Open Marriage by Nena O'Neill and George O'Neill (Peter Owen £3.25) Another book from the United States shows the growing concern about marriage. The steadily increasing divorce figures tell of men and women who find the present pattern of marriage destructive.
The authors, a husband and wife team, are anthropologists and have done field work in Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean and the United States. Themselves Married for 26 years, they attempt to diagnose marital failure and indicate a remedy of a new life style for couples. The joint authors make a main point in the way they put their names — the wife's name first, their separateness as the authors. The changing position of women is the most important element in the problem. Wives are now very different people, and this is due to the ESE factor — the different situation in education, sex and economics. Conventional marriage is described as "closed" and a kind of living that is imposed upon people rather than of their own choosing. False assumptions underlie this conventional pattern which make it intolerable. A closed contract "demands ownership of the mate, denial of self, playing the couples game, rigid role behaviour, absolute fidelity and total exclusivity." The result is a slow freezt into being nobody.
The man and the woman have to turn themselves into roles rather than persons as they try to be the sort of married couple they are expected to be. This all-important thing called "togetherness" in fact stunts them both, but the damage is much greater for the woman, who is expected to be "wife and mother" and cease to be an individual person with capacities for growth.
We speak of "man and wife" but would be surprised to hear "woman and husband". The church ceremony is guilty of this reduction of a woman to a role while retaining some respect for the man as a person. It will not do for women nowt A remedy is needed. and 13 chapters describe what is called "open marriage" and give worked-out guidelines to help people to achieve it. The open contract offers "undependent (not independent) living, personal growth, individual freedom, flexible roles, mutual trust and expansion through openness." The false togetherness goes, as the need for privacy must be recognised and honest, open communication worked for.
And work it will be as the detailed programme of self disclosure and feedback, productive fighting and fantasysharing in a situation of flexibili ty about masculine and feminine roles is worked through.
The basic fault with conven tional marriage is the assumption that the person you marry can fulfil all your needs — economic, physical, sexual, intellectual and emotional. This is false and impossible to attain, the authors say. Marriage should be an open contract and each couple write their own. The book is described as controversial and a best-seller in the United States. English readers may feel that the conventional "closed" marriage is caricatured. The chapter on guidelines for this new life-style lists 25 "unrealistic expectations, unreasonable ideals and mythological beliefs of closed marriage." The unity and fidelity of marriage as traditionally understood become here a lack of trust and a negative exclusiveness. How did any marrigge survive those dark days of the 1950s when this kind of understanding was at its height?
In contrast, the open marriage sounds like a paradisal state which makes St. Paul's list of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit seem tame.
But the book is surely right about some fundamental things. Perhaps the American version of togetherness has become as destructive as the authors say. The educational programme outlined to achieve openness is considerable and would require the zest for things that Americans have.
Marriage is an intimate personal relationship of a sexual kind and as such must grow or die. Good relationships are made by the kind of effort described here, and married people should be ambitious about it. If a couple expect it just to happen they will fall into the closed contract and become depersonalised role players. The qualities needed for open marriage are very similar to those qualities which spiritual writers see as making for living worthily as Christians. The authors give no sign of having any Christian view of people and marriage. Their remedy for the inability of one person to fulfil all the needs of another person is a further supply of persons and relationships. With this they seem to say, all will be perfect.
The waters get deeper here, and St. Augustine's insight into human need and capacity might come to mind. A striking feature is the lessening of the sex factor in marriage, and this contrasts with the deluge of sex manuals of the last decade which have seen marriage as one way to pursue "good sex".
Many would find they agree with all the authors say until they meet the suggestions that other sexual relationships might fit in with the openness of any marriage. Openness to all relationships could mean this sometimes, the authors say, and couples need to learn about love and sex without jealousy. Emotional hospitality should mark the open couple. It is a question to make us think about the personal values whicti sexual love is to serve for human beings. It would seem to be a truly Christian insight that sexual love belongs to the unique relationship that marriage is, hut young people are less than clear why this is so.
This book might help, even through disagreement about that point. At least sex is seen as a search for the best sort of man-and-woman relationship and not merely as something forbidden.