Scrolling through Facebook is a terrible idea. It’s a bleak place. As I punish myself daily by sifting through political rants, boomer memes, and oversharing, I often find myself most saddened by one particular subgenre of the newsfeed: Single people sharing what they consider to be inspiring articles or quotes about how the right partner will eventually come to them. These posts vary from innocent enough romanticism to somewhat troubling reinforcement of negative behaviors. You’ll often find ones that suggest that if your partner can’t accept and love all of your flaws, that makes them the problem. Surely the person that you’re meant to be with will never have any complaints about you, and will be perfect themselves in turn, right?
Relationships are complicated, always changing, and require constant upkeep. Most don’t end well. Marriage, a life-changing decision to legally solidify a relationship, often fails as well – half of all marriages end in divorce. And plenty of couples that do manage to stay together find themselves in a loveless, sexless, and soured relationship with their partner. Clearly, we humans aren’t all that great at maintaining our romantic lives. What makes relationships so difficult for us, and why do we continue to bother seeking them out when we know that, statistically, it probably won’t pan out the way we hope?
Documentarian Roger Nygard (Trekkies, The Nature of Existence), found himself drowning in the endless swamp of relationship self-help books, advice columns in magazines, and (probably) those damned Facebook posts. After coming close to marriage three separate times, he wanted to know how to not make the same mistakes the fourth time around. Nygard filmed The Truth About Marriage over the course of several years, bringing his camera to weddings, interviewing the spouses, and catching up with them years later to see how they turned out. He also traveled around the world to talk to numerous experts, ranging from cognitive behavioral therapists, to marriage counselors, to sexual biologists, to psychologists.
The result of all this footage is a documentary that I happily added to my list of what I call “necessary viewing”. The Truth About Marriage is exactly that: the truth. Through extensive interviews with straight couples, gay couples, polyamorous relationships, platonic parents, and the wide array of experts, the film is genuinely wonderful, free advice that should be benificial for anyone. Nygard hits on nearly every topic: what’s the deal with polygamy vs monogamy, what helps couples stay together, how do unorthodox relationships or marriages work, what makes people attracted to one another, how do you rekindle passion, and of course, what exactly is love? The film explains how the relationships of our ancient ancestors worked, and goes all throughout history up to the modern day, laying out how our relationships with one another continue to evolve.
The fact of the matter is that we are ill-equipped to maintain our relationships. We believe that we should just naturally know how, but it’s a skill set like any other. Expectations for relationships are incredibly high. We want our partners to be our lover, our best friend, our therapist, and much more. The documentary dives deep into these insights and offers tips on how to navigate the perilous journey of love and all that comes with it. That might sound like just a longer way to get more useless relationship advice, but everything in The Truth About Marriage is backed up by extensive research and real-life experiences.
Some advice that’s given could certainly be called generic (“Listen more! Communicate! Be honest!”) but there’s such a heap of information given here that it’s impossible not to watch the film and take away some valuable insights. There are incredibly varying viewpoints that are shown – an interview with the CEO of Ashley Madison declares that undiscovered infidelity may actually strengthen a marriage, several alternatives to marriage are shown to work wonders for some couples, and one expert makes the case for how Tinder is actually a better dating service than something like eHarmony.
Nygard’s presentation may be so simplistic to the point that it feels dated (the fact that the music sounds like a corporate training video from the 90s doesn’t help), but that simplicity helps keep the documentary focused and on track. Each segment flows into the next rather naturally, and the plethora of information that can be gleaned from the numerous interviews is both informative and interesting to hear. For anyone who’s having trouble finding love or maintaining it, or even for those who think they have it all figured out, The Truth About Marriage is a quintessential viewing experience that will raise your hopes and expand the romantic side of your brain.