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Health & Sex

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The 'Good Enough' Marriage

Experts and couples discuss whether settling for 'Mr. Good Enough' is better than waiting for the perfect soul mate.

Defining the Good-Enough Marriage continued...

Katharine Parks of Chillicothe, Ohio, married John at 19 and has been happily wed for 32 years. She says the terminology is right on target. "In American society, we are always going for much more than we actually need. We're expecting too much from a relationship. I think realizing this is as 'good as it gets' and that life isn't 'once-upon-a-time' is important to building a life together."

Scott Haltzman, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Brown University's department of psychiatry and human behavior, says the issue of settling for a certain person or behavior in a relationship is one of the principles of happiness -- if you reframe it as "acceptance."

"We live in a culture where we're being told through all forms of media, 'Don't accept anything but the best.' We all marry 'the wrong person.' I think the real challenge of marriage is to get out of the romantic, over-idealized phase and into the 'now what' phase. Making adjustments, modifying expectations, and settling is something that happens throughout the entire relationship, not just the day you stand in front of the altar," he tells WebMD. "We need to broaden our view of what acceptable means."

Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a relationship expert at and professor of sociology at the University of Washington, acknowledges that the term "good enough" carries a negative -- and unnecessary -- connotation.

"The implication of settling or good enough is that at some core level you will be dissatisfied," Schwartz tells WebMD. "It's a downer concept for sure. The whole feeling has infected society in a way that is shocking." She draws a sports analogy. "I'm a good skier, I have a lot of fun skiing, but I don't say I'm a 'good enough skier.' I wish we could just call it a 'good marriage.'"

Schwartz says that being in a state of constant aspiration is a form of "self-torture."

"If I had to settle for a new Oldsmobile when what I really want is a Porsche, I'll never be satisfied. In truth, the Oldsmobile is new, it's pretty, and it works. Why wouldn't I be satisfied with it?"

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