Disillusionment feels bad; so naturally we tend to avoid the process of letting go of illusions, especially those commonly accepted by society and friends. But if you think about it–that is, add "thinking" to "feeling," wouldn't it be more sensible to face reality with its potentially greater rewards than to seek happiness among things un-real?

In either case, my observation is that marriage, perhaps more so than any other aspect of modern life, is surrounded and supported by a wealth of illusions. Even though they may be deeply appealing and strongly tempting to buy into and blindly continue to live with ("Better to keep the ills you have, than fly to those you know not of"), I have found that marriage rooted in these popular illusions, though initially wonderful, is predictably destined to fail in time. In spite of best efforts to the contrary, disillusionment is apt to force itself into the realities of every marriage, beginning soon after the honeymoon (if not before).

My premise is that it's better to "head them off at the pass," to "beat impending reality to the punch"–that is, to risk confronting illusions before "reality rears" its proverbially "ugly head," and disillusionment is forced upon us.

Reason supports the idea that daring to face illusions and consciously participate in the process of letting them go, in favor of identifying with reality, is wiser than trying to blindly maintain them. At least I have found this to be so.

I conclude, therefore, that in order to "be happy though married," disillusionment, no matter how disturbing it may seem at the time, is an essential pre-requisite to finding real happiness within this age-old institution. I go so far as to predict that no marriage can be successful in time beyond the extent that we dare face and survive the challenging process of personal disillusionment. Husbands who blindly insist on maintaining popular illusions unwittingly set the opposite stage for "being miserable while married."

My goal for myself is to look as clearly as I can at "facts of life" about marriage, that is, to "look the gift horse in the mouth," to ferret out illusions I have unconsciously embraced, and risk the threats of disillusionment.

Illusions I have seen so far include these:

Marriage is magical.

Many of the fairy tales of my childhood ended with the statement: "They got married and lived happily ever afterward," implying that marriage can magically make one happy, not only now, but forever.

This, I observe, is perhaps the grandest of all illusions about marriage. If you have swallowed this one, regurgitate it; marriage is definitely not magical. No other successful human relationship–so far as I can tell, is more demanding, takes more real work, than male/female union in monogamy.

Woman can save.

Close behind the illusion of magical marriage is that of goddess woman. Even if the institution itself is not seen as powerful enough to "make you happy"–that is, automatically bring personal fulfillment, perhaps the woman you fell in love with can, once you say, "I do" and make her your own (you her own?).

While this popular illusion is intact, probably no man ever consciously sees his wife as "a goddess"–one literally empowered to make him whole and happy. But in practice, probably no other male illusion is more alive and well than this dark notion of woman as earthly goddess, much like a heavenly God.

No marriage can, I hold, be truly successful beyond the degree that a man lets go of this near universal illusion, and comes to see his wife as "just a woman"–that is, another human being with no more power to "save him," than can he her.

Which leads to a third, often even deeper illusion:

A man can make a woman happy.

The flip side of Illusion #2 is that one man can ever be enough to make a woman happy–at least for long, that is, that a man can be good enough, compliant enough, wealthy enough, please enough, behave and be clean enough, etc., etc., to keep her "in love" with him as she may have seemed to be before the ceremony.

Love is enough.

Love, obviously, is wonderful. Beginning with the early magic of romance, the kind of love we commonly fall into, and continuing on to even grander wonders of "mature love"–including friendly love, benevolent love, and motherly love, along the way. Still, in reality, all love is finally limited in inherent capacity to save another person, for example, to heal mental illness or to make a depressed person happy.

No matter how much, how completely, how faithfully, how thoroughly, how devotedly, a man loves a women (or vice versa) his love can never finally be enough to erase the primal fact that, as my father often reminded me, "every tub's got to set on its own bottom."

In practice, one spin-off of this illusion is the reverse counterpart of the female illusion that a woman can marry a man as he is and change him to better suit her desires afterward. The male illusion is that a man can marry a woman and she will remain the same as before he married her, that is, as loving, attentive, responsive, etc., not to mention as young.


Slippery emotional slopes in a successful marriage include:

1. Letting go of illusions without falling int disillusionment.

Perhaps the most common illusion about marriage is implied in the familiar fairy tale phrase, "getting married and living happily ever after." The illusion is the unstated implication that "marriage will make you happy," or that simply by entering this institution, "getting married," happiness can be expected to automatically follow. Even when the notion of inherent happiness is dropped, married folk often continue to believe that "it" can bring happiness "if we are willing to work at it."

I call this an illusion because the nature of human happiness, that is, living well and satisfied in the here and now, is much more profound and personally challenging than any external institution, marriage included, can possibly provide. In spite of widespread beliefs in this assumption, I conclude that neither marriage, or "working at it," or even having a "perfect spouse" can, in the final analysis, bring personal happiness.

Of course, recognizing these magical notions is relatively easy to do in the predictable changes occurring between the "moonlight and roses" of a honeymoon and proverbial "daylight and dishes" following soon afterward. Spouses who are honest with themselves may soon realize that "its just not working out like I hoped."

But the challenge I note here is less about confronting this predictable fact, which may even force itself on one as "reality creeps in," than about how one responds to the realization. Many, apparently, are able to delay such a confrontation, even for years after the ceremony; but eventually, barring considerable personal repression, the limitations of this popular magical belief predictably reveal themselves.

Then, with equal predictability, painful disillusionment is apt to follow. Who can measure the inherent hurt of such an enormous broken dream?

Probably some measure of such emotional trauma is inevitable with facing any illusion; but the challenge I explore here is: what next? Once such disillusionment has come, what is one to do with/in marriage itself?

Common, all-too-familiar reactions include:

1) Remaining, even "wallowing in" the emotionally destructive waters of any broken dream, e.g., "for sake of the children," etc. The deep bitterness of spouses who opt for this solution is often easy to see by others, if not themselves.

  1. 2)Blaming a spouse for "making me unhappy," that is, for being the cause of the dream failing. Even when notions of magical marriage remain intact, one may easily imagine the source of personal unhappiness to lie in a less-than-perfect spouse. "He/she is making me unhappy."

3) When so, looking for another partner, that is, someone else with better qualifications, becomes a quasi-sensible justification from turning away from an unsatisfactory marriage. These avoidances typically occur in assorted affairs, either emotional and/or sexual in nature.

4) Finally, divorce, legally "getting out of" a marriage which failed to live up to magical expectations, becomes another familiar choice.

I can easily enumerate these 4 options because I have tried them all over the course of time. In hindsight I can now acknowledge the limitations of each, and look more clearly at what I visualize as a wiser response (versus reaction) to confronting illusions of any marriage "making me happy."

The "slippery slope" I recognize is letting go of this familiar illusion without falling into, or at least remaining in, the "slough of despond" of extended disillusionment. When I am able to recognize my dark devotions and participation in illusions of such a magical relationship, I face the challenges of moving from temporary disappointment into wider realms of personal unrepression.

Instead of continuing to look "out there," as in marriage, for someone, e.g., a perfect person, to "make me happy," or blaming anyone else when I feel unhappy, I may, when I dare, turn instead to further self-examination in quest of unrecognized aspects of myself only seen in what bothers me in others. Then, when faith is sufficient, I may risk re-embracing previously repressed capacities of my own, long denied in quest of self-affirmation from others, most notably, a spouse.

Then, to whatever degree I am successful in such self-becoming, I find myself graced with happiness inherent in "being oneself," and the wonderful possibility of loving others "as they are," once freed from hidden expectations–that is, illusions of finding happiness outside myself.

Avoiding this slippery slope is, I conclude, well worth facing the challenges inherent in doing so.