ARTICLES - marriage

Divorce isn’t always the solution to a troubled marriage - 4/13/2017

It was far from a pleasant therapy session. Brittany was totally distraught. In her head she heard a voice telling her exactly what she knew she had to do. It was the same thing she would have told a friend in a similar situation, but she was unable to bring herself to take that step. So she chose, instead, to capitulate and walk on eggshells whenever he flew into a rage. She thought, perhaps, “I can cajole him into seeing that I care and his anger will diminish.” This did not occur. As a result, she asked herself, “How long do I take this abuse? How long before my love for him totally disappears?”

Inside, she knew their relationship was based on the mutual weaknesses they shared. She had enough therapy to come to that conclusion. As she stated, “Why else would I have accepted his angry, controlling behavior and his constant threat that he might leave me?”  You might, similarly, wonder why this man, who truly loves her, treats her so poorly? The answer is simple. He is equally fearful she might leave. So, he controls, depreciates, intimidates and emotionally cripples her to ensure that won’t happen.

Is this the first time in Brittany’s life that she’s been controlled and intimidated by someone she loves? Rest assured it isn’t, it was the same in her first marriage and in her relationship with her parents and siblings. Nor is it the first time for Brad to experience an overwhelming dread that he might be rejected. Early in life he learned he didn’t measure up and wasn’t worthy of the love he desperately desired. The curious paradox is that, intellectually, they both know they deserve better. They’ve earned it by their accomplishments educationally, professionally and financially. But, intellectual knowledge doesn’t change behavior. Emotions do. Consequently, their feelings of insufficiency not only persistent but drive their behaviors.

The result is they stay together and their feelings of love erode. Her desire for closeness and sexual intercourse diminishes and his fear of rejection and hostile outbursts increase. Despite their love for each other, their care doesn’t mitigate their actions. Instead, their feelings of insufficiency run the show.

The sadness is Brittany and Brad aren’t the exception, they’re the rule. They reflect the quintessential example of the problems experienced by far too many married couples. In most instances, the end result is an early divorce or a long-term dysfunctional union. Even worse, their dysfunctional relationship serves as a role model that will be emulated by their children. It is a sorry state of affairs, but marital counseling can’t cure it because you cannot counsel marriages until you first counsel the people in it.

Think about it: Everyone – except individuals who are certifiably psychotic – knows the difference between loving behavior and destructive deprecatory actions. The problem is that when you’re emotionally frightened and insecure you don’t behave out of what you know. You are governed by your fears. So, how do you resolve this problem?  First, by recognizing the source of your own inner conflicts; second, by owning them; and third and fourth, by forgiving and accepting yourself with those feelings. That’s when you can (fifth), live and laugh at your childish thoughts and feelings, and sixth, share who you really are with others. It’s then that you’re truly vulnerable and transparent. The consequence (seventh), is you genuinely love yourself and more often than not, you are loved by a spouse who will not always agree with you but will understand your viewpoint and value you for your openness. Even more, at that point, you’ll be able to consider his or her opinion without becoming defensive.

Although, these steps aren’t easy to follow, the rewards you reap by taking them can dramatically improve your quality of life. Sadly, however, it won’t always result in the healthy marriage you desire, unless your spouse also follows this formula. If he or she doesn’t, you might have to choose whether or not to end your relationship. However, the gains you would have made will serve you well in any future relationship you chose to enter.  Without taking these steps, you are doomed to replicate your past marriage, which you might just as well have stayed in.

In order to establish a healthy relationship, it is essential you understand that your partner doesn’t cause your behavior. Too often, your knee-jerk reaction is to justify your inappropriate actions by stating, “if you didn’t do XYZ, I wouldn’t have acted this way.” But it isn’t so. Recall step two. By virtue of having owned your actions, you recognize that they stem from your own fears and that, in almost every instance, your negative behaviors are really a desperate cry for help and nurturance.

That’s why it’s so important to write a people tag. I understand that you may think “I already know me,” but I promise you in the process of writing your people tag, you’ll discover there is much more you can learn about you. In fact, that’s half the reason for writing it, i.e., to gain an in-depth awareness of you. The other half is to enable you to share that awareness with others. The primary questions you need to ask are: Who am I really, what makes me tick, what constructive or non-constructive behaviors contribute to my sense of self-esteem, as opposed to what causes me to feel lacking, fearful, threatened, anxious or depressed? You might want to include how you feel your partner can best aid you during stressful times. In effect, you need to discover the defense mechanisms you primarily resort to when under pressure or stress.

I could go on at length, because the questions are endless and the answers you give birth to will only be limited by your own sense of curiosity about yourself. I promise you, that although writing your people tag is a difficult task to accomplish, it will yield tremendous emotional rewards and will help you to avoid replicating the relationship shared by Brittany, Brad and so many other unhappy married individuals. Even more, it will enable you to see that there can be a positive resolution to marital problems, other than divorce.

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