MARRIAGE

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART

Canadians affirm their belief in love and fidelity

CECILY ROSS January 7 1991
MARRIAGE

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART

Canadians affirm their belief in love and fidelity

CECILY ROSS January 7 1991

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART

MARRIAGE

Canadians affirm their belief in love and fidelity

At 34, Sandra Taylor has been married to the same man for 18 years. She and her husband, Elgie, have three children and raise cattle on a small farm in Mount Rose, N.S., near the Bay of Fundy. And although there have been tough times, Taylor says that her marriage is solid and thriving. Like 96 per cent of Canadians questioned in the Maclean’s/Decima poll, Taylor said that a deep and enduring love is important to a happy marriage (questions 49,

50 and 51 in the poll text, page 32). But unlike the 78 per cent who also believe that a happy marriage depends on a satisfying sex life, Taylor maintained that sex is only incidental to the ties that bind. “My husband and I are together because we are friends,” she said in a follow-up interview with Maclean’s. “We do things, we talk, we grew up together.”

And although she said that sex is one of the best things about her marriage, the relationship does not hinge on it. “If my husband got ill and we couldn’t have sex, we would still be together,” she said firmly.

A view of sex, love and fidelity vastly different from traditional North American values such as those expressed by Taylor and others was revealed in 1990 by Czechoslovakia’s new president, Václav Havel. The president, a renowned poet and playwright, spoke frankly to the media about his 26-year marriage.

pean culture from which he emerged clearly views adultery differently from most North Americans. Indeed, across Canada, 87 per cent of respondents said that they believe extramarital affairs indicate that a marriage is in trouble. And their traditional views are shared by many specialists in the field of relationships.

“Olga and I have not professed our love for each other for at least 200 years,” he said, “but we both feel that we are probably inseparable.” Havel, 55, candidly acknowledged having extramarital affairs, but the more permissive Euro-

Most of Pamela Blake’s practice as chief social worker at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto involves couples who need help

with their shaky marriages. And while she said that she believes that the importance of love and sex varies from one relationship to another, the issue of trust is paramount. “People get married for a lot of reasons,” Blake said. “Most people say they want to be loved, but the most important thing is that there is a concurrence of expectations, that they expect the same things from a marriage.” She said that some people get very worried when the passion leaves. Love, she said, means different things to different people. Sex, too, is only as impor-

tant as the individuals concerned think it is. “If both parties think sex is not important, then it probably isn’t,” Blake said, adding that problems only arise if the partners have different views.

Some couples agree openly to have affairs, and while Blake said that those arrangements can occasionally be successful, problems arise if one spouse has been pressured into the arrangement or if the affair takes place with

deception. “Then, couples have to grapple with issues of trust,” she said. “If those can be resolved, they may move on to a better understanding. But it’s a huge hurt.” In any case, she added, the issue is not really affairs; it is shared beliefs. And, Blake said, sex outside marriage puts severe demands on trust.

Like most of the respondents that Maclean ’s interviewed, Sandra Dunning stressed the importance of trust in a relationship. An office worker and mother of two in Delta, B.C., Dunning, 37, has been widowed for five years.

She maintains strong views about the basics of successful relationships. “A good healthy physical relationship is pretty well mandatory,” she said. But she added that trust, not love, is the glue that keeps people together. Said Dunning: “I believe when they get married everybody thinks they are in love. But that is a transient thing.” And she expressed skepticism about arrangements like the Havels’. “The older generation had marriages like that,” Dunning said. “They stayed together out of force of habit. But if I had a person I could not trust, well, he’d be down the road. Trust is everything. I am a one-man woman and I expect the same.”

Janet Tänzer and Sally Muir, two articulate and gregarious counsellors who operate a family therapy clinic in Toronto, said that they, too, do not see open marriages as progressive. “What’s the point? Why be married at all?” asked Tänzer. Instead, they said that permissive attitudes to marriage such as those practised by the Havels are really relics of a time when women had fewer choices. In previous decades, women often found themselves trapped in unhappy and abusive relationships. But Tänzer told Maclean’s-. “Times have changed. We find now that women are leaving more often than men.” She added: “Fifteen years ago, this was unheard of. But women have more economic security and they are increasingly less likely to stay with an abusive or unfaithful man.” Muir said that love, or at least a “feeling of being loved,” is essential to a happy relationship. “When that goes, and boredom sets in, that is still one of the main causes of marriage breakups,” she said.

Indeed, both women said that the sense that love has died often leads to adultery. Marital experts say that more men than women have affairs. Women usually have widespread support systems in place when a marriage is in trouble— they talk to their mothers, their sisters and their friends. But if men confide in anyone, it is most often another woman. And said Muir: “A person will feel like they love the person they tell the truth to. This is intimacy.” Because adulterers will also feel uncomfortable around the person they are lying to, Tänzer added, affairs are “very, very, very destructive.” Declared Tänzer: “We never think they are OK. And no

matter what happens, the old marriage is over. When there is infidelity, the couple loses something they can never recover.”

Clearly, most Canadians polled held similar views. Love, sex and fidelity are the declared preferences of a huge majority, whether they are divorced, married or have never been married. The responses were remarkably consistent from Victoria to Corner Brook, Nfld., among young and old, male and female, rich and poor. But there were some striking patterns to the small minority who said that love and sex were not necessary, or that affairs add spice to a relationship. Respondents aged 30 to 34, those with household incomes under $10,000 and those with little education were least likely to think sex is necessary, while respondents between 35 and 39, those with incomes over $75,000 and respondents with a university education were most likely to say that it is. Widowed, separated or divorced people were slightly less likely to consider love necessary for a happy marriage. And senior citizens, 65 and older, were more likely than any other age-group to think that affairs could enrich a relationship.

Allan Gregg, president of Decima Research Ltd., which conducted the poll, said that the overwhelming support for sex and love in marriage is part of a general trend in the country. Gregg called it “the shift from ‘Give me more' to ‘Give me better.’ ” He added that Canadians are increasingly concerned about the quality of their lives and that, as the country moves into the 1990s, marriage, long-term relationships and, with them, monogamy are becoming more important.

But what about sex? Susan Butt, a Vancouver psychologist and former championship tennis player, offers a practical antidote for the sexual boredom that therapists say afflicts

many relationships. Couples who have passed through what she calls “the passionate phase” into the “companionate phase”—usually those who have been together between three and five years— might consider treating sex as a sport or physical activity that they engage in for fun and exercise. “People would be much more realistic to give up their notions of passion and emotion, kind of relax and look at the sexual part of the relationship as something that was fun and a workout,” she added. Butt is also an ardent advocate of monogamy. “I have never met a happy promiscuous person,” she said. Added Butt: “Extracurricular sexual activity diminishes the partners because it destroys the uniqueness of the relationship. Important bonds are broken.” She said that people who are unfaithful to their partners are already in trou-

ble. “Therapists’ offices are full of people who are unfaithful to one another and who are working very hard to patch things up. But they will never get back what they lost,” she said.

Even sociologist Roger Libby, who heads an Atlanta-based organization called NOSE, or the National Organization of Sexual Enthusiasts, says that love and trust are essential to happy relationships. “You can’t deal with sex without intimacy,” he said. “Without caring, sex is not satisfying.” The name of Libby’s group is tongue-in-cheek to reflect the lighthearted, lusty approach to sex that he advocates. But Libby, who earned a PhD with his study of the social psychology of human sexuality, says that his mission is a serious one. He tours North America promoting “responsible, honest and enthusiastic sex.” Despite his progressive views, Libby echoes the sentiments of more traditional professionals. “Caring is still the bottom line,” he says. But he added that North America “is still a very puritanical, repressed society, and as long as the economy remains bad and there is no cure for AIDS, there is going to be more repression.” Still, Libby predicted that lust and passion will never go completely out of fashion. “I believe eventually there will be a new sexual revolution,” he said. But while most Canadians polled indicated that good sex is essential, they do not seem eager to embrace open marriage or the freewheeling approach to sexuality that characterized the 1960s. Instead, they clearly indicated their belief in monogamous, exclusive relationships. When pressed, even Sandra Taylor, who falls into the small minority that indicated that sex is not essential, or Sandra Dunning, who said that she believes that love is a transient thing, express a fundamental faith in caring and commitment.

CECILY ROSS