How to find lasting love in a time of breakups

Should we tie the knot or shouldn’t we? With the institution of marriage constantly scrutinized and divorce rates getting higher and higher, a top psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Greece, Matthew Josafat, tried to shed some light on the eternally challenging fields of sex, love and marriage during a lecture at the Athens Concert Hall last week. In his speech, titled «To Get Married, or Not to Get Married,» Josafat talked about the factors that lead to our choice of partners in a comprehensive way and with humorous touches, before a packed audience. Director of the Hellenic Society for Group Analysis and Family Therapy, Josafat has served as director of the Finchley Child and Family Psychiatric Center as well as senior registrar at the Tavistock Center during his 15-year stay in London. He is also former director of the Children’s Psychiatric Hospital in Attica and is currently working on a book about marriage. «The divorce rate is approximately 50 percent in many developed countries, with another 30 percent being unhappy in their marriages,» said Josafat. That only leaves a small percentage – 20 percent – of happily married couples (or relatively happily), yet 70 percent of the divorcees opt to give marriage another shot. Divorce rates in Greece may not quite reach those levels, but they are certainly rising fast. If marriage seems as problematic as that, why do people insist on getting married, determined to make it work even if it is the second time round? As Josafat explained, people have a natural tendency to «attach» themselves to somebody else in order to survive, the way that babies are attached to their mother in their first year, a bond which in psychiatric terms is called «attachment.» If a child has enjoyed a mature and fulfilling relationship with his or her mother, especially during the first year, the youngster is more likely to develop mature relationships later on in life and enjoy a good marriage, after choosing an equally mature partner. If, on the other hand, that initial relationship has been tainted by problems, which unfortunately seems to be the norm, children may later face difficulties in loving other people. So, are mothers to blame for everything? Josafat was quick to point out that most mistakes do not happen consciously, but it is fundamental to go back to somebody’s early relationship with their mother in order to evaluate their choice of partners. Contrary to popular belief as well as Greek law, which sees the first six months in a baby’s life as the most important ones, he insisted that it is between the sixth and the 10th month that babies learn to attach themselves to their mothers properly. That’s a time when the maternity leave of most working mothers has ended and the child is usually left to the care of others, leading to confusion. «The stress of separation can lead to psychosomatic illnesses and create a difficulty to love and be able to give later on,» he said. How does all of this actually affect our marriage? Josafat explained that, without realizing it, when we get married we seek to re-create the relationship we had with our mother at first and then with our father. We try to either experience once more the satisfaction we got out of that relationship, or relive the problems we had, hoping that we may be able to solve them this time. Hence, our choice of partner is not only influenced by the factors we all more or less know – physical attraction, socioeconomic reasons and personality – but also by our need to re-create the atmosphere of that initial relationship, something which we do not do consciously. Most people tend to go for partners who are similar to them. When they are both immature though, they each have expectations of the other but are unable to give – a bad recipe that does not produce a happy marriage. Others tend to be attracted to opposites, which often leads to issues of power and control as well as so-called «triangles» (usually in the form of an extramarital affair) as a «third person» may be necessary just to keep the marriage going. The «third leg» is not necessarily always a lover. «Women often turn to their children, especially their sons, to counterbalance their husbands,» said the psychiatrist. Then again, people find themselves attracted to others for purely sexual reasons, something which is usually short-lived as the relationship mostly consists of using one’s partner for pleasure. The best, but also the rarest, choice is made when we are emotionally mature, meaning that we have either enjoyed an emotionally successful early childhood with our parents or we have managed to work out our issues with therapy later on. «That is the normal form of love, but it is very rare because few people are so mature. Mature people don’t fall passionately in love,» he pointedly said, causing an uproar of laughter in the audience. Despite appearances, statistics indicate that men find it harder to be alone, they are more vulnerable and women are more independent (it is mostly women who ask for a divorce). «But today, marriage is better than it used to be, even the divorces are an indication of our determination to make it better and not to repeat our mistakes,» said Josafat at the end of his lecture. «For years I have been suggesting that schools hold classes of ‘life lessons,’ in the form of therapy groups, which are more useful than other things.» After all, as he added, there are lots of ways a couple can get help nowadays and marriage, with the right partner, can be a unique experience with the feeling of love growing stronger instead of weaker.