We’ve all seen the picture of the beautiful young woman that contains the old hag, or perhaps it’s the other way around. I guess it depends on what you’re expecting to see. This perceptual sleight of hand is actually a good illustration of a very common marital dynamic called, “opposition”.
It’s common knowledge in psychology that we marry our unfinished business, the hag. But, if we weren’t attracted to the beauty of our spouse we wouldn’t marry at all. The beauty draws us in and the hag keeps us fighting for a return to normalcy. When viewed as a younger woman, the white fabric in the image appears to take the form of a wedding shawl, but when transformed to a hag, this cloth becomes an object of utility, concealing her former beauty. The image is ripe with the subtle underpinnings of strife while expressing this perceptive dichotomy between the beauty and the hag. The hag itself shows age as its symptom, slow and impending, while the young woman’s version of vulnerability is manifested as a much more quick and decisive neck wound. The beauty represents the younger states of a relationship, vibrant and wondrous yet vulnerable to a quick end, while the hag is the enduring fight, which will only be reconciled by the aging trails of time.
The mystery of a marriage is that both the beauty and the hag exist simultaneously, not in opposition. The marital hag is revealed as innocence ultimately gives way to unfinished business. There is no sole winner as the struggle for dominance shifts from one pole to the other. We’re so conditioned to one point of view prevailing that if our spouse is right then we, by default, are wrong. Arguments are continually fueled by this type of marital opposition where innocence eventually becomes obscured by the shadow of the hag.
A good example of this dynamic comes from Woody Allen’s academy award winning movie, Annie Hall. In a split screen both Woody and Annie are seen with their therapists complaining about each other.
Annie: A day in Brooklyn is the last time I remember really having a good time
Woody: We never have any laughs any more is the problem
Annie: I’ve been moody and dissatisfied
Woody’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?
Annie’s therapist: Do you have sex often?
Woody: Hardly ever, maybe three times a week
Annie: Constantly, I would say three times a week.
They are both right, of course, but the hag has clearly shown her face beginning with their contrary complaints, “Hardly ever” and “Constantly”. What are they complaining about? They’re both having sex but not happy about its frequency. For one it’s not enough and for the other it’s too much, yet the frequency for both is the same. This form of marital opposition can seem ridiculous and comical to the casual observer. But the Paradox of the Hag is that her age and ugliness are nothing more than an awkward attempt at resolution as she moves ever so slowly towards the final integration with her former beauty. When that occurs the opposition of “Hardly ever”, and the equally cranky “Constantly”, are replaced with “Thankfully” and “Happily”. Opposition is now at rest and the former beauty of the hag can be vaguely perceived through the weathering of time.
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About the AuthorLarry Laveman, LCSW, BCD, is a Psychotherapist and Author in Solana Beach, California. His publications include topics on marriage counseling, supervision, mental health and spirituality. He is the former Chief Clinical Director for Harmonium, Inc., a community based nonprofit organization specializing in children, adolescents and families. You can find contact him via Google +, LinkedIn, or this website's contact page.