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What Ben Affleck Knows About Companionate Love

Loving family

The day we became a family

Last night, as I was wiping the kitchen counters clean, my husband hugged me from behind and whispered in my ear, “you smell like … cleaning products.”

Things change once you have kids, that’s for sure.

My husband and I know this well, and after the comments he made in his Oscar acceptance speech, I’m willing to assume Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner know it too.

I, for one, loved Ben’s speech, in which he acknowledged that marriage requires effort and thanked his wife for doing “the best kind of work” with him for “10 Christmases.” Yet, I was disappointed to learn that the Twitter sphere has been widely panning him for his honesty.

We gluttonously devour pictures of our celebrity idols caught being “real”: schlepping groceries or going without a mask of professionally applied makeup. But when things get too real — when they admit that some parts of their lives are as complicated and unglamorous as ours — we’re disillusioned by the idea of them having something other than the fairy tale romance we imagined.

The truth is that no one does. Studies show even the most drunken, heady kind of love fades after an average period of about two years. And, the idea that love is a drug is more than just sappy songwriting: as researchers Arthur Aron, PhD and Sean Mackey, MD, PhD reported to WebMD, “feelings of romantic love affect the brain in the same way drugs like cocaine or powerful pain relievers do.”

When you look at it that way, it’s no surprise that passionate, new love doesn’t last. In order for a marriage to succeed, couples have to feel more than just love for each other.

Several years back, Time Magazine ran a fascinating article on the science behind love. In “The Science of Romance: Why We Love,” Jeffrey Kluger points out that couples in committed relationships must “pass beyond … the thrill of early love and into what’s known as companionate love.”

Companionate love. Doesn’t sound too thrilling, does it? And yet, there’s something really lovely about that term.

Companionate love is the stuff of 50-year anniversaries, of those elderly men who still see a beautiful young bride when they look at their aging wives. It’s the bond that keeps us together through the ups and downs of marriage, through the trials of raising children and as our physical attractiveness inevitably fades.

Admittedly, my husband and I weren’t the most exciting people before our son came along, so you can imagine how glamorous our lives are now. As a stay-at-home mom, my brand of stress is a quiet, droning kind that stems from the pressure of constant vigilance. My husband is in his first years of a commission-only career; his days are long and rushed, and he comes home wired and exhausted at the same time.

He wears a suit. I wear sweatpants. It can be hard for us to relate to each other sometimes, and it’s been a long, long time since the hazy days of giddy, new love.

I couldn’t do what he does. He tells me he couldn’t do what I do. Therein we find the most important component of our marriage: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

We each have to work hard to make our household run. It’s not sexy, it’s not exciting, and it is indeed work. It’s the basis of companionate love.

For my part, I try to resist the urge to thrust our son into my husband’s arms or regale him with a story about poop just after he’s walked through the door. I give him a few minutes to change his clothes and take a few deep breaths. I try to have put something together for dinner and to have changed out of my depression robe by the time he gets home.

For his part, he greets each member of the household with a kiss and asks about my day, even though my response usually isn’t very interesting. He sits down in front of our son’s highchair and the dogs run to put their heads in his lap. He lets out a deep sigh, exhaling all the pressure and frustration from his day.

“I love you, wee man,” he says to our son. And I see him start to relax.

As for our connection as man and wife? Strangely, our son has been the best thing that ever happened to our marriage. He gives us a shared purpose, a higher calling, a source of humor and awe in every day.

We lie in bed and find ourselves at a loss for the words to describe how we feel about our son.

He’s … awesome. He’s just so … awesome, isn’t he?, says one of us.  

I know just what you mean, says the other.

This may not be the version of romance we want from our movie stars. It isn’t sexy or exciting; it isn’t the stuff of fairy tales. But if you look closely, there’s something profoundly beautiful in the simple, ordinary pursuit of raising a family with your life’s companion.

Companionate love may not make it into the movies, but it made it onstage this year at the Oscars. And that’s not too shabby at all.

14 responses »

  1. I loved his speech! Because I knew just what he meant – it is work, the best kind of work! What would you rather work at? I could tell Jennifer got it too. Made me really love them.

    • That is just how I felt! I also thought the “10 Christmases” line was probably a reference to some inside joke or tender moment between them, which I loved as well. They really seem to have a genuine commitment to each other.

  2. I love this and you said it so well. I didn’t watch the Oscars because I’ve resigned that I’ll be in bed by 9 pm every night that is possible. But I’ve always loved that Ben A and Jen A seem like real people with a real marriage and a real life. I love that they’re only so glamorous and personally I get tired of all the fake glamour of some couples. They can hide it all they want, but deep down, their just like us.

  3. I liked Ben’s speech, I “got” what he was saying to his wife and she “got” it too. Thanks Stacey for writing this, you have a special talent of putting pen to paper…

  4. This is such a wonderful post – I’d like to frame it and put it on my – … Forehead. But I have to tell you something funny – when we were expecting our forth child we had Hudson picked out as the boy’s name – one we strongly agreed on (not easy, right) well Lily’ is a girl, so stopping at 4 kids, over the years we’ve tried to ‘give away’ our boy baby name to expecting friends and family. No takers. When I started to write a blog (that’s becoming a book) about navigating (not stalking ) my kids first flights from home – I used Hudson as the pseudonym for my second son. But you have a little, Hudson. How wonderful (with the most amazing nursery). And this post about the love I hope all my children find is enchanting. If you check out my blog – skip back a few to find the ones I’ve written about Zoe, Cole, Hudson and Lily. I think we live on similar pages – just different eras right now. (Sorry, I was enjoying your earlier posts and first posted this after your nursery blog but was referring to this one.)

  5. A really great post – honest and very, very well-written. Today I somewhat guiltily read an article about Affleck ‘clarifying’ his remarks (I like to think that I’m above such Hollywood tittletattle, but there it is), but I thought they needed no clarification. You’ve put the case beautifully.

  6. Beautiful, thought provoking post. I’ve thought a lot about marriage of late, and I decided that CONTENT is not a dirty word.

    • I agree completely! When I was younger, I had different impressions of marriage. But now, I know that a comfortable, contented union is the best kind. Thanks for reading!

  7. Oh, what a beautiful post! I can completely relate. We may not be out drinking and dancing until 3am anymore, but grilling dinner and snuggling on the couch and being in bed by 9:30 makes me love the life and marriage David and I have. I wouldn’t trade it for the world 🙂

  8. I only heard about the marriage being hard work bit (we don’t have the right channels to get the Oscar coverage. But he’s right…it does take hard work. Some days are so hard that I want to curl up in the closet and cry and hope that no one finds me (at least til I’ve given myself a talking to!).

    Other days are sunshine and lollipops and are really good. It takes team work because its you & husband/wife against the world some days and you’ve gotta be a team to defend your home or kids for example.


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