The Three Marriages


The Three Marriages

Finding the Connections Between Work, Family, and Self

By David Whyte

May/June 2009


The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another.

Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything wehave set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principal dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else.

These are the three marriages, of Work, Self and Other.

The First Marriage: The One We Usually Mean

Marriage is a word loaded with associations; not only the longed-for associations with the mythical horse and carriage that carries us off in perfect felicity, as Jane Austen described it, but also the whispers…

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