Unlikely Fact Number Two:

Marriage is like a fire sale: all merchandise is purchased “as is” with no exchanges and no returns.

This idea can perhaps best be illustrated by the concern expressed by a  newly wed woman who met with me not too long ago.  Without necessarily framing the issue using these exact words,  she arrived at my office wanting to change the terms of her “purchase agreement” after marrying her husband. The new bride was concerned and unhappy over the fact that her husband was now looking for any opportunity to play tennis.  Since returning from their honeymoon a little more three months earlier, he had been getting up two hours before his job required so as to be able to play for 90 minutes every morning before work.  In addition, he would stop at the tennis club on his way home from work in order to play for another hour or so.

After listening to this woman in my office I began thinking that her husband might need to be reminded about Unlikely Fact Number One, mainly that to be married means that one is no longer single.  I was all prepared to have this woman bring her husband to the next therapy session so that I could educate him about the limitations of marriage versus the freedoms of bachelorhood.  I planned to explain to him that given the fact that he was no longer single he was likewise no longer at liberty to play as much tennis as he wished, at least not without first consulting with his spouse.

But I had second thoughts about pursuing that approach once I learned from this young woman about how she and her husband had originally met.  “Oh, he was the tennis pro at the club where I played every day,” she said ever so innocently.  “Now I understand,” I said.  “So you married a tennis pro and are now surprised that he likes to play tennis?”  “Yes” she agreed, and then without any apparent realization on her part of the implications of my response she added “and if things don’t improve I’m thinking that although he is otherwise an incredible person, I may not be able to remain married to him.”  “Ah ha,” said I, “so you’re not only upset about the amount of tennis he plays, but you’re also considering trading him in for a better model?”

When I realized at that point that she still did not appear to “get it,” I explicitly pointed out to her the irony of her wanting to change the specific behavior of her husband that he, no doubt, assumed she most appreciated about him. After all, her husband was the pro who my client had asked to coach her so that she could improve her tennis game.

It was also at this point in our therapy session that I began to clarify the rationale behind “unlikely fact number two.”  I explained that we do not get to unilaterally change the existing agreements, understandings, or what I call “the rules” of a relationship once we get married.  In other words, my client had “purchased” a high intensity tennis pro and now she wanted to “exchange” him for a low intensity model.  Sure, if she and her husband were to decide together to make a significant change in their life such as, for example, deciding to bring a child into the world or to invite their in-laws to move in with them, then, of course, any agreements made before marriage might need to be renegotiated.  But it is my assertion that neither we nor our partners are simply free to announce to the other that things will need to change—or else.

Of course we are always free to make requests of our partners.  We can certainly ask the other to change a certain behavior we find objectionable.  But requests are not ultimatums. And most important of all, if we are asking our spouse to make changes in behavior that we had already accepted and of which we had tacitly approved before marriage, then it is our spouse who gets to make the ultimate decision about whether or not he or she will agree to make those changes.  In other words, we can request change after we get married but we lose the right to demand that change.  Why?

Because marriage is like a fire sale, with no exchanges and no returns.

Click for Unlikely Fact Number Three