What’s the key to a healthy, long, and fruitful marriage? It’s the million dollar question, and one Dr. Jordan Peterson was recently asked by a YouTube viewer.
Peterson, a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto, offered a response that’s well worth hearing. He begins by touching on the importance of physical chemistry, noting that “there are weird and mysterious things that determine whether or not people are sexually and physically attracted to one another.” (These apparently include not just facial symmetry, but the scent of shirts worn by men with symmetrical faces.)
Peterson says physical attraction is a “very important part of a marital relationship,” but one senses that he believes it’s much less important than the second point he raises: trust.
“There is no marriage that is successful without trust,” he says. “You have to tell each other the truth.”
Sounds easy, right? Well, actually no. He explains:
“Telling the truth to someone is no simple thing. Because there’s a bunch of things about all of us that are terrible and weak and reprehensible and shameful, and all of those things have to be brought out into the open and dealt with.”
This is why true honesty is so difficult. We all have baggage, and we all want to hide it. As Peterson says, there is a natural tendency to avoid being open with someone “who can run away screaming when you reveal who you are.” It's for this reason, Peterson says, that humans make marriage an inseparable bond.
“I am going to handcuff myself to you, and you’re going to handcuff yourself to me. And then we’re going to get to tell each other the truth, and neither of us get to run away. Once we know the truth, then we’re either going to live together in mutual torment, or we’re going to try to deal with that truth and straighten ourselves out – and straighten ourselves out jointly. And that’s going to make us more powerful and more resilient; and deeper and wiser as we progress together through life. "
It’s one of the most honest, insightful, and beautiful descriptions of marriage I’ve seen. Peterson is getting at a truth every married person knows: marriage is humbling. When you get married, you are essentially giving a person the power to destroy you. Marriage is an act of mutual submission.
This is a good thing—arguably the best of things—but it also opens one to pain and sorrow. Peterson understands this, which is why he tells viewers one must be absolutely committed to marriage for it to be successful.
“If you leave the backdoor open, man, you’re going to use it for sure,” he says.
Like many people, I’ve seen marriages fall apart. In several instances, these were people I knew intimately, people I stood beside as they said their vows. There was a common thread in these failed marriages. Infidelity was involved in all of them, but I assure you the infidelity in each case was preceded by an avalanche of lies and deceit.
The best way to avoid such a fate? Be honest.
“The ruler of your marital life should be your vow to tell each other the truth,” Peterson says.
It's very good advice. (It sounds simple; if only it was.)
I'd encourage readers to watch the entire clip. Peterson is not a religious man, but his defense of marriage (and having children) is as good as any I've heard in church pews.
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times.