A marriage that survived the in-laws
This woman seems monstrous to me. No word of self criticism is ever uttered. She seems obsessed with herself and her illusory freedoms. She paints herself as the patient dedicated Saint who got them
Through. But in any relationship where there are difficulties there will be two sides. He’s a saint to have stayed married to her.
I grew up with a mother who had a borderline narcissistic personality disorder, though it was never diagnosed. In this account -from the wife's point of view - I simply do not detect BPD. What I took away was her gratitude, her love for her husband, her wish to share the problems they faced and how they slowly surmounted them. Those with BPD never write like this; they are too involved in themselves to think of others. I note that the author doesn't mention the word 'sacrifice', though it must be implicit to any marriage that survives and flourishes. After all, marriage means sacrificing your own (sometimes selfish?) interests much of the time so that 'you as a couple' can be happy. Sometimes - often? - one spouse sacrifices more than the other. In the marriage described, I think that if they see themselves as best friends after 45 years together, they must both have learnt to put the other's needs first. That sounds to me like the definition of a marriage made in heaven. And of course, they made a mutual and mature decision to put their own children's happiness before the appeasing of difficult relatives.
I have noticed that tendency (in myself as well as elsewhere) to take the interest in, praise of, etc. one group to be an implicit criticism of another group. I was hyper aware of it while experiencing infertility--I felt like every baby shower was a personal affront. I think it’s abusive to say suffering makes us narcissists but it definitely does make us defensive. Appropriately enough. Kathleen Stock has a thought provoking essay in Unherd right now about speaking/listening/understanding and how important it is to remember that we can’t say everything every time we speak.
I love that you took the time and effort to answer critics of why you chose the topic of inquiry and that it was thoughtful and respectful. It goes far to speak to your humanity.
Why in the world are people in the comments discussing whether or not the writer of this guest piece has borderline personality disorder? What's all this judgy stuff? Get a life and a heart, people!!! Just take what you can and leave the rest.
As for referring to Mary as a "coach", what an insult! Mary is a writer and a thinker.
60 minutes did a segment a few weeks ago about the Rolling Stones. They talked to Mick, they talked to Keith, and about 2/3 through I thought, this is like a difficult marriage that they committed to and despite REALLY hard times, they stuck it out and here they are. And they are happy with where they are (well, they are the RS, so...). But I think there is something in the COMMITMENT to a difficult relationship that you stick to through hard times and it is possible to come out the other end, happy and knowing it was the right thing. This woman's story confirms that for me. She does sound very independent and maybe a little stuck on her own boundaries, but clearly she had to make some compromises and sacrifices. Would be interesting to hear his side of things. I have so many single friends who want so badly to be in a long term relationship and have wanted that for decades now. But they also have some very rigid deal breaking rules despite what I've observed as some really well suited partners. Only they could say if they are happy with their choices. But seems to me like some unrealistic/fear of commitment kinds of dynamics going there. A wise old Episcopal priest said one time the purpose of marriage is not to be HAPPY. It is to learn to grow into love. I think there is some wisdom in that. It has certainly helped me through some tough times.
I live in Seattle, the Wallingford neighborhood to be exact (near the University, wealthy, hipster-ish). There’s no lack of self declared heroic women here. They’re like a suspicious sound coming from your engine - as soon as you hear them you think “damn”. This woman (in the article) is the opposite of “appealing, warm”. She reminds me of a woman I met last year. My home is a boat (believe it or not, it’s cheap living) and I was pulling up to a fuel dock that had a trendy outdoor grill behind it. A man roughly my age yelled out from a patio table “wow, you single-hand that boat well. I want to buy you a beer!” Several beers later I realized this guy was a full time musician (Gold Bar, if I remember right) and his wife sitting at the table with him was a medical researcher (drug trials or some such thing). I felt sorry for him - he was a man on a leash trying to steal a moment of joy from the observation of my independence and proficiency, all while his attractive, but stoic statue of a wife looked on silently. I left with the feeling that that man was a hostage in his own home. Completely cowed. A disgrace, really.
Completely agree that people seem to have lost the necessary wisdom? character? to make good marriage mates. My husband and I have got true love going on since 1986 and it isn't because either one of us is a saint (although he is close). We have always clicked as best friends and marriage has turned out to be a wonderful tool to beat the selfish out of me. If I hadn't been willing to mature--if everything was about being a diva and needing to complain about every little thing my husband does, as seems to be popular these days--we might still be together but the joy and tenderness would be in short supply.
Best advice I ever heard about creating a great marriage and home life? From Dr. Phil of all people: Make sure that your home environment is peaceful. When your spouse comes home, "be a soft place to fall." The world doesn't love you, honey, but I think you hung the moon!
I would say that most men soon realise that taking sides in a dispute between two women is a hiding to nothing, and not taking sides is a hiding from both of them.
This vignette could be the happy ending version of a chapter from my life story, with the wicked alcoholic mother-in-law played by my own Mommy Dearest. I sided with my Mrs., but our marriage still failed in the end, perhaps primarily due to my priority on work over the marriage. My congrats to those who manage to stay the course.
Mary, Dr. Peterson has “teased” this before, and he has given the best, most succinct definition (which rang true for me) - Borderline Personality Disorder. I think there’s a world of good, waiting to be done, if we could accelerate our understanding of what the h*** this is. Gauntlet thrown.
Wow. I stopped by to leave a comment because I was touched by this story and recognized familiar elements, only to see that the comments section here is full of toxicity and judgement, along with a lot of presumptions and amateur armchair psych diagnosing. I'm shocked to see this atmosphere connected to Mary Harrington's work. I think from now on I'll just focus on her words and pay no attention to anything below the sign-off.
It's a nice fable. A distillation of stereotypic tropes. But not close enough to reality to be biography.
I loved this account, it made me teary. I think successful relationships are one of the last frontiers of human endeavour.
Beautiful story of redemption
Mary, you are truly an angel sharing stories like this and counseling others through life to happiness. No question, you have found your calling!