New York’s Marriage Equality Law: A Hopeful Landmark for All of Us


We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Thus spoke the cartoon character Pogo, many years ago. The history of mankind seems to be the story of the infinite variety of ways that we create enemies, and distinguish “us” from “them,” thus justifying excluding, demeaning, dehumanizing and otherwise doing unconscionable things to “them.” We have reduced our shared humanity by having made discriminatory distinctions on the basis of race and gender and language and religion, and geographical origin, and nationality and height and weight. The list goes on. Congratulations to the people of new New York State for declaring that one’s choice of relationship partner, sexual partner, lover, will no longer disqualify any person from marriage. Gay New Yorkers, who have never been enemies to anyone, have now, finally, been recognized as part of “us”. They now have the same right as every other New Yorker to be happy or miserable, and struggle with the complex processes of marriage to the person they love. We have determined that marriage is no longer a heterosexual right, but a human right. Maybe we are growing up. At least, on this occasion of the passage of New York State Bill A8354-2011, New Yorker’s collective humanity has taken a giant step up. Hooray for “Us.”

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Valentines Day: Yet Another Day Of The Year to Act With Love

Happy Valentines Day! For a surprising history of this day of love click here. But what do we moderns do with a day like this? I guess it’s easy to get cynical about the $18.5 billion that the economic engines will grind out of us on this holiday, but as every artist knows, there is an opportunity to create art everywhere, even in the shadow of the commercial behemoth that is Valentines Day. Those of us in relationships can use this as a day perfectly designed to focus ourselves and clarify our intentions. What are we doing here? What does our love mean to us? How do we celebrate it, today and every day? How would our partner look in that particular piece of underwear?

Relationship Arts, Casablanca Kiss“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.” Ingrid Bergman

Love is both a noun and a verb. The noun, the feeling of love, is something over which we have little control, although it often responds to, and reflects, the actions of love. Love, the verb, is a challenging complex of actions. The way we choose our loving actions is probably the central focus of Relationship Art. As partners, we behave lovingly, or we do not. We make choices in our lives to act with love and respect, or we do not. We are pro-active in behaving lovingly, committed to the processes that enhance our relationship, or we react to some real or imagined hurt, and respond with vindictiveness, manipulation, bitterness, rejection, contempt, hurtful words (or worse), dismissive avoidance or withdrawal. We let our exhaustion, or hunger, or horniness, or anger, or disappointment, or hurt, or self-doubt dominate us and impel us to act unlovingly. I guess we need to accept that the personal demons we fight everyday in order to be the partners and lovers we want to be are native inhabitants of our emotional landscape. Although we can and do judge ourselves for these primitive impulses, we will likely generate them forever like bubbles rising from a boiling pot. We can only keep working at creating the Relationship Art that will turn those bubbles into warmth and contribute to an atmosphere that nurtures us until the liquid inevitably boils away. Since Valentines Day is here, let’s use it, as we might use every other day: as an opportunity to sharpen our intention to act with love.

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The Marital Arts is now Relationship Arts

I have changed the Marital Arts site to the Relationship Arts because the name is now reflective of a more inclusive outlook. I felt it was necessary to make this change because many people are in serious, committed relationships and not married. These include LGBT families, and long-term, committed unmarried couples. I felt that some people who, by choice or necessity, are not married, could easily feel excluded from a discussion that was directed only at married partners. I believe that the processes of relating, and creating Relationship Art, apply to all relationships although some people feel that there is a special case for marriage ( this one’s for men, this is a sociological argument by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher). In a Reply to Waite and Gallagher’s book, Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller make a strong case for support of all of the arrangements that are not marriage, while continuing to support marriage for those who want it.  They say, “…But if one believes, as we do, in building healthy individuals, families, and societies, then the obvious answer is to respect and support relationships and families regardless of their marital status.” I agree. And thus the change in the focus, and the name, of this site.

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Do Love and Marriage really go together like a Horse and Carriage?

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen

In her book, Why We Love, Helen Fisher describes the roles of the neurochemicals dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in impelling us toward relationship, and the chemicals vasopressin and oxytocin in maintaining our attachment bonds. Dopamine, Fisher reports, helps us to choose our partners from among the many potential partners available. It also focuses us on the pursuit of our sweetheart, energizes our striving to win love, and correlates with rising levels of testosterone, “the hormone of sexual desire” in both men and women; norepinephrine contributes to the feelings of romantic love such as “exhilaration, excessive energy, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite”; and serotonin is associated with the obsessiveness that characterizes infatuation and the early stages of romantic love. Vasopressin, in men, and oxytocin, in women, contribute to the less dramatic but more durable processes of bonding and attachment.

There are few human experiences so powerful as the feelings associated with falling in love. If there were, then probably most of the poetry, stories, books, tv, movies, and songs in the history of the world would never have been written. The artistic attempts at understanding these emotions give us many models, metaphors and pieces of advice. “Surrender,” “fight,” “love is grand,” “love is a tender trap,” it’s “all you need,” it’s “an illusion,” it’s a “burning deep inside,” it’s “witchcraft,” and on and on.

Rogers and Hart

Rogers and Hart

“I’m wild again, beguiled again

A simpering, whimpering child again

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I…”  Rogers and Hart

Many of us, demonstrating the triumph of denial over experience, believe we can marry for love, as in, “they fell in love and lived happily ever after.” Way too often it’s, “They fell in love and stayed together until they fell out of love and then they limped along for a while making each other miserable until they split.” This is almost inevitable if the “love” we’re talking about is completely limited to the heady love-rush feeling that gets us in, and neglects the action verb, “love,” that implies a set of values and attitudes and actions that support the feelings of love. Experience, and now, even science, tell us that the love-rush can’t be sustained. Now what do we do? Flirt, date, date for a long time, be friends, have sex, have a lot of sex, co-habitate, meet the family, accompany each other to social events, take vacations together, but marry??? Why?

I look forward to hearing readers’ ideas about the arguments for (or against, or for with qualifications) marriage (as opposed to a number of alternative arrangements that have become quite socially acceptable. Hit the ‘comment’ link below, or use the ‘Leave a Reply’ form, and share your thoughts.)

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The Social Context of Relationships

Our impulse to bond is such a primitive, complex and essential force, that cultures throughout the world have deemed it necessary to provide oversight through ritual and rite. Where this occurs, individuals, for better or worse, inherit a whole set of rules, spoken, written, or unspoken, concerning the details of the roles and expectations of marriage. The implication is that to be a “good” person, and to have a successful marriage, you must work very hard to perform your roles and to meet expectations.

Black and Purple Petunias, Georgia O'Keeffe

Black and Purple Petunias, Georgia O'Keeffe

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.” Georgia O’Keeffe

But in today’s Western societies, expectations and social injunctions have loosened to such an extent that they barely exist. Now it has become the responsibility of each individual to clarify his or her own vision of the relationship s/he wants, to choose partners, to define the nature of the relationship, to choose to maintain or discard the relationship over time, and, most problematically, to create the rules.

In cultures like ours the commitments to intimate partnership are stressed by the competing commitments to individuality and to the actualization of self. We want to be part of the partnership, but we also want to maintain our own individual identities and boundaries. Relationships, and specifically marriage, without socially defined, shared, and supported roles, is very anxiety provoking. We never quite know what to do; at every step in the process we have to make it up. But roles and rules make us anxious; they inhibit us and thwart our creativity, personal expression, and actualization of self. This is the social context in which modern relationship partners find themselves, and it presents this challenge to aspiring Relationship Artists: how can we create and re-create our relationship, over-and-over again, so that it uniquely reflects the transforming shapes of our needs and aspirations throughout our life together?

Relationship Artists strive to maintain the understanding that their relationship is an organic, transforming process, and always a work in progress.

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Transcendent Opportunity

The Relationship Artist understands that a relationship with the right person at the right time can provide a transcendent opportunity. It is an opportunity to share the journey of moving above and beyond the accidents of our birth. These accidents of birth include all of the factors that helped to form us, and over which we had no control. These might include our physical attributes, such as skin or hair color; gender; our parents and kin stretching back to the first man and woman; our gifts, such as intellect, judgment, impulse control, empathy, imagination, physical beauty, grace and strength, and personality attributes, (need for control, order, recognition, attention, intellectual stimulation); our time in history and geographic place on the planet; our social status and wealth; the culture we inherit from our parents and neighbors; our primary language and the way it shapes our thinking; the media we are exposed to; the propaganda and marketing; the illnesses we suffer; the ecological conditions during the time of our development.  Clearly, the list can go on and on. And without getting into lofty discussions of free will and determinism, suffice it to say that there is much over which we have no control.

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake

“Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind – listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.” Eubie Blake

There is a time, however, if we are very lucky, that we may become aware of this existential condition and make a conscious decision to transcend it. It is at this point that we can begin to make the efforts to transform our values and reshape ourselves. What a wonderful opportunity this provides for Relationship Artists partnering in a relationship: the opportunity for each to help the other transcend the “accidents” of their births and become all that they can be.

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Attitudes and Values Part 2

What are values anyway, and how do they affect a relationship? Values can be reflected in our thoughts as “beliefs,” or they can be reflected in our behavior as actions. Both of these aspects of “values” affect our relationships, but probably our actions are more relevant. “Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old cliché, and for good reason. We’re not talking about what’s true or false here, or what is right or wrong. Values are about what is important to us. Sounds simple but actually, it’s more complicated than that in practice because most of the time we have values that are in conflict with one another. For example:

Thomas knew that his wife, Danielle, was looking forward to a day at the beach with Thomas, the kids, and her sister’s family. Thomas knew that he would enjoy the outing, and what’s more, he valued “family time” and making Danielle happy. Unfortunately, he also was expected to finish a work project by Monday, which he would never get done if he did not invest the whole weekend. Here the values of achievement, and family time were in conflict with one another.

They make us scratch our heads and force us to decide which of our choices represents our more salient value. Often, the values of relationship partners come into conflict with one another, as well. These “inter-personal” value conflicts also require sorting out and require some kind of resolution which can take a variety of forms from discussion to all-out ongoing war. Values which can be at odds in instances of relationship discord may be things like: Orderliness vs. Spontaneity; Strict Authoritative Discipline vs. Dialog and Negotiation; Conservative choices vs. Exciting choices; Spending vs. Saving. There are many more.

Martin Buber, I and Thou

Martin Buber, I and Thou

“This, however, is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world.” Martin Buber, 1970

Relationship Artists see a creative challenge in the task of working out value and attitude conflicts. However they also understand the need to start with a shared sense of the fundamental values that shape the processes of their marriage, among these being trust, respect, and counting each other all the time. The most fundamental is the recognition of our partner as a unique and valuable person who counts all the time.  A “You” and not an “It”. This is a value; an ideal, which in practice is not so easy. Our inner children don’t give a hoot about our stinkin’ values (or our partner’s needs and wants either, for that matter). It’s a challenge to be an adult under pressure, to remember that you are arguing with someone that you love, and who’s interests you cherish as much as your own. Practice.

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Attitudes and Values Part 1

The Relationship Arts reflect a set of attitudes, values, intentions and skills that contribute to the lifelong process of creation and re-creation that is a committed relationship. The Relationship Artist is a person who dedicates him- or herself to the pursuit of a transcendent relationship, and who never takes the process for granted. Awareness of these attitudes, values, intentions and skills becomes a profoundly important part of the daily experience of life for the Relationship Artist, in the same way that awareness of sound and rhythm is elemental to the musician’s work; awareness of form, color and line is essential to the painter; awareness of volume, form and texture is vital for the sculptor; and awareness of movement is indispensable to the dancer. And like the martial artist, the Relationship Artist is committed to pursuit of a centered, transcendent self-discipline that shapes all of the decisions of his or her life.

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

“All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

Relationship Artists see a creative challenge in the task of working out value and attitude conflicts. However they also understand the need to start with a shared sense of the fundamental values that shape the processes of their relationship, among these being, commitment, trust, respect, and counting each other all the time.

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What are we committing to?

We don’t go to school for committed, intimate relationship. If we were ever asked the question, “Why are you doing this?” we answered, “Because we love each other and we want to spend our lives together,” which on the face of it, is a very good answer. But how many of us share an understanding of what love is? And besides, it’s pretty clear at this point that we can love each other without making a commitment. What is the commitment? What are we committing to? What does this commitment really mean for our life together?

The Lovers by Rene Magritte

The Lovers by Rene Magritte

“Life obliges me to do something, so I paint.” Rene Magritte

How about this: We are committed to helping each other define, pursue and achieve the best life possible; we are committed to helping each other grow and actualize ourselves in every possible way; we will each commit to becoming everything we can be, and to helping each other become everything we can be. We will help each other grow morally and spiritually, sexually, materially and socially; we will help each other become the best parents, grandparents, friends and citizens; we will support each other in pursuit of our passions; we will help each other master our demons. We will develop skills and engage in a process that strives always to be loving and respectful. We will both count all the time.

We will be partners and our relationship will be Art.

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Art and Marital Art

The idea of “art” is ancient, rich and varied, and we know, of course, that it is many things to many people. Like other creators of art, the Relationship Artist devotes much of his or her energy to finding inspiration from any and all sources and creating a relationship that is personally fulfilling, emotionally rewarding and spiritually transcendent for both partners. Like any other artist, the Relationship Artist develops his or her craft, and focuses on elements of intention, creativity, imagination, and process.

Friendship by Tracey Emin

Friendship by Treacey Emin

“I’m a terrible cook, but if I could cook, I would see that as art as well, it’s how much creative energy you put into something.” Tracy Emin

The Relationship Arts represent a set of beliefs, attitudes, and commitments that can contribute significantly to an enhanced experience of committed, intimate relationships, and, consequently, life. As this blog unfolds the reader will not find formulas, or recipes, or the suggestion that there is a “right” way to do a relationship. On the contrary, readers will come to understand that a relationship can be as unique as the individuals who join to create it. It is their creation, their work of art, and the more “art” they bring to the process, the more satisfying the result will be. But it’s not a free-for-all and as we proceed we’ll explore some of the ground-rules.

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