especially women -- to consider settling when it
comes to a love relationship, arguing it will likely lead to long-term
In her essay, Gottlieb likens a "good-enough marriage" to a small
nonprofit business with a likeable mate who can problem solve. Gottlieb spoke
exclusively with WebMD about the reaction it has generated.
"I've gotten quite a response, and it's been all over the map,"
Gottlieb tells WebMD. "Married people are very supportive of the point I am
trying to make. Some single women applaud me for saying out loud what many are
thinking but not saying. But many single women think it is an affront. They
think it is an unpalatable challenge to an empowering world view that you can
have it all."
At the heart of the "good enough" argument is that too many of us
have been brainwashed into a "fairy tales and fireworks" view of
romance that lacks long-term stability. Gottlieb writes that marrying Mr. Good
Enough is a viable option, especially if the goal is to land a reliable life
partner and create a family.
"The point of the article is not to settle for any schmo off the street,
but a good guy you like, enjoy the company of, and have realistic expectations
of," she says.
"If you want to be with somebody and you're holding out, you may end up
with nothing," Gottlieb says. "That's the crazy-making part -- you're
Defining the Good-Enough Marriage
London pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term "good-enough
mother." A good-enough mother stands in contrast to a "perfect"
mother. She provides a safe environment, connection, and ultimately,
independence, to facilitate the child's development. A good-enough mother meets
some, but not all, of her child's needs.
Can the good-enough theory apply to romantic partners as well?
"Good enough, rather than the fairy-tale model, which is a big
disappointment, is a reasonable way to picture married life," says Louanne
Cole Weston, PhD, WebMD's sex and relationship expert.
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 perfectmatch.com and
professor of sociology at the University of Washington, acknowledges that the
term "good enough" carries a negative -- and unnecessary --
"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
"If I had to settle for a new Odsmobile 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?"
Haltzman notes in his book, The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to
Get More out of Your Relationship by Doing Less, that for centuries
happiness was not a factor in good marriages. Rather, marriage was a practical
matter that ensured social and financial security and provided for offspring.
It's only over the last century that couples have expected marriage to bring
them happiness. We're learning as we go.
David Rice of Alpharetta, Ga., agrees. Married for five years to Cynthia, he
points to his parents' long marriage and the role model of World War II
couples. "Think back to those soldiers, who just wanted to get home to a
woman who came from a church-going family, could dance, and was happy to marry
a nice guy. Prerequisites have changed."
He admits that his romantic journey didn't go as planned. "At the ripe
old age of 44, I felt the time was right and I wanted to get married. I found
somebody I could build something with, but regardless of the attraction, it
wasn't puppy love. I actually treated it like a business decision, as cold or
callous as that might sound. I didn't feel I had time to make a couple of
mistakes. I felt I had to hit it out of the park."
A Pragmatic View of Marriage
Experts and married couples both agree: It's a fantasy to think you'll
achieve perfection in a relationship. Chemistry, while important, is not
all-important, and the "soul mate" concept sets the bar unrealistically
"The good-enough marriage that de-emphasizes romantic love in favor of a
pragmatic relationship is a very important topic that addresses the
idealization of romance and the failures that inevitably occur due to
unattainable expectations," says Michael D. Zentman, PhD, director of the
postgraduate program in marriage and couple therapy at Adelphi University.
Belinda Rachman, an attorney in Carlsbad, Calif., has been married to Eliot
for more than 20 years. "I made a rational choice that had nothing to do
with romantic love and have been very happy. I had a written 'man plan.' As
each successive relationship failed, I took a look at what I had to have in a
man, what qualities I had to have and what was negotiable; I knew I didn't want
to go on another emotional roller-coaster ride. When I look at the utter mess
made by couples who have based a marriage on being in love with no thought to
basic compatibility, I know I made the right choice."
Terri, an artist based in Roswell, Ga., who has been married for eight and a
half years, says the good-enough concept resonates with her.
"I did have a fantasy idea of what marriage was going to be. By the time
I got married in my mid- 30s, I had a lot of dating experience and the bubble
burst. We had a child within the first year of marriage, and it got
pretty practical pretty quickly," says Terri, who asked that her last name
not be used. "The ever-shifting process of coming together, compromising,
and the day-to-day of housekeeping and child rearing have taught me to accept
Thomas for who he is. When that happened, I truly felt a sense of relief, a
comfortable feeling of where I have landed. I'm much more relaxed."
Recognizing Mr. or Ms. 'Good Enough'
In Tyler Perry's films, the girl often gets the guy -- but there's a caveat:
He's not usually the guy she pictured herself with. In fact, it's usually a
regular guy -- the proverbial "diamond in the rough" -- that she's
As we mature and learn more about who we are, recognize our inadequacies and
learn to accept those of our mate, we are better equipped to "screen
in" candidates who are good enough, experts say.
Gottlieb believes many of us -- herself included -- have dismissed potential
mates based on looks, habits, or ther superficial "deal breakers." In
her article, she writes about her own change of heart in terms of what romance
and marriage is or isn't supposed to be.
Cynthia Rice underwent a similar change. "Earlier in my life, I had
certain criteria in my mind, like 'I'm not going to choose someone without a
certain stature in life or money," she says. "I consider [settling]
reprioritizing. We all have a little more baggage. I realized David was really
smart. We can have a conversation and connect even while we are grinding out
"I made a practical choice in a mate," she tells WebMD. "It's
not what we look like to our neighbors or to society. It's what we have here in
Although everyone has different requirements of a potential spouse, experts
offer five guidelines to help you determine the qualities needed for sharing
"good enough" lifetime together.
Compatibility. "Similar styles in living, similar ways of
operating, whether more rational or emotional, will help you avoid chronic
disappointment," Weston says. Gottlieb speaks of lifestyles that can
Sexual Attraction. "You need adequate sexual attraction, some
chemistry, but you each don't have to like 17 body parts," Weston says.
Similar Goals. You may have a laundry list of ideal qualities in a
mate, but narrow down your list to three must-have traits, Schwartz suggests.
"You only have so many "slots" someone can fulfill, whether it's a
shared love of travel, a similar outlook on money, or raising children."
Schwartz cautions about seeking what she calls "incongruent
characteristics" from a partner. "Some women marry industry lions and
then are surprised when they bite," she says.
Respect. "If you admire someone, you are way ahead," says
Gut Check. Finally, Weston suggests trusting your gut for clues on
whether someone is good enough for you. "Nine years before I married my
husband, I was engaged to another man," she says. "I had funny little
shooting pains and a twitch in that hand; I wasn't sleeping well. My body was
giving me clues."
By Suzanne Wright
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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