Can you change your partner in marriage?

I enjoyed an outdoor lunch today with a young Dutchwoman. She is married to a hard-charging American litigator and there is a big age difference. I asked whether this wasn’t a recipe for epic problems. She said “I established a system where if one of us does something to upset the other, he or she says ‘I put something into the complaint box and we can discuss it tomorrow.’ Chances are, the next day I will already know what he was talking about and I will bring it up.” Ultimately, though, she said it was necessary to accept the other person. She knocked on the square wooden table and said “You can round off the corners, but your spouse will still have the same basic shape.”

[In case you’re wondering who eats lunch outdoors in February… I’m in Puerto Rico, staying in a charming family-owned hotel (i.e., the 646-room Caribe Hilton) and taking a daily holistic mood-improving medication made with local ingredients (i.e., pina coladas, supposedly invented here at the Hilton).]

12 thoughts on “Can you change your partner in marriage?

  1. I was told by a professional psychologist as part of couples therapy that it was normal for women to try to change their men into different people, and that I would have to learn how to deal with the psychological pressure if I was ever going to succeed in any relationship with any woman. (One reason we were seeing the therapist was because I was coping poorly). I was shocked by this and asked my friends. Everyone agreed — but not only agreed, but thought it was a wonderful thing. Women said it was a good thing that women “improve” men, and the men expressed gratitude for how much their wives had “improved” them, and felt that, though it had been difficult, they had become much better people, thanks to their wives’ efforts to improve them. I was completely shocked by that. Anyway, our relationship failed, because I was unable to “toughen up” and learn to handle the psychological pressure to change into a whole different person. Later I met a woman who was a therapist (not my therapist, this time, just a woman I met who worked as a therapist — primarily with children, though, not with couples), and I told her what the therapist had said and what my friends had said, and she said the other therapist was completely wrong, that women in fact do not try to change their men, and that all my friends who agreed were also completely wrong. She says they were wrong but I am not so sure. We know there are significant differences between the brains of men and women, especially when it comes to anything to do with relationships, so it seems possible to me that it is true that women don’t marry men for who they are, they marry men for their “potential” — who they can be turned into — and this is a normal difference between men and women, something women do that men don’t. But obviously such generalities are never 100% true, so you will always find individuals who are exceptions, such as the woman I met later, who doesn’t try to change her husband into a different person (so she says — she is divorced and claims her ex-husband was a control freak).

    In the interest of “full disclosure”, I suppose I should also mention I’m a computer programmer, which is relevant because you’ve expressed many times, Phil, your contempt for computer programmers and have said women shouldn’t marry or be attracted to computer programmers. So, see, I am saving you the trouble of querying me to find out if I’m a computer programmer and then telling me I’m the scum of the earth and don’t deserve a mate or children. The woman I was dating when we went to the therapist ended up marrying a lawyer. They hope to have their first child soon.

  2. From the title of your post, I thought you might be discussing some sort of wife-swap arrangements.

    I’m reminded of the saying that women enter marriage hoping that their partners will change, but they don’t. Men enter marriage hoping that their partners wont change, but they do.

  3. Wayne: As a programmer myself (since 1976), I hope that I don’t have too much contempt for programmers! I would say that a programmer isn’t too likely to bring home a great story from work that would interest a non-programmer. But a programmer could be a great husband and father. The programmer is unlikely to be killed at work and leave behind fatherless children. The programmer is unlikely to become unemployed and leave the family in poverty. The programmer can work from home, in many cases or on at least some weekdays, and be available to children. Perhaps other readers will add some more advantages.

    [No matter how many we list, I bet that moms will continue to tell their daughters to “find a nice doctor to marry”!]

  4. Where are these *nice* doctors? Not to mention smart, good looking, single, young, etc.. And I am truly hoping that you are not raising your daughter so that the main goal of her life is to marry somebody at least moderately rich.

  5. tecumse: what’s wrong with having a goal to marry someone who can support the family? is everyone supposed to be single and happy living in a cardboard box?

  6. It’s probably a stable job in academia, but not in Silicon Valley. Women prefer executive management, but men who are much older & have a type A personality are the universal goal for women over 30. The ones under 30 are still occupied by feminist notions of equality.

  7. Other advantages to marrying a (seasoned) programmer:

    * The beta males are less likely to go adventuring
    * Repeated exposure to bugs of their own making has taught them that they can be wrong even in cases where they were sure they are right
    * Most are homebodies (can be good or bad)
    * They can help the children with math homework
    * When your friends come over they will hide in the computer den instead of trying to hit on them

    In general, you have a husband who is always there when you need him but never in your face. If you can find one who is willing to tie the knot and isn’t preoccupied with internet porn you’ve hit the jackpot.

    Sorry ladies, I’m taken.

  8. I read of a survey some 20 years ago on this salient characteristic of programmers as a group.

    While they were as aware as any other group of people of various social cues, programmers are much less likely to be influenced by them, e.g. if they appear withdrawn, its unlikely the are shy, they are more likely to simply not care if they talk to you or not.

    I believe this, and I believe that misunderstanding this causes many problems when programmers deal with people who are not part of the guild.

    I find it interesting, Phil, that you list specifi external qualities for a mate, (earn money, not dead), but are vague on personal characteristics (loving parent/spouse, compassionate, tolerant) in defining qualities in a mate or parent.

  9. Yes, the title of your post led me to conclude that you are talking about partner-swaps (Joel Hockey).

    It baffles me that why do most of you have to pigeon-holed programmers into these cuckooed personalities, even though I agreed that many of them out there can be indeed. I take it as that those are clueless people about themselves as human and their jobs as tool of the trade. These poor lads are completely squeezed out by each other over the mastery of their trades, that their personalities are circumnavigated by tech? Listen to their conversations, even after hours, it does nothing to enrich their or the listeners’ lives but dulls all of us into absolute abhorrence. So yes, I guess most programmers are the authentic case of 1d-10t.

    So do women make better programmers? The answer is “No!”, but generally they have better balanced personalities than their male counterparts. Those who don’t tend to stay single, I observed.

  10. Besides the caveat that women will hook (while her appeal is still holding up) on to attractive (spelled rich) much older men, and loaded men will want an attractive much younger women that he can at least match her stamina. Chances are what she mentioned to you about rounding all those fractional errors are mere ploys to suit any enquirer’s curiosity. So Philip, you know you we were taken there 😉

  11. More advantages to dating or marrying a male software engineer:

    – lower chance of losing him to another woman; unless he’s working for a big company where he might encounter attractive looking PR or marketing babes he’s probably surrounded by lots of other engineers just like him or by really unattractive (to him) female software engineers
    – lower chance of him spending countless hours watching sports on television
    – maximum chance you’ll always have the latest gadgets in the house: latest iPhone, latest iPad, latest wifi router, latest Roku (don’t worry, he’ll explain you what this is) and so on
    – higher chance of you two driving a cool looking BMW(s), these guys spend a lot of time browsing the web so they’ll inevitably convince themselves this is the only car really worth driving, based on the reviews they’ll find on the web
    – higher chance he’ll be able to listen and even understand your nonsensical emotion driven verbiage when you have a complaint or request to make; these guys are doing this for a living, having to interact daily with management, marketing, customers etc who have no idea how to express what they want but expect the engineers to deliver very exact things in return

  12. When I was in the Air Force I brought home lots of good stories from work. When I became a software developer my stories were much fewer and less interesting.

    Some how telling my spouse that ‘I finally fixed an elusive thread deadlock bug’ or ‘my program crashed in testing today’ is less interesting than ‘My engine caught fire today’ or ‘I ate lunch at a McDonald’s in Norway today’. Even though all of the above were interesting and fun for me

    On the other hand, I get a steady stream of interesting stories from my spouse, who is a Tax Accountant specializing in audit representation.

Comments are closed.