What goes on behind THE MASK OF MODERN ARRIAGE
This is the first public account of the marriage studies now being readied, for publication by Dr. John Cuber, once a colleague of Dr. Alfred Kinsey but soon to become an even more violently controversial figure. Here are some of the Cuber Contentions:
The great majority of so-called “successful” marriages are based _on apathy or conflict_
“The other woman” (or the other man) often helps hold together a _“successful” marriage_
Sex in any meaningful sense has disappeared from most “successful” marriages by the time the husband is forty
IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD, there are only two kinds of marriage — successful and unsuccessful. The second kind, as everyone knows, is the kind that has ended in divorce or separation, or is about to.
Through a desire to be helpful, sociologists, psychologists, marriage counselors and other “experts” in human relationships have focused their attention on unsuccessful marriages. What research and thinking has been done on the subject of successful marriage has been rudimentary; even sociologists assume that such a marriage is a going concern, that the couple is reasonably satisfied, and that “successful” marriages are pretty much alike.
In vociferous disagreement with this onedimensional view of “successful” marriage is Dr. John F. Cuber, a tall, handsome, fifty-twoyear-old Ohio State University sociologist. Cuber is the author of some six sociological texts and has had wide experience in the field of marriage counseling. Recently, assisted by Mrs. Peggy Harroff, Cuber completed a threeyear exploration of the marital experiences of 437 normal, successful, upper-middle-class men and women. Referring to his as-yet-unpublished study Cuber says, “I think we’re nearer to what is true and honest in the lives of married people of this class than ever before.” Cuber, a friend and colleague of the late Dr. Alfred Charles
Kinsey, expects a sharp and heated public reaction to his findings. “Many people will criticize our work as being indecent and immoral,” he says. “They'll condemn us for stirring people up. I expect to catch hell.”
I am inclined to agree with this prediction after several discussions with Dr. Cuber and Mrs. Harroff about their findings, of which these are some of the most arresting;
• Among “successful” marriages they found comparatively few “good” man-woman relationships (“good,” here, means a deeply satisfying union which includes the sexual, social and intellectual aspects of marriage).
• Of the small proportion of good manwoman relationships, a surprisingly high number are carried on outside of marriage. Usually the man, the woman, or both are married to somebody else. The extramarital relationship with “the other woman” (or man) often has many constructive qualities. These are frequently important, meaningful and central in the lives of the two people concerned. About half the time the other spouse is aware of the relationship, and often condones it. Wives who have an aversion to sex may actually welcome the arrangement. Often, the extramarital affair does not include sex yet still retains its significance.
• Hypocrisy, pretexts, euphemisms and ra-
Dr. Cuber’s description of
THE FIVE KINDS OF MODERN MARRIAGE
• Tension, rather than compatibility, holds the marriage together.
• There is a constant struggle, sometimes lasting a lifetime, to control hostility.
• Tension erupts in sustained quarreling, nagging a n d “throwing up the past.”
• Habit and sheer inertia prevent husband or wife from breaking up the union.
• The relationship loses zest and meaning early in marinage.
• Occasional periods of participating in common activities provide the only bond.
Dr. Cuber’s study concludes that “successful” upper-middle-class marriages fa
tionalizations are widely practised by one or both partners in “successful” marriages. According to the testimony of university, business and military executives, hundreds of malcontent husbands clamor for foreign posts to escape stultifying marriages. When this happens the wife usually saves face by explaining to friends that her husband is making the sacrifice of being away alone for the next two years for the sake of his career. Women whose husbands conduct extramarital affairs say things like: “Men are like that . . . His work is a strain . . . He’s at a dangerous age.”
• Sex behavior and attitudes vary greatly among the married. A great many males appear to be “washed up” at forty as far as building a vital and enduring sexual relationship is concerned. For many couples, sex becomes a predictable, brief, Saturday night encounter in which the parties concerned are anesthetized by alcohol. Some wives have referred to their sex lives as “legal prostitution, not much better than masturbation.” Husbands have called their wives “legal, inexpensive, clean mechanisms for physical gratification.”
“They have said, in so many words,” says Cuber, "that the same purpose could be served by a prostitute, except for physical inconvenience, the cost and the health risk.” Even with this quality of sex life, which is seriously sub-
standard in mental health terms, people manage to lead useful, productive lives. Some women (and the same applies to men) who were described to Cuber as “unaffectionate” and “frigid” by their husbands, have shown themselves to be vital and passionate in relationships with outside partners.
• Nearly all the man-woman relationships covered by this study clearly fit one of five categories. Dr. Cuber has coined names for them. In what he calls the conflict-habituated relationship, the couples are continuously quarreling, nagging, throwing up the past — or about to. “An atmosphere of tension permeates their lives together.” In the devitalized relationship, the union is apathetic, lifeless, void of zest. Equally as barren is the passive-consenial relationship, but here the man and woman lay great emphasis on the things they have in common.
The vast majority of marriages fall into these three categories. This has led the people concerned to the comforting conclusion that “this is the way marriage is and has to be, except for a few odd-balls and pretenders who claim otherwise.”
Cuber’s remaining two kinds of marriage account for only a small minority of all marriages. In the vital relationship, there is a vibrant, exciting sharing of some important
experience. The total relationship — the rarest of all — is like the vital, with the important addition that the partners share most or all aspects of life.
• In spite of cynics, genuine love — the ideal of the romantic poets — is real. Cuber discovered a number of such inspiring unions which survive and flourish well into middle age and even beyond. How do they happen? Why do they happen? Cuber doesn't profess to have the answers. “A man has a good-looking wife who dresses well, talks intelligently, prepares delicious meals and keeps the kids out of his hair. Yet he’s only mildly interested in her. Then along comes some frowsy dame and the whole world lights up. There’s an alchemy of love about which we know nothing.”
• In a high proportion of marriages, communication between the man and woman is at an impasse. Although Cuber’s subjects are educated, articulate people, many of them couldn’t communicate with each other in a meaningful way. Even when these people “talked things over” at length, they didn't seem to reach each other. “The man and woman are reaching across an abyss so vast that they perceive only the vaguest outline of each other,” says Cuber.
• Romantic love, as a basis of marriage among young people, is becoming very rare. Young men and women are “sensible” almost
• A feeling of comfortable adequacy keeps the part nera together. • Impersonal interests a r e used to cothe absence of any personal relationship. • Husband and i~,ife gingerly side-step the important istheir marriage.
• Sharing of one important lifetime experience makes the marriage strong.
• Children, hobbies, or sex can supply this vital ingredient.
• Both partners feel indispensable to the marriage and to each other.
TH E TOTAL MARRIAGE
• Husband and wife share fully in every aspect of their life together.
• The relationship is rare because so few people possess the necessary maturity.
• Even casual observers recognize that this couple lives for something exciting.
to these groups, each with its own identifying characteristics. The great majority of marriages are in groups at left.
to the point of being businesslike in their approach to marriage. Instead of being swept off their feet by deep emotion and passion, they marry for “alien considerations” — that is, money, a home in the “right" neighborhood, the “right” school for their future children, the “right" family connection or a wife who will live up to the public image of “an executive’s wife.” Such couples usually get what they were seeking in marriage, but the man-woman relationship in this class, within the union, atrophies. Cuber feels that most young couples are too sensible about marriage. “But," he says, “people no longer seem to trust their basic instincts and impulses. I predict in the future, an even larger proportion of unsatisfactory man-woman relationships.”
• Marriage counseling, hampered by religious and moralistic taboos and lacking a foundaton of reliable research, is of doubtful value. "I gave up my work as a marriage counselor because I was disillusioned about its effectiveness,” says Cuber. Marriage counselors disagree even about what they’re trying to do. One faction of the AAMC (the American Association of Marriage Counselors, which includes Canadian members) believes that the institution of marriage must be preserved even if it means sacrificing the people concerned; another faction holds that the individual has a
right to happiness and fulfillment, even at the expense of the marriage. Two years ago, when the incumbent president of the AAMC was divorced, an angry and vocal segment of the membership forced him to resign from office.
Much of the actual counsel they give is of doubtful value. "Togetherness,” or doing things together, is advised for some couples who have grown apart. But in most cases these people want to be apart. “It’s tragic,” says Cuber, “when you have to consciously try to be a good companion to the man or woman you’re living with. ‘Togetherness’ is like an opiate. It may give symptomatic relief, but it will probably result in an addiction, not a solution.”
DR. CUBER AND MRS. HARROFF hope that their series of studies on marriage — of which this is the first — will help provide a realistic appraisal of the modern “man - woman relationship” problem. Much present information, which passes for research, he describes as “the damndest drivel.” Sociologists and psychologists are highly trained in research and statistical methods. Using rigid questionnaires, they investigate a small fragment of a person’s life and then publish it in statistical form. “The true and larger picture of life eludes them,” says Cuber. “They’re incredibly innocent in
their knowledge of the whole person." Cuber favors a reportorial approach. You let the informant tell you, with complete freedom, what's important to him. Like the cultural anthropologist, you talk to the natives and find out what's really going on. “Sociologists and psychologists got into trouble when they stopped being people-watchers,” Cuber says. Significantly, his research associate, Mrs. Peggy Harroff, is a highly sensitive, intelligent woman lacking an extensive background in social science research methods. “She’s valuable to me because she hasn’t been brainwashed,” says Cuber.
Getting meaningful advice on a man-woman relationship is not easy. Dr. Cuber says sociologists and psychologists are too scientific and fragmentary in their approach. Doctors have an organic bias: they often don’t recognize what they can’t see in a test tube. Many psychiatrists have become enchanted by Freudian psychology which may or may not be pertinent. University and school courses on marriage tend to be unrealistic, hidebound and out of date. So do “how to” marriage books. (Recently a publisher refused to accept a book because the author suggested that some married couples would be better off without children.) Lovelorn columnists, like most other advisers, are stout, moralistic defenders of
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present institutions. They tend to blame and castigate one of the marriage partners in the event of friction. “There are no cowboys and Indians in marriage,” says Cuber. “The villain is the relationship.” The best that present-day counselors can do is to admonish people “to adjust, to be rational, to be realistic and not upset the applecart.” This is fine advice for those who can accept it. But for desperate men and women trapped in torturous marriages and craving a satisfying man-woman relationship, such counsel has neither meaning nor comfort.
By identifying the five distinct kinds of “successful” marriages, Cuber says he has made a first step towards understanding man-woman relationships. The 437 men and women he worked with were between the ages of thirtyfive and fifty-five, married for at least ten years, and contemplating neither divorce nor separation. They were “normal” people, not receiving help from a marriage counselor or psychiatrist. In income and education they were well above the average — presumably, therefore, people with aboveaverage ability to engage in a satisfying man-woman relationship. The men were conspicuously successful in their work — lawyers, judges, doctors, clergymen, legislators, military officers, university professors, artists and business executives. These people were the leaders in their communities. The Cuber and Harroff interviews were lengthy and intimate, some of them lasting an entire week. “We listened as long as our subjects had something worthwhile to say,” says Cuber.
In presenting his five categories, Cuber emphasizes that they represent different forms of adjustment to mar-
riage. Despite the stresses and strains, most people will continue with their union even though they find themselves a partner in a relationship as abrasive as the ones Cuber calls conflict-habituated. In most marriages, fights are sporadic and arguments tend to get settled. Not so with the conflicthabituated. At worst the couple spends a good deal of time at home quarreling and wrangling. At best, they manage to hold their tongues while out in public, but a few drinks too many and they may be at each others’ throats. Rarely does the couple manage to conceal the real quality of their relationship from their children, their relatives or their close friends.
They will attend social and ceremonial functions with other people but will avoid being alone together at home whenever possible. They develop the habit of side-stepping certain controversial personal topics. They’re reluctant to talk about their sex life because it's generally unsatisfactory. What love-making they do is often overlaid with hostility. “My wife’s good in bed,” said one man grudgingly, “but I can’t stand the witch the rest of the time.” Cuber observes, “These people have a colossal innocence of the possibilities of the man-woman relationship.”
There’s no spirited, open warfare in the devitalized relationship because of an all-pervasive apathy and lifelessness. Despite its numbness, the marriage is likely to continue indefinitely because there are so many pressures against divorce or philandering. The devitalized couple rationalize their positions by repeating, “There are other important things in life,” referring to their children, property and family tradition. Wedding anniversaries and other occasions are celebrated elaborately if somewhat grimly. They’ll reason that while their sex life isn't much, it’s better than nothing and preferable to a clandestine affair. The husband is apt to refer to his wife as “Mom” and describes her as “a good mother”; the wife calls her husband “Dad” and describes him as “a good provider.” Such couples actually welcome middle age and the comfortable rut it provides.
Tnere's also an absence of open conflict in the passive-congenial relationship. "They tiptoe rather gingerly around a residue of subtle resentments and frustrations,” says Cuber. Precautions to enforce the peace are as elaborate as a union-management contract. On a trip the woman's preferences will be followed one day; the man's on the next. They make a good deal of fuss about such common interests as boating, gardening, golf, curling or horseback riding. Actually, these are devices to kill time together in an impersonal way. When even this much propinquity begins to pall, the woman will go out on "a binge of community altruism." She'll become the spark plug of the Red Cross. Cancer Society or Home and School Association. The husband will retreat, nightly, to his study with a bulging brief case or take repeated business trips out of town — alone. Why, then, do these men and women stay together? There are many possible explanations. The man finds some contentment with his career, his hobbies and his male companions; the woman prizes her home, children and her place in the community. Despite the absence of excitement and lustre, one or both partners tend to refer to their relationship as "a good marriage.”
Another factor w'hich may perpetuate the union is the individual's particular orientation to life. Many people are "institution-oriented.” They conform to society; the marriage vows must not be broken. A good marriage, they feel, is not to be equated with personal happiness or self-fulfillment. “That's romantic nonsense for kids.” they'll tell you.
A more obvious reason that divorce is less frequent is that most people are bound in marriage by what Cuber calls "traps." There's the ecclesiastical trap: conscientious Roman Catholics eschew divorce. The cultural trap: by tradition. Jews as well as other groups hold sacred the cohesiveness of the family and the welfare of the children. The economic trap: most men can't afford to maintain two households. Even for the well fixed, a property settlement on the wife may seriously disrupt economic interests and investments. The career trap: society still penalizes, however subtly, the man who leaves his wife. Top posts tend to go to the man with the “clean” personal record. The pride trap: many people are prepared to endure a private hell rather than publicly admit that they have failed at marriage. Finally, there are people who are simply fearful and indecisive, too weak to embark on a new and unfamiliar way of life.
Separations and divorces, of course, do occur. They are more likely if one of the partners is “person-oriented,” which is to say that he thinks in terms of self-fulfillment, self-realization anil personal happiness. (Cuber speculates that communication is virtually impossible between an institutionoriented and person-oriented man and woman. “What's important to one is sheer nonsense to the other,” he says. “They can't talk because they can't agree on the ground rules. Howuseless to advise them to talk it over.”)
But the most dynamic reason for dissolving a marriage is the advent
of an “engaging alternative." The man may meet a superior, attractive woman and. in time, he recognizes that a vital, fulfilling man-woman relationship is possible. His erstwhile marriage becomes revolting and "a living lie." He doesn't act impulsively: he's been around too long to alter his life drastically for the sake of a compelling but meaningless attachment. He moves after mature reflection. This is done, of course, at a cost but he's certain that what he's getting is
worth it. Nelson Rockefeller, for instance. remarried at the possible price of the presidency of the United States.
But even the most engaging "other woman" (or man) is unlikely to impinge seriously on the relatively small proportion of man-woman relationships which fall into the vital and total categories. These are unions entered into by two adequate, vital individuals. Cuber says. “1 wish that all the men and women capable of a vital or total relationship would get together
and not snarl up their lives by getting involved with other people.” Most adults, because of psychological and other impediments, are not capable of participating in a rich and full malefemale union.
The following marriage meets Cuher's definition of a total relationship: The husband is an internationally known scientist. For forty years his wife has been his friend, mistress and partner. He still goes home every day to have a leisurely lunch and to
spend a few' hours with his wife at noon. They feel comfortable w ith each other, as they do with their four grown children. There are no areas of tension. The wife regularly reads rion-technical literature in order to recommend enjoyable reading to her busy husband. She helps him keep his files and scrapbooks up to date. She invariably accompanies him to international conferences and helps him meet and entertain his colleagues because. by nature, he's a shy person.
The wife has played an important part in helping her husband achieve international recognition, a fact he freely and gladly acknowledges. Atter these many years, they still deeply enjoy each other's company.
C uber has noticed that unhappily married people react immediately when vital or total relationships are ilescribed to them, “they sure pulled the wool over your eyes." is a common rejoinder. I hey II often volunteer an anecdote about a supposedly idyllic
marriage they knew of which ended in bitterness anti separation. One woman was advised by her doctor to take tin immediate vacation. She refused, explaining she'd prefer to wait until her husband could accompany her because everything they did together was such fun. The doctor regarded her curiously. “That sounds like a neurotic symptom." he said.
What role does sex play in the lives of the upper-middle-class men and women C uber has studied? While gen-
eralizations are difficult. Cuber perceived certain repetitive patterns. In genera', the male-female sex cycle as described by Kinsey is confirmed. By the time the woman reaches the peak of her sex drive in her late thirties, the male urge has begun to decline. "When I think of many of the men at forty, sexually,” says Cuber, “the image of the eunuch comes to mind. He’s not seriously interested in having a meaningful sexual relationship with a woman.” Union with his wife has become sporadic and perfunctory. His last outside encounter probably took place several months ago. Chances are he was involved, only casually, with a secretary after the office Christmas party or with a call girl at an out-oftown business convention.
The woman's premarital experience often has a strong bearing on the nature of her sexual adjustment in marriage. As young girls, many women start with an eager, healthy outgoing attitude toward sex. An inexperienced girl may give herself to one or several men. After the experience of being jilted, or an abortion or illegitimacy. she recognizes that she's being exploited sexually. Through bitterness and fear she embarks on a less adventurous amorous path: she "settles down" and marries "a sensible guy." Within such a union she is in complete control of her emotions which is one of the reasons she married the man. "Most bad marriages are made for the right reasons," comments Cuber. After a few children the woman often rediscovers that she's still a sexual creature. At this point, she can either have an affair or sublimate her sex urges by immersing herself in communal endeavors. Most women -probably eight out of ten — choose abstinence.
Sex comes in three kinds
Much of the sexual activity in the less satisfactory forms of marriage is designated by Cuber as raw sex, i.e.. sex for its own sake: sex without affection. In more complete relationships, sex is affectional. The union includes admiration, respect, affection: the couple love being together even when they're not in bed. With many couples, after the first few exciting years, affection rather than sex assumes a greater significance. The man and woman arc attached to each other emotionally, they make sacrifices for each other cheerfully, but they do not often meet in bed. This is not necessarily because of bitterness or hostility. The woman may develop an aversion to sex: poor health and low sexual energy on the part of one or both partners may play a part. “This is a classification of sexual relationships,” says Cuber. “It is not a sexual classification of people." Indeed. many people are capable of remarkable versatility. A man may have affection without sex with his wife: raw sex with a strange woman he meets at a party; affectional sex with his office wife. A woman may have raw sex with her husband, affection with her music teacher and affectional sex with her lover.
What motivates a man (or woman) to seek a strange bed? C'uber's subjects gave him many reasons; they tend to vary according to the marriage
category the individual belongs to. In conflict-habituated marriages, the man may go out on one-night stands with prostitutes or lower-class women simply as an outlet for hostility. “The women are objects of contempt,“ says Cuber. In passive-congenial marriages, the man may stray for reasons of sheer boredom. In vital relationships, the man may stray because he feels free to do so. He’s emancipated. He regards new sexual experience as desirable, and his wife sometimes agrees. It is not regarded as a serious disloyalty or threat but something the loved one ought to be permitted to have. Moreover, a vital relationship, while often vital sexually, is not necessarily so. Both parties may regard other aspects of their relationship as more central to their unby.
Extramarital affairs vary in length, intensity and significance. In the affairs which last. Cuber has noted that “the other woman” is usually attractive. vivacious and vital. She knows how to dress and how to talk in a scintillating way. She’s void of pretense; there’s a freshness and frankness about her. Usually, she's the same age as the man and can he cither single, married or divorced. “In every case." says Cuber, “there's an obvious and plausible reason why a man should be attracted.” As for “the other man," he. too, may be single, married or divorced. In many ways he's the counterpart of the “other woman.” He’s a vital person, often a man of ideas and accomplishment.
In (Tiber's view, many of these extramarital unions have constructive. positive features; in some cases, they may even help preserve a marriage. One business executive, for example, was party to a devitalized marriage. He was bored, miserable and depressed a good deal of the time. He felt trapped because his religious persuasion ruled out the possibility of divorce. Since then he has formed a liaison with an attractive, superior woman. His entire life has improved. He's doing better at his job, he’s happier at home and he spends time, cheerfully, with his children. The wife, not unexpectedly, does not approve of the affair, but she recognizes the benefits which have come with it.
A highly successful surgeon of fifty-two is one half of a stultifying marriage. For several years he’s been having a succession of affairs, most of them lasting a year or so. He claims that these attachments refurbish his mind, spirit and body. “Without them life would be intolerably prosaic and dull,” he says. Many psychiatrists would label this surgeon a neurotic. But, as in many similar cases, the charge won’t stick. The man in question is emotionally stable, intelligent, efficient and successful by all ordinary standards. “The more you know of a person's circumstances,” says (Tiber, “the less inclined you arc to make judgments about him." On the basis of his findings. (Tiber also refutes the accepted belief that men and women who engage in extra-marital affairs are burdened by a staggering load of guilt. “That’s a lot of sentimental rubbish.” he says. "In the men and women in this class, the guilt usually doesn't exist.”
Another surprising finding that (Tiber made is the large number of extra-
marital affairs which are not sexual in nature. A woman of forty has had a lengthy and close friendship with a man of fifty. She periodically goes to see him and they talk about their problems and mutual interests. It's therapy for her since she can't communicate with her husband. Such significant non-sexual relationships commonly exist between doctors and patients, clergymen and parishioners, employer and office wife, and professor and student. “These people are
meaningful to each other.” says (Tiber.
This survey of upper-middle-class “successful” marriages is only the beginning of a series of enquiries into man-woman relationships by Dr. Cuber and Mrs. Harroff. They plan to study the children of the men and women they've interviewed—their expectations of marriage and how' the marriages later turned out. Manwoman relationships after the age of sixty-five are of special interest to
them. "We have reason to believe that many people just begin to live at sixty-five.” says Cuber. They want to scrutinize the people in divorce, “a poorly understood, badly misrepresented minority." Finally. Cuber would like to launch an elaborate investigation into the somewhat vaporous subject of the alchemy of love. "To do this job the way it deserves to be done.” says Cuber. “I’d gladly forsake all other labors and take the oath of poverty.” ★