If I told you that every time you got in your car, you had a 12.5% chance of surviving, how frightened would you be to get in your car? The answer’s obvious. Let’s apply the same mathematics to marriage. Every year, thousands of marriages take place in the USA. Of those, more than half wind up in the divorce. Of those remaining, most stay together only because of some of the following reasons that I’ve repeatedly heard in therapy: “I can’t hurt my children”; “There’s no way I’d make it financially.” “We have so much money and holdings that splitting it would be unacceptable.”; “My religion doesn’t allow divorce. When I made my vows, I made a commitment between me and God. Therefore, I have to work it out.” “I don’t know how I’d survive.” “What would my family say?” and on and on and on. So they hang in and live together, emotionally alone, tolerating their situation and each other. Not totally unhappy but, certainly, not joyful.
On the other hand, when you try to look for good marriages, you discover there really aren’t many. Quite a few look good on the surface, but if you look deeper, you’ll discover they only go through the motions, they don’t experience the emotions. Instead, they argue, fight and undermine each other. They find fault and criticize. Most of all, they vigorously depreciate those things they see in their spouse that they can’t accept in themselves. Bottom line, I’d estimate that only10%-12% of marriages are truly healthy and happy.
Yet, people, similar to lemmings racing over the cliff, run toward marriage. They seem unaware of how precarious the institution is that they want to enter. They’re blinded, so to speak, by a driving need for love and a desire for someone who will live up to all of their dreams and expectations. A person who will make their lives meaningful, sexually stimulating and emotionally rewarding. But that rarely occurs. There are three reasons for it, foremost of which is that those feelings have to come from within. No one can give them to you. The second reason is almost always present in your marriage ceremony. It is eloquently described by way of beautiful metaphors regarding the sanctity of marriage and the joy involved in “giving oneself to another.” You remember the words, “Where once there were two, now there is one. These two young people have come together to declare their love for one another, to join in marriage and to be as one in the eyes of God.” Without realizing it, the loving couple accepts the notion that God approves of the concept that the process of entering marriage involves the loss of one individual or, perhaps, the loss of half of each individual. Recall how many times you’ve heard someone introduce their spouse as their “better half”. We are also told that much of marriage involves capitulating, no longer competing with one another, and a willingness to sacrifice your identity.
I’ve heard it described analogously in terms of two trees whose roots entwine and provide sustenance and support for each other. It sounds good, but that isn’t the way it works in nature. When you plant two trees close together, inevitably, their roots entwine and choke each other. In some instances, the weaker one survives. In others, it dies. In rare cases, as in the film “War of the Roses”, both trees so cripple each other that neither survives. It’s a frightening thought but, when you objectively look at marriages, they appear to function that way. They become, for the most part, win-lose situations in which each person struggles for sole right to the territory they share. My notion is that trees should be planted with sufficient distance between them for each one to maintain their own integrity, yet aid one another by providing shade, erosion protection and strength because of their proximity.
I further believe that, although a non-confrontational,dependent, obedient spouse may not threaten you emotionally, he/she won’t be stimulating or strong enough in their own right to challenge you intellectually, aid you to grow emotionally, or lift you up when you’re down. In fact, similar to the weak tree that only stands because it is supported by a stronger one, he/she will fall when or if you do. Why? Because he can’t stand on his own.
Which brings us to the third reason so many marital expectations and partners prove to be lacking. No marriage can make you whole. If you feel lacking, insufficient, inadequate, or emotionally needy, the partner you’ll attract will almost always be of the same ilk. He/she may appear strong on the outside but his emotional dynamics will be just the same as yours. In fact, his/her strong appearance may stem from your weakness. If that’s the case, he may, in the future, need your dependence to sustain his feelings of strength. Thus, any attempt on your part to become more self-sufficient or independent would serve as a threat to his emotional well-being. Although he might applaud and support your potential growth intellectually, unconsciously, he might sabotage it. The reason being that, when two people “cling together” (the politically correct term is “love each other”), it may make each of them feel whole, but neither will be free to be themselves, or to behave according to their own desires, because their every action has a direct effect on their partner. Consequently, they must concur with each others’ religious, political and philosophical view of life, lest their differences of opinion suggest that one doesn’t love the other. It may not be seen that way by them, but in the end, what it boils down to is, if you don’t make me whole, you don’t love me. The basic structure of their relationship disallows the emotional growth required for either of them to feel whole without subordinating the other. The alternative, although rarely evidenced in marriage, is to grow your own roots, own your own space, and freely share you with those you love because healthy relationships come about far more easily when you start with healthy, whole individuals.
To learn more about Dr. Reitman, read more of his articles, or to obtain copies for family or friends, please visit his website, dredreitman.com.