people marriage is seen as the ultimate Relationship for which everything else is designed - we are on this earth in order to acquire the means to enjoy our 'relationships', which are ends in themselves, forms of ultimate gratification. Most people, it seems to me, do not get married for any other reason than personal satisfaction and emotional security. The reasons for most people's seeking psychotherapy, for example, usually centre on a) their apparent inability to 'find' the relationship they yearn for or b) their discovery, having found it, that it does not turn out as expected.

The ideal marriage, I suspect, is for many people that in which each partner fulfils the emotional needs of the other, i.e. not only the need for sexual love, but the needs for reassurance and support and understanding and acceptance and interest and concern and appreciation and approval and validation and protection and all the other things one might hope for from the perfect relationship. The basic contradiction in such a kind of marriage is that it entails a necessity for mutual self-indulgence, which can in fact only be achieved through some artificial form of disciplined sharing such as that advocated by some sex therapists - I'll scratch your back (or whatever) if you'll scratch mine. The people who are the terms of the marital relation become commodities for each other's gratification, and like all commodities, they can be replaced.

Everybody knows, of course, that sexual passion, since it soon wears off, is not a good reason for getting married. But what we seem rather less ready to question is that marital partners should become, among other things, sort of domestic therapists to each other, providing the kind of 'understanding' the lack of which is so often taken as a justification for seeking extra-marital consolation. Wives not understanding husbands, husbands not talking to wives, men and women who, when they look up after fifteen or twenty years of preoccupation with child rearing, find themselves with a hostile stranger - these are the everyday experiences of people who work therapeutically with psychological distress. What is striking, I think, is the contrast of the cultural ideal with the actual reality. We still cling on to an idea of what marriage ought to be like even as we observe instance after instance of failure to achieve it. For every Darby and Joan who, as it were, come panting in hand-in-hand to the finishing line, there are hundreds of thousands who part in bitter disappointment and despair half way along the course, perhaps only to go back to the start to try all over again with a new partner. What seems to be wrong with this is not so much our failure to achieve our ideals, as our expectation of ever being able to achieve them in the first place. Whatever it is we are expecting of marriage, it seems pretty clear that we are not able to 'deliver' it.

Our modern ideal of marriage presupposes a mutuality of interest, a commonality of view, a reciprocity of therapeutic support, a parity of emotional demand, an economic cooperativeness, not to mention a sexual consensus, which, it seems to me, can be achieved only in fantasy by means of prodigious efforts of self-deception. The truth is that modern marriage is more typically characterised by extraordinarly intense rivalry in which, as Ivan Illich puts it, two 'sexed neuters' –i.e. genderless competitors for the emotional as well as material commodities of our time - strive to make sure that the other gets no more than his or her fair share. The loving smile shining on Joan from the faded blue of Darby's eyes is an aspect of televisual myth; more familiar to us from real life is the explosion of acid scorn as he can no longer suppress the seething irritation which is occasioned in him by the very sound of her voice or the rustle of her clothes.

I hasten to say that this is not the way I think things have to be. In no way am I intending simply to put forward a pessimistic view of marriage. Rather, what I want to suggest is that bitterness and frustration are bound to be the result of the expectations we have of 'marital relationships' only because those expectations are so utterly exaggerated and unreasonable.

Although it is easy to extract from people an account of what they expect from ‘a relationship’, ‘my marriage’, etc., it is important to remember that relationships and marriages are of course essentially abstractions which do no more than refer to a relation between actual, unique people. What is so noticeable about our talk of our ‘relationships’ and ‘marriages’ is the way we turn them into things, or objects, which we judge more or less satisfactory as they do or do not live up to our requirements. Relationships thus become gratificatory objects which we may acquire or discard as forms of commodity. We talk about ‘looking for a new relationship’ or ‘what I wanted from my marriage’ without any sense of incongruity, and yet, of course, ‘relationships’ and ‘marriages’ are in themselves nothing. As far as we do manage to get beyond the gratificatory abstraction of ‘marriage’ to see an actual person to whom we are married, we tend to experience him or her as a disembodied and dislocated will which either wilfully withholds or willingly supplies what we need in terms of sexual satisfaction and therapeutic support. That is, we tend not to see a separate person who has an individual history, an embodied experience of and place in the world; we do not ‘understand’, through an appreciation of his or her position in the world, why the partner cannot give us what we need, though we understand ourselves readily enough in these terms, and indeed regard lack of understanding of this kind on the spouse’s part with the deepest resentment. It is this lack of understanding which is often so obvious to marital therapists, and it is not surprising that they should sometimes see, I think probably mistakenly, the engendering of understanding as essential for marital repair; but this is point to which I shall return presently.

Since we experience our lives encapsulated within the network of our immediate relations, and since we tend to attribute people's giving things to or withholding things from us to their wilfulness, we tend to see our 'relationship problems' in purely personal terms. For example, partners in a failing marriage will tend to attribute its failure solely to their own personal characteristics - most probably to the personal characteristics of the other. But the battleground on which 'sexed neuters' compete so bitterly with each other stretches far beyond their immediate situation and often determines the nature of their conflict in ways quite out of their awareness. The generality of the dislocation between men and women these days suggests that it is a phenomenon having its roots in the nature of our society, and yet for each individual couple it is experienced as a personal issue for which therefore it seems that there must be personal remedies. While this may be good for business as far as therapists are concerned, it may in fact be very misleading.

Let me give a few examples of the kinds of marital difficulties which seem most frequently to give rise to psychological distress, and which I am sure will be familiar to you. One of the most familiar stories is that of the young mother of one or two small children who seeks professional help for symptoms of phobic anxiety which she herself interprets as indications of some kind of, perhaps serious, illness. Having been a shy, not very happy child, perhaps with a weak or anxious mother and/or a distant or punitive father, she marries at the earliest opportunity the first man who wants her enough to be kind to her. After a time his passion cools somewhat and he becomes preoccupied with the demands of his job, and impatient with her clinging dependency on him. She feels increasingly lonely, slightly unhinged by long periods in the company only of very small children, guilty that their demands on her cause what seem to be distinctly unmaternal feelings of rage and rejection, betrayed and deserted by a husband who seems no longer interested in talking to her, and repelled by his frequent nightly departure from this apparent indifference to an insistent lust. On his part, her husband cannot understand and is hurt by his wife's loss of sexual interest in him, is frustrated by her complaint that he doesn't want to be with her when, from his point of view, the very reason for his working such long hours is to support her and the children, and is mystified by her phobic symptoms which seem to him wilfully irrational. Each feels the need for the other to understand him or her, to make some kind of personal adjustment which would acknowledge the justice of his or her needs, to alter unreasonable perceptions or expectations.

Of course understanding is important, but to see it as 'the answer' is to subscribe implicitly to the view that the 'problem' is located in the way individuals see things rather than in, say, the structure of the world in which we live. What is needed, or so it seems, is a kind of marital therapeutic alliance in which the partners take turns at giving and taking so that they can fulfil each other's need for understanding and support, so that indeed what was experienced as a relation of deprivation can become one of satisfaction and fulfilment. If this adjustment cannot be made, if either or both cannot provide the necessary understanding, then it seems not unreasonable to conclude that to cut their losses and seek out a more adequate 'relationship' might not be such a bad idea.

I know, incidentally, one or two married couples - particularly middle class ones who have a nodding acquaintance with popular psychology - who do seem to manage to live in a kind of collusive therapeutic alliance of this sort. They talk to each other terribly nicely and politely, and give each other little public strokes from time to time, and ask each other with careful regularity what sort of day they've had. But there always seems to be something rather make-believe about such couples, and underneath the pretend togetherness one may detect an isolation almost too desperate to contemplate: an isolation, indeed, which could only come about through the acceptance as absolutely fundamental of a need for commodified 'relationship'.

As agoraphobic, or just simply diffident housewives begin to find their feet, their husbands may become faced with insecurities all of their own. Take the man, for instance, whose educated wife, when he married her a shy young thing who seemed to blossom under his confident male protection, has finished rearing children and turns to resume her career where she left it off. She has grown more confident over the years, having been toughened by her battles with midwives and clinics, health visitors and infant and primary school teachers. She gets a job programming computers, she becomes financially independent of her husband, and she enjoys it. All sorts of things she before either needed from him or put up with because of her dependent state she now no longer needs nor has to put up with. He has always invested in a fairly tough, no-nonsense masculine role in which he prided himself on his ability to provide for his family and deal with the harsh practicalities of life such as confronting the bank manager and servicing the car. Suddenly, unaccountably it seems to him, he develops panic attacks and impotence (the latter more of a bother to him than to his wife, who is having too exciting a time to worry too much about sex).

This is a very familiar theme, on which there are many variations, for couples approaching middle age, and I'm not quite sure in what way 'understanding' might help; much of the trouble seems to lie in the contrast between the pride men take in what they see as protection and the resentment women feel over what they experience as oppression. Two 'sexed neuters' face each other in hostile competition, stripped of any gendered complementarity. This is a feature of the contemporary world, not a mistake individuals make about each other.

One of the more frequently encountered variations on this theme might be that in which a highly intelligent but basically poorly educated woman finds formidable risks involved in developing an alternative life for herself as her children cease to need her, and so hovers in a conflicted state of resentful dependence on a husband who is both bemused and injured by her discontent. She resents his patronage but dare not stray too far from it because she is so uncertain of the welcome the world will give her attempts at contributing something of her own to it. She becomes bitingly ironic with her husband, and also feels invaded by his sexuality. He, not having experienced life from her perspective, can only conclude that she has ceased to feel anything for him, and occasionally becomes angrily scornful of her half-hearted attempts to get jobs or join training courses, while she quickly blames his 'attitude' for her failure to do so. She begins to daydream about a more gentle, loving, understanding man who would take a real interest in her; he suddenly finds himself helplessly entangled in a love affair with a woman nearly half his age.

Or take the man who, perhaps from a marital situation rather like the one just described, enters a new liaison with the young woman who provides him with the therapeutic understanding (as well as the sexual passion) he had found so sadly missing in his wife. It seems to him at first that the secret of Relationship has been placed within his grasp - here he is with the wisdom of forty years to tell him how to avoid old mistakes and to nurture the intensity of his new-found love, to guide and cherish the charming youth of the woman soon to become his second bride. But despite the patient understanding, the application of the knowledge gained from his greater experience, he finds her ardour cooling (or is it his?); the world intrudes its customary cares (like money and housing), they become defensive with each other; his solicitousness, his tireless reasonableness, his very lack of impetuosity, oppress her; she starts to seem to him inordinately egocentric. She becomes pregnant, and promptly loses interest in sex. With a sense of mixed horror and guilt, he begins to recognise his situation - he has been here before. To be sure, the parameters of his new predicament do not exactly match those encountered in his first marriage, but even so, here he is, once again, locked in a 'relationship' with a person whose interests have ceased to coincide with his. And he thought he'd had all the understanding in the world.

Over and over again, in one form or another, the causes of marital stress and breakdown seem to lie principally in the failure of one or both partners to recognise and gratify the emotional needs of the other – i.e. to provide a kind of therapeutic support. For many people the very point of a marital 'relationship' is to provide a haven of warmth and security in which each individual can receive the unqualified validation and confirmation of the other, and the one thing that might justify separation or divorce is an irretrievable breakdown in the smooth flow of such emotional supplies. It is, often, the provision of this kind of support which is perceived as loving, the reception of it as being loved. If, therefore, you do not meet my emotional needs, if you do not provide me with the kind of therapeutic security I crave, it must mean that you do not love me. And if you do not love me, I had better look around for somebody who might.

If one abstracts marriage from the social context in which it is set, and particularly if one singles out an individual married couple, it is easy enough to see what, psychologically, people need to make life, and each other, more bearable for each other. One can see in what way husband needs to talk to wife, or wife to understand husband, and one can see that with a little bit of give and take everything could be very different. The fact that we can see things leads to the not unnatural expectation that, perhaps with some therapeutic intervention, sufficient psychological change could be brought about significantly to improve things. Furthermore, I think that on the whole we see psychological change as relatively unproblematic. I say 'relatively' because we certainly do not see it as totally unproblematic - we recognise that for psychological change to take place certain 'therapeutic skills' are needed, and that there must at times be recourse to professionals who have received an appropriate training in such 'skills', or at least that people need to have some insight and perhaps instruction in the kinds of ‘problems’ that underlie 'failures in communication' and the kinds of 'techniques' which may be applied to tackle them. In other words, we see psychological change as a serious and perhaps a delicate business, and possibly one requiring the skilled intervention of experts, but at least we see it as quite possible.

What makes psychological change often seem quite achievable is that all that may seem to be needed is for people to adopt a new perspective on their difficulties, to 'see' (in some way which necessitates a process of 'insight') that things are other, or could be other, than they have been taking them to be. Once Mr X sees that Mrs X is, say, lonely rather than hostile, he will be able to see that his avoidance of her is only making things worse and will therefore be able to try a new tack. In this way the explication of a ‘marital relationship’ seems to be quite legitimately able to be cast in terms of what two people perceive, presumably somewhere inside their own heads, as going on within themselves and each other, and the answer to their 'problem' seems to lie in altering their perceptions. In other words, we tend to think of psychological problems as somehow packed away inside people, perhaps in the form of some kind of conceptual fault.

What this kind of view tends to overlook, I think, is that actually we are bodies in a world. Our perceptions are thus not a kind of internal slide show in which we may alter what we want to see more or less at will, but arise through our bodily experience of a real world. Nor is the experience we have gained of the world, and of the people in it, simply erasable or replaceable - it has been acquired organically, forming, as it were, part of our living tissue, and not mechanically as with magnetic tape. Just because it would be desirable to see a person - say a spouse - differently does not mean that we can see him or her differently as an act of will or a function of insight. It may indeed be that by objective standards (whatever those may be) Mr X has an entirely misguided, distorted or false perception of Mrs X, but his mere recognition of the distortion of itself makes no difference to it, any more than recognition that one speaks a language ungrammatically enables one thereby to speak it grammatically. The lessons we have learned, however sweet or bitter they may be, we have learned as embodied subjects existing in a real world. The world teaches us lessons which we cannot ignore and cannot forget. We cannot be mechanically reprogrammed like computers, but rather we acquire our experience in the way a tree acquires its growth rings – i.e. organically.

This view has a number of consequences. For one thing, I think it means that one cannot understand what is happening between two people - say in a marriage - by studying them as encapsulated in a kind of bubble-like 'relationship'. One needs to understand the historical context of each individual, i.e. what his or her experience of the world has been, and one needs to see how the present structures of the world influence his or her conduct. It means also, I think, taking tremendously seriously the way people are, and realising that changing characteristic modes of perceiving and acting is enormously difficult. People do not, in fact, change by 'seeing' that something is the case and 'deciding' to act differently, but rather by learning to act in new and unfamiliar ways by placing themselves (or being placed) in a new, bodily relation to the world. Moreover, the newness and unfamiliarity of adopting a different stance in the world is most often experienced as very frightening, and it takes a lot of courage and determination to embark upon any such course. Again, changing does not mean turning over new leaves or wiping slates clean, but rather extending the structure of experience on its original foundations. Roy Schafer (I976), in writing of the kind of change which may be expected from patients undergoing psychoanalysis, puts the issue very clearly:

For while the past may be partially re-experienced, reviewed and altered through reinterpretation, it cannot be replaced: a truly cold mother, a savage or seductive father, a dead sibling, the consequences of a predominant repressed fantasy, years of stunted growth and emotional withdrawal, and so forth, cannot be wiped out by analysis, even though their hampering and painful effects may be greatly mitigated, and the analysand freed to make another, partly different and more successful try at adaptation. The analysand whose analysis has been benignly influential retains apprehensions, vulnerability, and characteristic inclinations toward certain infantile, self-crippling solutions, however reduced these may be in influence and however counterbalanced by strengthened adaptiveness.

Quite apart from the influence of the past which, since he is a psychoanalyst, is quite properly Roy Schafer's particular concern, one also needs to take account of the individual's current circumstances if one is to grasp the reasons for his or her conduct. For example, as well as people's immediate social and economic context, there are operating upon them influences within the wider culture which may profoundly affect the way they see and act towards each other and themselves, but of which they may be completely unaware, and it is all too easy for 'explanations' of 'problems', or prescriptions for their solution, to confuse personal responsibility with impersonal forces. (An example of such confusion is when, at a time of high unemployment, people are exhorted to 'get on their bikes' to find work.) In other words, people act rationally in relation to a real world the structure of which dictates much of their activity; to ignore the dictates of the real world in an attempt to encourage people to lift themselves by their own bootstraps is at the very best to invite them to act irrationally.

What all this is intended to point towards is that in order to get some kind of explanatory purchase on the kinds of marital difficulties which are so frequently encountered these days, one has to move beyond formulations which rely entirely on analysing the relationships of individual couples, and solutions which are cast in terms of greater personal efforts of love and understanding on the part of the individuals so related. The very ubiquity of the 'problems', the fact for instance that the whole of Western society is preoccupied with difficulties in relations between men and women, should be enough to alert us to the probability that a much more general social ‘problem’, or set of problems, is reproducing itself over and over again within the experience of particular people. Perhaps, in other words, it is not that Mr and Mrs X are not being understanding enough or loving enough towards each other so much as that their, and our, expectation that they should be is misplaced.

Love and understanding do indeed seem to be in short supply in present day society, and while one can well understand the hope that one of the most likely places to find them would be in sexual and marital relationships, the fact that people's experience seems to be that it is precisely there that their shortage is most acutely to be felt must give us pause for thought. People are already feeling far too needy to be able to summon up from within themselves or in response to exhortation hidden springs of therapeutic understanding for the spouse they experience as so depriving.

In fact, I think, 'relationships', and in particular marital relationships, are these days expected to bear a weight which it is simply beyond human capacity to do. As our society becomes more fractured, individualised, competitive and paranoid, so our major Relationship becomes ever more demandingly called upon to fulfil our needs for understanding, love, comfort, support and reassurance. That one person should be another's reason for living may seem movingly romantic, but actually represents an impossible - indeed tyrannical - demand. In a society in which one person can without causing astonishment or dismay say to another 'you're the only person who really understands me' something has gone seriously wrong, and to be that uniquely understanding person entails both considerable strain and unjustifiably great power; it also, I suspect, represents a fantasy which is only too easily and painfully shattered. It is also not uninteresting to note that in this highly intense, therapeutic form of relationship, though theoretically it may be a matter of give and take, the real satisfaction involved seems to be one of taking: I don't suppose many people have been heard to exclaim, in an access of tenderness, 'I'm the only one who really understands you'. It is inevitable, of course, that the passivity, dependency and vulnerability of this kind of 'love' are attended closely by resentment, fear and defensiveness. Among other things, they turn marriage into a minefield.

I should say at this point, and say very emphatically, that I do not mean that understanding and support, the warmth and closeness that intimate knowledge of and familiarity with another person may bring, have no place in marriage, nor that, when they occur, they are not deeply rewarding. What I do mean to say is that these possible qualities of a long-term 'relationship' such as marriage cannot, without being destroyed, be turned into ends in themselves, into commodities which one has a right to expect or demand, or indeed to be able to fabricate at will. They are incidental features which arise out of the activity involved in a certain kind of partnership, a common enterprise. It is always the tendency in our commercialised society to take peripheral benefits of activity, the incidental (and desirable) accompaniments of doing things, and turn them into focally attainable commodities. Indeed we have invented a disgusting phrase - 'the pursuit of happiness' - to describe this very process (in fact, 'the happiness of pursuit' would be an altogether more acceptable expression). In precisely this way we convert the activity, the enterprise, the endeavour of marriage into an objectified 'relationship', and the comforts and satisfactions of marriage which may occur, as it were, through grace, we turn into commodities which we hope to consume for our greater gratification. We have come to demand what once we may have regarded as providential, to expect as a right what we might have received as a blessing, to try to manufacture what can only arise spontaneously. The married couple turns inward on itself to form a pact of mutual self-indulgence as a buttress against a debilitating world.

As far as those of us in the helping professions reinforce an ideal of marriage as mutual self-indulgence by exhorting spouses to greater efforts of understanding and support, I do not suppose we shall in fact be helping very much, as all we shall achieve will be to intensify a demand for emotional commodities which are already in short supply. What might be more valuable, I think, is a questioning of our assumptions, a reassessment of our values.

With this we come back to the question of what marriage is 'for'. For all the reasons I have outlined, I do not think it is for the mutual comfort and support, the therapeutic as well as sexual satisfaction of two people whose implicit aim is not to be able to live without each other. In other words I do not think marriage can work if it attempts to be 'for' itself. What it is, or might be, for is altogether more difficult to say. Perhaps marriage in our present society is ceasing to have much significance apart from its commodity value, its role as a focus of consumption. But if two people do wish to stay together, perhaps in order to do something other than merely consume, then I think it is possible to make one or two suggestions about how the probability of their being able to do so may be increased. These suggestions are not, I hasten to say, intended as 'therapeutic', as prescriptions for what people should do to obtain a 'healthy' marriage. They are intended simply as observations of a more or less psychological kind, and I am not at all sure whether, as such, they could be of any use in a practical sense. They seem to me, moreover, rather obvious-indeed trite.

Because people are, as I have suggested, historically, organically and situationally constructed, and therefore are in many respects pretty set in their ways by the time they have become adult, it may not be reasonable to expect them to be capable of a great deal in the way of change. Because, furthermore, the intimate proximity into which marriage throws people makes it difficult for them to disguise their differences, spouses are likely to become more aware than most of the things they have not got in common. For these reasons 'understanding' may be less important than acceptance of 'otherness'. Understanding may of course imply acceptance, but the important thing about acceptance is that it does not necessarily imply understanding. It may indeed be quite impossible for one person truly to understand in every respect why another thinks or feels or acts the way he or she does. We have a very low tolerance of psychological opacity in our society, and yet I think there is a degree of inevitability in the fact that we cannot really know all about each other, even when we are married. Living with otherness is likely to be a strain, and in this respect it might help if we recognised more clearly than we often seem to that strain is a necessary part of marriage: it is to be expected rather than deplored. Accepting someone means among other things believing that they have good reasons for what they do even when one has not the slightest idea what they could be. Rather than insisting on therapeutic support one must be prepared to accept non-comprehension, and at times - if only because we are human - outright enmity. We have to tolerate things we don't like or disapprove of in the other rather than insist that he or she change. We all know, of course, that in many respects marriage is a difficult business, but we do not always say so; far from providing us with all we need in the way of emotional supplies, more often than not marriage entails the renunciation of gratification.

I think myself that there is a degree of isolation in adult existence which cannot be escaped, and probably even increases with the passing of time. It is not terribly comfortable, but I do not see any reason to panic about it, and to expect marriage to provide one with a kind of womb-like warmth and security is to place an impossible demand upon it. I think it may therefore be a mark of maturity in a marriage for spouses to be able to tolerate their own and respect the other's isolation without recrimination or defensiveness.

There are of course many other aspects of marriage which I am not attempting to touch on here - all I want to do is call into question the assumption, which I think is quite widely, if only tacitly, subscribed to, that, among other things, marriage should be in some respects a therapeutic bond. Indeed there are times when one would hope and expect that husbands and wives would take care of each other - even, or perhaps especially, when it does not suit them to do so - but this is very different from the kind of craving many people have 'to be loved for themselves alone' in some kind of unconditional, healing way - that is simply asking for the impossible. True love may lie less in a wallowing in mutuality than in an appreciation of difference!

Many of those people I see whose 'relationships' have come to grief - and they seem to me no different from the rest of us - appear to conceive of commitment as something which is held in place by a kind of glue of gratification - one may be committed to that which satisfies, and failure to satisfy justifies release from commitment. If 'relationships' are ends in themselves, this seems entirely reasonable: there would be no more point in lumbering yourself with an unsatisfactory spouse than there would in cluttering your kitchen with a non-functional washing machine. Commitment could only reasonably be accepted as entailing renunciation if it cemented relationships which were 'for' something other than themselves; it is perhaps characteristic of the times we live in that it is so difficult to say what that something might be.

Schafer, R. (I976): A New Language for Psychoanalysis, Yale University Press, Newhaven, Conn.