The concept of emotional satisfaction in a generation of advanced technology and the internet has resulted in complex understandings and definitions of satisfaction. This article will focus on satisfaction in long-term marriage, based on my thesis for MSc Psychology.
To define and understand the concept of satisfaction in marriage, I searched and interviewed women who self-defined themselves to be satisfied in their long-term marriage of ten years and over. They described ‘emotional satisfaction’ as ‘being pleased with everything you have’, ‘not having major yearning’, ‘peace of mind, security, stability and comfort’, ‘having contentment, peace with yourself, not constantly seeking more’ or simply as ‘being happy and making each other happy’.
During the cross analysis of my participants, different sub-themes were identified resulting in three super themes of ‘Cinderella symptom’, ‘bottom-up construction of satisfaction’ and ‘non-egotism of coupledom’. It was found that the conflict of idealistic and realistic satisfaction had caused the participants to struggle in their relationship. They later differentiated the realistic from the idealistic world and started to construct a bottom-up satisfaction based on their own experience of relationship. This brought to light that emotional satisfaction is not consistent throughout the relationship or something to expect naturally from a relationship; it involved an effort to reach the relationship to a non-egotistic stage.
The Cinderella symptom was an emerging theme that had surfaced in this study primarily from the interviews: few participants specifically mentioned ‘Cinderella’, ‘fairy tale’ or the description of ‘girls’ dream’. It was noted that the media is one of the main sources of idealistic expectations of relationships. The media such as magazines, songs, books, films, TV, Facebook and more, plays a big role in building an idealistic perception of one’s relationship, that has confused reality with Disney fairy-tale stories. It has led girls to have unrealistic expectations of, for example falling in love, then marry, have a big wedding… Anyone who does not fit in and cannot tick the box of such description will be labelled for not having a satisfying or successful marriage.
Media has imbalanced thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour in searching for eluded matters such as love, romance and unrealistic satisfaction and happiness. Love has been presented in such a way that it has resulted in everyone testing their love, despite the fact that no one really understands its real meaning.
According to Rose (1996), for a successful relationship, there should be less comparison to others, media and artificial love. People should cherish their own relationships and keep their lives as their own private matter without sharing it with others such as ‘nosy parkers’ and ‘do-gooders’.
When these women had realised that life is tougher in reality than the idealistic lifestyle, they thought of a way to build and maintain their satisfaction. They left behind the idealistic lifestyle and the ‘Cinderella’; they freed themselves from comparing and living according to society. They began to construct their own satisfaction based on the value they gave to their relationship as a ‘bottom-up process’: a process where one learns to deal with real experiences and not based on what is thought to be expected in a relationship; it is opposite to a top-down process. These women learnt how to compromise, communicate and resolve life challenges to build a stronger relationship away from idealistic expectation, or most importantly according to the relationship experts. They worked on their own relationship by respecting and accepting each other’s differences, valuing what they have and starting to mellow out to meet in a common ground. They learnt to be satisfied from learning to live together with patience and optimism, counting their blessings and the mere fact of accepting, respecting and communicating.
Following on from the previous theme of the bottom-up process of constructing satisfaction, many women learnt how to mellow out to find a common ground in compromising, understanding each other and achieving a satisfaction that was beyond idealistic. They managed to achieve this because of a non-egotistic character of commitment of being together as a unit of one person ‘two bodies inside one soul’.
The technical understanding of ‘ego’ is the ‘I’ thinking, feeling, willing and acting of any person distinguished from others (dictionary, 2012). In psychology, ‘id’ is the first stage of personality structure, which characterises by the individual wanting everything regardless of anyone. ‘Ego’ is the second stage, similar to ‘id’, however, the individual takes in consideration social realities to minimise grief. Hence, the word ‘non-egotism’ is used in this study to describe a stage in a relationship where a couple has learnt to be more considerate of the other’s needs, rather than being selfish or self-centered.
True satisfaction was achieved through a non-egotistical attitude of sharing life together as a unit. This involved a change of the ‘I’ concept to ‘us’: when one would want the same for the other as much as they want it for themselves. True satisfaction can be achieved when there is more awareness of each other’s needs, ability to resolve life challenges and use those challenges to bring the partners closer to each other by developing an understanding of one another. When the relationship has reached the non-egotistic stage, forgiving would not be as difficult as it would be in a competing relationship of wanting to win arguments all the time; simply because there will be no difference between one and their partner. Furthermore, problems are not filed away to add to the breaking up of the relationship. As the participants valued their relationship, they thought of ways to fix what is broken with their spirit, theology, belief and strength of personality, which made fighting for the relationship worthwhile rather than dispose of it entirely.
This study highlighted that satisfaction is not a consistent phenomenon throughout a long-term relationship. It has been observed that satisfaction can be disturbed, regardless of the length of the relationship and whether or not there is a marital relationship. If there is no will to solve problems or make adjustments it can turn into chaos. Not putting in mind that a relationship is bound to end, avoids the easier option of breaking up and encourages more forgiveness as well as an increased effort in trying to resolve life challenges; although there is pressure from society and the media to end a relationship that does not meet the expectation of satisfaction (Reynolds and Mansfield, 1999).
In conclusion, getting rid of the media, comparing less to the social norms set by the society will free the individual to meet satisfaction. This can include comparing to friends, sisters, and sister-in-laws, etc. Comparison at all level is wrong. The second stage to obtain satisfaction was seen to be through a bottom-up process, where one learns from their own experience how to deal with real life challenges, reflecting on their self. Finally, the concept of ‘I’ should change to ‘us’: our need, our time, our house, our kids etc. Again with respect, both try to mellow out to meet each other’s needs.