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If You Value Your Marriage, It's Worth Fighting For - 4/2/2013

Is your marriage worth fighting for? Does it mean enough for you to fight in order not to lose it?  If it isn’t, you might just as well not have it in the first place. But, then again, I promise you that if you don’t “fight” for a relationship, it will eventually die of its own accord.

What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example:

Claude was thinking about marrying for the second time. He was hesitant and scared. Would this relationship wind up as bad as the first one? Would he become disenchanted with his second wife the same way he had with his first? Would she be willing or able to satisfy his emotional needs? Those were the questions that whirled around in his brain. He knew he was needy and that he desperately wanted to be loved and cared for. That was part of his emotional makeup and it always seemed to interfere with the success of his past relationships. Every partner started out by saying they cared, because he was kind and sensitive. Later, they criticized him for being weak and dependent. His question to me was, “Am I just too needy, or is it that I pick women who can’t show or share the emotions I need?”  My answer was, “Yes, you pick women who have difficulty demonstrating love. The reason? Unconsciously, you, similar to every one of us, whether male or female, search for a spouse with whom you can replicate the “loving” relationship you experienced with your mother.” It won’t surprise you to learn that Claude’s mother was severely depressed, rarely able to laugh, and so preoccupied with her own unhappiness that she had little left to give to her children. Knowing that, it’s understandable that his needs are excessive. No matter how much attention he receives, he doubts that it will be there tomorrow or that it was given genuinely because inside, he fears once he lets himself care, it will disappear.

Similar to Claude, each of you need to identify where you’re coming from emotionally and what your needs are before you choose a spouse, or in order to improve your relationship with your present partner. Without doing so, you’re apt to interact; one, on the basis of facts rather than feelings; i.e., to hide behind issues in order to avoid coming into contact with your emotions; two, to totally avoid problems by rationalization and denial. For example: “It isn’t worth getting upset about”, “It happened and it’s over -  I’ll wait till it happens again” or, “If I tell her/him what I really think, she/he might leave me. In every instance, you don’t say what you feel. You hold it inside and, over time, your resentments grow to the point that you leave, either emotionally or physically, i.e., have an affair, divorce, or emotionally estrange yourself from your partner. A third means of dealing with conflict is to get angry. That’s when you say what you feel, without thinking. You complain, criticize, and attack others in order to avoid looking at what’s really bothering you. Instead, you latch onto a behavior or action your partner exhibited three months or three years ago or that you’ve kept in reserve so that any time you’re upset, you can vitriolically hurl it back at them, while accusing them of not caring, only being interested in themself, thinking they’re better than you are, and never listening to you.

Even when you’re right, the problem isn’t what you say, it’s your delivery. You’re either too indirect, vague, accusatory, or self-serving. What you need to see is that neither angry, hostile, or self-suffering martyrish behavior are healthy ways of fighting for a marriage. They’re really your means of avoiding feelings you had as a child that are too painful to revisit. It’s easier to blame your partner or spouse for not making you happy, loving you or caring for you in the way that you need. Understand that I am in no way suggesting that you have no right to want and need love. But how you go about asking for it is of greater importance than the fact that you need it.  

Let me give you an example:

What Claude has to be able to say to his future spouse is, “I know you’re hurting because I’m reluctant to commit to marriage right now. I suspect you feel that I don’t love you, but that’s not the case. The truth is, I’m aware that I’ve been distancing myself from you emotionally, but not because I don’t love you. It’s because I’ve been afraid to tell you that, when you need my love please don’t criticize or reject me. Tell me that you’re hurting and ask for what you need, because sometimes my crystal ball doesn’t work. Conversely, know that when I feel attacked, I run. I’m afraid of finding myself emotionally where I was as a child. I’m telling you this because I want an honest relationship with you, and I’m willing to fight for it. But I won’t sell my soul for it.”

The sad fact is that words of this nature don’t always elicit the response you’d like to hear. Instead, your honesty can take away their safety blanket, frighten them, and cause them to become angry or distant. Knowing this, however, can temper your reaction.  It should say to you that the louder, the angrier, the more distant your spouse becomes indicates that they heard you but are afraid to believe what you’ve said. They don’t see your words as kind and reassuring even though you intended them to be. They aren’t able to say thank you for your constructive criticism. But, if they’re worthy of having you for a spouse, then there’s fertile soil inside which, over time, will allow them to lower their guard so their trust can grow. It’s important to recognize that long-term, healthy relationships are difficult to establish, but when they’re good, they’re the most worthwhile possession you will ever acquire. To establish them, you need to fight, not by standing up to a partner, but by standing up for you. You need to feel, “I’m worthy of being loved, and I’m proud that I can express my love openly despite the reactions I encounter. When there is conflict, I resolve to remain vulnerable, to react consistent with my desires, and to maintain my sense of self worth.”

Although you may comprehend and appreciate my words, emotionally you may not be able to follow them. That’s alright. I only ask you to consider them because I am confident that if you agree with them, you will one day find the courage to honestly share your feelings and to openly love your partner because you’ve learned to love yourself.

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