Throw away the Key

Sorry, I was wrong and I apologize. In a recent column I wrote, “A successful relationship is like a key needing a specific lock…” Although handy, that cliché makes it sound as if there is one special partner for each person, just as there is one key for each lock. After thinking about it, I realized that is misleading. Marriages are dynamic and partners have responsibilities to use their relationship skills to adapt and accept change.

Lena Horne, the famous singer from the ’50s to the ’90s, was very open about her marriage to Lennie Hayton: “You must know that in the beginning I didn’t marry Lennie because I was in love with him. I respected him because he knew a lot of music and I knew that I had to learn how to sing… And I learned to love him very much. It turned out to be a perfect marriage.”

Certainly, in love, there is the matter of chemistry and taste. Some women like macho, while others like intellectuals. Some men like big breasts while others like svelte and there is nothing wrong with either. But chemistry can be so powerful it blinds us to other characteristics. When I asked Nigel, who was paying a lot of alimony to a woman he disliked, why he married her, he replied, “She had a hot body.” After the lust wore thin the divorce was predictable. Yet, tastes can evolve. There are many keys that can fit into many locks with time and effort. It is not highly restricted, but subject to shaping ourselves and influencing our partners.

Marriages must be open to growth and development for this to happen. Often people get married when they hardly know themselves, let alone their partners. Clearly the chemistry has a role. So do important common interests and temperaments. The common interests need not be specific, like loving Bach or Little Richard, they can be on working together to keep bread on the table and raising a functional family, or saving for a trip or a house. A requirement is that both parties treat each other with respect and that they have a strong alliance. Certainly differences lead to conflicts and that easily gets amplified into fights. Yet both partners should feel secure that when one has his tail between his legs he can find a supportive partner in the other. That takes time and shared experiences. In much of the world marriages are arranged. In India, even now, it is estimated that 90 percent of marriages are arranged. But arranged does not mean forced and, traditionally, after viewing pictures and biographical information, the partners must agree to go forward. Indian psychologist Dr. Sangeetha Nayak, who had a love marriage, said that love was not as important as responsibilities in an arranged marriage. The man had to protect and feed his family and the woman had to support her husband.

Tastes can be acquired through experience. By sharing both positive experiences and challenges, bonds can develop and grow. Very few keys fit perfectly into locks and we need to be open to adjustments for marriages to work.