The seven paths to marital bliss

INTERMEZZO affords us surprisingly private glimpses into the ups and downs of Mr and Mrs Strauss. Thomas Johannes Mayer sings the part of Storch, the court kapellmeister. We catch up with him to quiz him on the secrets of successful marriage.

Who knows, maybe we can still pick up some tips.


1. Happiness 

Herr Mayer, what’s the secret of a happy marriage?

Confucius said once: They must often change, who would be constant in happiness. In other words, happiness does not consist in material things and prosperity at home but rather in contentment of spirit.
So, in any wedlock-type relationship it’s important for the partners to treat each other with respect and talk honestly and openly about the changes that the passing years bring with them. Absolutely no accusations or projection of unfulfilled desires.


2. Love 

Have you figured out what love is? If so, please explain the essence of that noblest of feelings!

Glad to. In matters of love I like to distinguish between four aspects.

1. Every expression or gesture of love has a lot to do with self-love. And the type of love we’re showing to the recipient also depends on how much room for selflessness there is in our self-love.

2. Adopting Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, we can then isolate various levels of love and draw distinctions between them and feelings of infatuation, friendship and superficial or shallow love. These levels of love range from romantic love, in which passion and intimacy predominate, via comradely love, which is largely about intimacy and commitment, to perfect love, the synthesis of intimacy, passion and commitment.

3. As a Buddhist, first and foremost there is always universal love – the thing that connects us all in everything that we experience and which surrounds us.

4. This type of love is described very clearly and emphatically in the Bible. Chapter 13 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a comprehensive definition of love. If we internalise those precepts, we save ourselves a lot of red herrings in the form of negative characteristics such as jealousy, envy, expectations, which are apt to be falsely associated with love.


3. Jealousy

How jealous are we allowed to get? Does it motivate us or slow us down?

As I hinted earlier, I think of jealousy as a wrongly channelled form of love and in my mind it has absolutely nothing to do with perfect or universal love. The word ‘jealousy’ is actually derived from ‘zeal’, which to me is usually negative and not something to aspire to. And jealousy is only a few notches up from malevolence and hatred.

Jealous people usually have low self-esteem. The resulting resentment expresses itself as an undeveloped ego that is trying to assert itself through accusatory, importunate or dismissive behaviour. Unfortunately, this is never the best way to acquire a full sense of self, one that can empathise, understand, forgive and let go.


4. Arguing

What are your tips on the perfect way to quarrel in a relationship?

Ideally both parties should stick rigidly to certain rules of communication and question both their own arguments and those of the other person – in a respectful, sensitive and attentive way. Most insoluble arguments are rooted in misunderstandings and disparities in levels of communication. Arguments take place on different planes (factual, emotional, relational) and these planes are often mixed up or the boundaries between them become blurred.

As individuals, we speak from our own idiolect, with our own subjective weightings placed on the words we use. Learning to distinguish between objective language and ‘ours’ is a never-ending task.


5. Children 

Offspring throw a spanner in the works. How do a couple survive becoming a family?

For me to answer that question, you’d have to rephrase it, because I don’t really know what a family in the strict sense of the word is like. In any case, my children have kind of centred everything for me and given my life a new glow, if you like. More of a glow than my life would have had otherwise. So the question of whether a couple remains a couple if they have kids has never occurred to me. For me the issue is more: how do you stay as a family, with everyone enriched by the children and helping each other, even when the couple as an entity has ceased to exist?


6. Flirts

No one is an angel. How do you deal with temptation from outside?

By way of evading the question, I can only say that the price is normally determined by demand and supply. But the really important things, like love and life itself, can’t be bought and have no price tag anyway.


7. Secrets

Does your partner know everything about you? If she does, how come? And if not, why not?

How could anyone presume to know everything about the other person? Even if I were to lay myself wide open like a book, I’d have to know myself perfectly before anyone else could measure up to the task.

Like Nietzsche, I assume that the person to know least about a given individual is that individual himself, and that the other person just holds a mirror up to us. However, our acknowledgement of truth will always be informed by our identity as an individual and our moral code – and it can never be defined in an ultimate sense. Openness is the key to true identity. The only secret that we have to crack above all else is what we should be doing in the here and now. Because any person is capable of fusing everything and nothing together in an instant and latching into the mystery of faith.


Returning to our opera house as a guest is Thomas Johannes Mayer, one of the great bass-baritones of our times. Mayer gave his breakout international performance as Wozzeck at the Scala Milan in the production by Jürgen Flimm. Our audiences know Mayer from his appearances as Amfortas (PARSIFAL), Telramund (LOHENGRIN), Vogt (THE TREASURE HUNTER) and the title role in MACBETH



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