"Never say that marriage has more of joy than pain."
That sage observation was made by Euripides, and he made it in 438 B.C. He was, of course, a Greek dramatist known for his tragedies, as that quote might attest.
Some 2400 years later, the state of matrimony finds itself on similarly shaky footing.
But now a marraige therapist with more than 30 years in the trenches has come up with a reason why many marraiges end badly.
It's our fault, guys. We really are scum.
Robert Mark Alter contends in his new book "It's (Mostly) His Fault" that the man is primarily responsible for the marital problems.
Alter explained in an interview that "when a woman is in a relationship with a man, it's not about getting the best of them or dominating them, it's about connecting.
"One of the things I've learned as a therapist, this is about ``withness.'' Is he with me, does he want to spend time with me, does he want to talk with me? With a woman, it's more about connecting and with a man, it's more about dominating. Men are all about hierarchy, all of male sports are about ``I am above you, I have beaten you.'' My experience with women in relationships is it's not about that for them."
So woman are blameless?
"There's all kinds of women and all kinds of men," Alter said. "In some cases, women are mostly at fault, so this isn't one size fits all. But the preponderance of my experience is that when I'm sitting in therapy and I'm making interventions - and I was a hockey and basketball referee, so I became good at deciphering who made the mistake - 80-90 percent I was turning to the man and saying, ``you can't say that to her.''
OK, fair enough.
So I put the question to a number of male acquaintences. Are you responsible for all the discord in your marriage?
This admittidly unscientific control group ran the gamut from seemingly devoted husbands and fathers to a couple of guys who never got over the frat house life style to several for whom marriage is basically a conduit to coach youth soccer and Little League baseball.
None would concede that he was at fault 100 per cent of the time in a dispute. Many attributed disagreements to the differences in the way men and women perceive problems or approach solutions. But intrestingly enough, every single one of them admitted to doing something so stupid and/or insensitive at least once during their marriages that they remain guilty, sometimes years after the fact.
You know, the standard stuff: missed anniversaries, a couple of unfortunate incidents involving alcohol, a round of golf while she was home with a couple of sick kids, too much time at the office, not sharing in domestic duties, stuff like that.
And being emotional clods, most guys try to make up for their boorish behavior by being romantic. But as someone once wrote, when the relationship is in disrepair, a woman will feel it has to be repaired before sex, not repaired by sex.
Come to think of it, maybe it's amazing that marriages survive at all. But they do and we have women to thank for it, according to Alter.
"My experience is that when it comes to knowing how to be in a relationship, how to be intimate with another person, how to connect, women have much less changing they need to do than men. You can see an example: if you're ever at a restaurant, look for a table of three or four women. You'll see them leaning forward toward each other, having a great time connecting, and it's my feeling they know something about getting along with other human beings that we men don't know."
Or as Euripides also said, "Man's best possession is a sympathetic wife."