Husband and wife continually confront the issue of how to reshape their shared identity so it continues to express what they want as a couple and what they need as individuals. Given the vast number of choices and trajectories, this challenge creates a never-ending tension in marriage.
Paradoxically, it is out of the push--pull of autonomy and togetherness that the couple acquires a sense of good emotional, moral, and cognitive fit.
To reach the conclusion that the relationship is uniquely gratifying requires the meshing of both partners' conscious and unconscious wishes and needs and the acceptance of compromise as reasonably fair or at least temporarily necessary.
To achieve this state, not only must each person feel free to make his or her wishes known but both must agree on what is fair. This agreement allows each one to accept disappointments without rage and take a fair portion in lieu of everything. It works only if the couple regards the well-being of the marriage as more important the the separate desire of either partner.
The sense of what is fair is heavily influenced by the family of origin and the social milieu, but the final definition and modifications have to be worked out repeated in each marriage. In today's world, each couple negotiates its own code of justice.
Building mutual empathy and 'we-ness' while respecting difference and autonomy is critical in preparing for the rewards and the strains of parenthood. If pregnancy occurs before the work on these tasks has progressed significantly, parenthood begins at a grave disadvantage for the child and for the married couple. The parents bring the baby home to a house made not of brick but of straw or twigs -- a house that may collapse. The issues of togetherness and autonomy have to be re-examined when the children leave home and again at retirement.
The central task of giving and taking as you build the marriage has never been harder. Nowadays men and women tend to marry later and are reluctant to relinquish their personal lifestyles. It would help people contemplating marriage to understand that it is necessary to give up some of the rewards of being single. Marriage demands that you meet the other person halfway, that you accept part rather than demand the whole.
Whatever the calculation that goes into the decision, you cannot be married and single at the same time. Balancing togetherness with autonomy is one of the major keys to a successful marriage.
Wallerstein & Blakeslee - The Good Marriage