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Courtship to Marriage: A Tricky Transaction

In Greek mythology, there are some marvelous stories of marriage. Here, for instance, are two tales about how Zeus and Hera tricked each other into marriage and the inevitable disappointments that follow such chicanery. These stories are wonderful parables for the present.

Wounded Birds

Zeus, the chief and most macho of the gods, fell in love with Hera. An independent and proud goddess, she was not swept off her feet by his wooing and rejected his offer of marriage. Zeus, wounded by this rejection but still wanting the fair Hera, decided to trick her by disguising himself as a poor, bedraggled, wounded bird. Hera, upon seeing the creature, took pity on it. The bird’s suffering struck a sympathetic chord deep within her own heart and she tenderly warmed the pathetic but charming creature at her bosom. Thus it was that Zeus, the great thrower of thunderbolts, won the heart of Hera and eventually tricked her into marriage.

There is much to be learned from this story. Wounded birds can be most disarming. Women often can sense an underlying tenderness and vulnerability that is born of childhood mistreatment or prior hurtful relationships beneath the veneer of macho men. These otherwise independent women will go to incredible lengths to succor such men, especially women whose fathers had a similar core of sadness. They long to fulfill an old desire to restore the wounded bird to health through the generous gift of a love that transcends any love they have ever known.

It is upsetting when the wounded bird responds not with gratitude and growth, but instead becomes proud and petulant, distant and defiant. It’s much too frightening to a macho man to have his defenses down for long. Often enough, the sensitive man our helpful lady married vanishes and an irrational, ridiculous god of the male ego appears in his stead, throwing thunderbolts of abuse at his beloved before he flies the coop with some little chickadee. The wounded bird denies his vulnerability and hides his unhappiness by wounding the woman who cared for him, just as Zeus left Hera hurt and betrayed.

Why do women stay with the men who abuse and disappointment them? Perhaps they are still enchanted by that little wounded bird they are sure is there beneath the bravado and cruelty. Perhaps their self-esteem is tied up in their self-perceived ability to cure with their love. Perhaps they can’t stand the idea that they might fail to revive the gentleness in their beloved. Perhaps they are reenacting an old drama that has been going on in their families for generations. Whatever the reason, women beware! Unless the wounded person is even more motivated than you are to deal with his feelings and develop a new kind of relationship, you are, like Hera, forever doomed to dissatisfaction.

Aphrodite’s Nightie

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Others say that it was Hera who tricked Zeus into the bonds of marriage. Knowing men as she did, Hera paid a little visit to Aphrodite, the ravishing goddess of love. She borrowed a magical nightie that made her look like Aphrodite. This gladdened Zeus’ heart and laced his fantasy with the thrilling thought that he, of all men, was going to be getting it on with Aphrodite herself. What more do men want than to be with a willing woman who is unabashedly sexual and aggressive in her desire for him?

They say that the honeymoon lasted 300 years. But that is undoubtedly more wish than fact. Actually, the morning after, Zeus awakened to the realization that it was willful Hera and not willing Aphrodite whom he had married. Hera, the goddess of the household and childbearing, had practical ideas about marriage — “It is not a perpetual sexual honeymoon, honey. The nightie is out, flannels are in.” Hera, proud and ill-tempered, rolls out an agenda of duties to be performed by her mate.

Why do men stay with women who disappoint them sexually? It is said that the hope of regaining another night with the nightie is what kept Zeus married to Hera. In his eyes, she was the most desirous as well as the most frustrating of women and, thus, the one whom he was most bound to love. For mere mortal men, perhaps their self-esteem is tied up in reawakening the sexual goddess within. Perhaps they can’t stand the idea that they didn’t see what was coming. Perhaps they are playing out a drama that has been going on between men and women in their family for generations. Or perhaps, privately, they agree that once married, a couple should give up sex and get on with business. Whatever the reason, men beware! When men marry only for sex, they are bound to be disappointed. Unless your Hera agrees that intimacy and sexual play can and should be part of married life, you will find yourself forever, like Zeus, feeling deprived.

To some extent, all new relationships are part fantasy. Both men and women try to accommodate each other’s desires during courtship so as to attract and win those they find attractive. Most people also have private and sometimes painful issues that they play out in their relationships until they learn to do things differently. Trouble develops when the courting couple doesn’t trust that they can show each other their real and private selves and still be loved. Desperate for love and fearing being seen, they continue the charade into marriage. When this happens, they, like Zeus and Hera, can end up feeling betrayed and disappointed. In a successful courtship, the couple takes the time to develop trust and intimacy based on who they each really are, not on who they think the other wants them to be.

Courtship to Marriage: A Tricky Transaction

Robert Stone

APA Reference
Stone, R. (2020). Courtship to Marriage: A Tricky Transaction. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.