I finally have boiled down the reasons that good marriages can die and bad marriages can wind up in divorce.
The primary reason for the downfall of a marital relationship is that you cannot live life and love constructively out of fear or anger. No matter what you do to hide these emotions, your partner, without realizing it intellectually, will be well-aware of the fact that you either capitulate and agree with them, or control and demean them because you are frightened, not because you genuinely care for them.
Thus, even genuinely good deeds you demonstrate, the gifts you give and the lack of conflict you engage in, stems, in their minds, not from the love in your heart, but because of your fear of confrontation, rejection or loss of love. As a result, your spouse will see you as lacking the strength or courage to stand up to them and being too weak for them to lean on. They will view you as a cold, resentful individual or as rejecting and controlling. Neither perception will result in your being loved for the emotionally needy, but well-meaning person you truly are.
The second reason is that most human beings, as a result of their own insecurities, interact and deal with one another on the basis of facts rather than feelings. The arguments they experience stem, more often than not, from their need to defend themselves, to prove they’re “right” and to justify their actions. The consequence of this attitude is that they, and most of you, deal primarily with issues and facts as opposed to feelings.
You vividly recall the dates and time of every misdeed your spouse previously demonstrated. You remember every word that he or she uttered of a negative nature, and your memory is nearly 100 percent perfect. When it’s not, you have friends who will help you verify each and every one of your partners’ transgressions. During these conflicts, your goal is to justify your actions; to mitigate any admission of failure or incompetence on your part and to prove that the problem is your spouse, not yourself.
The third reason is that one essential behavior is absent: its vulnerability, i.e., the ability to openly share what you feel and where you’re coming from with your partner. An impossible task if you are unwilling to honestly face yourself. The fact is, that for any relationship to truly be constructive, you need to be transparent. Not to defend or to hide behind facts, but to share emotions. To do so, you first have to know what you feel and be willing to fully expose yourself. That means to risk rejection and to recognize that, in most instances, your partner, when s/he knows you for who you are, will respond to you in a loving, forgiving and accepting fashion, despite your short comings.
Sadly, most of you can’t do that. I cannot recall any patient who ever comes to therapy saying, “the reason my marriage needs to end is MY desperate need for love, nurturing and reassurance that has never been satisfied. I am an emotionally needy person and, possibly, more often than I would like to admit. I wind up hearing, feeling and thinking that events, statements and actions on the part of my partner are more negative, critical and hostile than they were meant to be. If I were more confident and more certain that I was worth the love I desire, I might have acted differently. I might have been more proactive and openly asked for what I wanted instead of criticizing my partner for what he or she did, said or didn’t do. I would have realized that I desperately need to be loved. I wouldn’t have been ashamed of being emotionally needy, and I wouldn’t have had to prove that I deserve love. I wouldn’t have had to still my tongue because I was fearful of his or her reaction and felt that if I spoke up, he or she would have left me or rejected me. I lived in my marriage with my actions stemming from my fears rather than my hopes and desires.
“The sad state of affairs is that I know it now, and even knowing it doesn’t, on too many occasions, afford me the opportunity or generate the impetuous to ask for what I truly need and desire. As a result, I either keep my mouth shut and resent my partner, or detach and direct my frustrations toward my children, my house, my friends or my job. Why? Because in my mind, trying to reach him or her is an impossible task. Consequently, I escape by drinking or drugging, drowning myself in my computer or iPhone, or even search for someone else to fill the emptiness inside me. I know, now, that you can’t drink, eat, sleep, hurt, resent or screw your way to mental health. No one else can make me feel whole. I have to acquire that state of being by learning to recognize me on the inside and respond to life in spite of the negative traits I discover in me.”
There you have it. To create a successful marriage you must override your fear of criticism, rejection, alienation or confrontation. You must be vulnerable and risk exposing yourself to your partner. That means: Share your real feelings, your fears and your thoughts. Lastly, you need to recognize that you don’t have to be right, because, in the long run, being right doesn’t make a marriage work or a relationship successful. Instead, it’s being real. It doesn’t sound difficult when you read it on paper, but when you’re in a situation where you must admit your weaknesses and undress emotionally, it’s another story.
Despite what you may think, it’s hard to reach out, to love or to show your feelings for someone, in spite of their words and behaviors that suggest you don’t matter. But, when you’re finally able to overcome your fears of rejection and to openly verbalize your love and desires, a wonderful transformation occurs. You become transparent. You discover that your world won’t come to an end, even if you’re rejected and you grow from the hurt you experience because you’re no longer a victim. Instead, you’re a courageous individual who had the strength to risk rejection and love openly.