What You See is What You Get

Erin and Ted had one of those relationships that was in constant turmoil when they dated. Erin felt low on Ted’s priority list. For example, when he came home from Syracuse University, he broke a date with her to meet with his friends. Angry and hurt, Erin broke up with Ted. At times, she became so belligerent that Ted felt she was nuts. After seven years of frequent breakups, during which they never quite lost contact, each would somehow worm their way back until the next fight. When apart, she missed and loved him enormously, and always left the door open. Ted, also, claimed love and they finally decided the only way their relationship will be stable and secure is to get married. Ha!
Once, after getting bumped to 1st class from San Francisco, I sat next to a wealthy man, Dave, who, after three drinks, told me his tale of woe. He fell madly in love with a Las Vegas hooker who he couldn’t live without. Now, he lamented, after four years of marriage, he was astounded and wounded to learn that she had been having affairs, and that it was his money she was after. Really?!
Although we all know people who have changed after marriage, by and large, most—though certainly not all—changes are for the worse. The security of the marriage allows more room for accommodation of faults. Therefore, Ted thought Erin should understand that he wanted to go for another weekend to a Syracuse basketball game. After all, he’s married and needs time off. Dave actually believed his wife would feel financially secure and change after marriage. Erin and Ted divorced, and I lost contact with Dave. I doubt if any reader would bet their marriage worked.
By and large, as in the fable of the scorpion and the frog (misattributed to Aesop), people’s basic nature doesn’t change. I have been married over 40 years and still have the same conflicts with my wife we had while dating. Neither of us has changed much. When dating, people are usually on their best—or at least better—behavior. Both a strength and problem of marriage is that it enables us to let our hair down and be ourselves. Sometimes “ourselves” is not the person the other hoped for.
As a psychologist, I see people who desperately want to change. They don’t like being out of emotional control or don’t like shooting themselves in the foot. Even working diligently on their problems, change is often very hard. If it is difficult for them to change for themselves, it is obviously more difficult to change when it is at the behest of the other person. Ted didn’t see why Erin felt neglected, and Dave allowed his lust to conquer his judgment. In both cases, the people were exactly the same that they dated.
What you see is what you get. If we see we do not want to live with the partner’s current style, then we should cut losses and end the relationship (certainly not easy and subject to a future article). On the other hand, none of us are perfect, and if we feel that we can accept the imperfections of our mates, the marriage should work. However, it is crucial to understand that getting married is very rarely the way to reform people and stabilize a relationship.