9 Overlooked Threats to a Marriage
1. We marry people because we like who they are. People change. Plan on it. Don’t marry someone because of who they are, or who you want them to become. Marry them because of who they are determined to become. And then spend a lifetime joining them in their becoming, as they join you in yours.
2. Marriage doesn’t take away our loneliness. To be alive is to be lonely. It’s the human condition. Marriage doesn’t change the human condition. It can’t make us completely un-lonely. And when it doesn’t, we blame our partner for doing something wrong, or we go searching for companionship elsewhere. Marriage is intended to be a place where two humans share the experience of loneliness and, in the sharing, create moments in which the loneliness dissipates. For a little while.
3. Shame baggage. Yes, we all carry it it. We spend most of our adolescence and early adulthood trying to pretend our shame doesn’t exist so, when the person we love triggers it in us, we blame them for creating it. And then we demand they fix it. But the truth is, they didn’t create it and they can’t fix it. Sometimes the best marital therapy is individual therapy, in which we work to heal our own shame. So we can stop transferring it to the ones we love.
4. Ego wins. We’ve all got one. We came by it honestly. Probably sometime around the fourth grade when kids started to be jerks to us. Maybe earlier if our family members were jerks first. The ego was a good thing. It kept us safe from the emotional slings and arrows. But now that we’re grown and married, the ego is a wall that separates. It’s time for it to come down. By practicing openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, vulnerability instead of strength, and grace instead of power.
5. Life is messy and marriage is life. So marriage is messy, too. But when things stop working perfectly, we start blaming our partner for the snags. We add unnecessary mess to the already inescapable mess of life and love. We must stop pointing fingers and start intertwining them. And then we can we walk into, and through, the mess of life together. Blameless and shameless.
6. Empathy is hard. By its very nature, empathy cannot happen simultaneously between two people. One partner must always go first, and there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. It takes risk. It’s a sacrifice. So most of us wait for our partner to go first. A lifelong empathy standoff. And when one partner actually does take the empathy plunge, it’s almost always a belly flop. The truth is, the people we love are fallible human beings and they will never be the perfect mirror we desire. Can we love them anyway, by taking the empathy plunge ourselves?
7. We care more about our children than about the one who helped us make them. Our kids should never be more important than our marriage, and they should never be less important. If they’re more important, the little rascals will sense it and use it and drive wedges. If they’re less important, they’ll act out until they are given priority. Family is about the constant, on-going work of finding the balance.
8. The hidden power struggle. Most conflict in marriage is at least in part a negotiation around the level of interconnectedness between lovers. Men usually want less. Women usually want more. Sometimes, those roles are reversed. Regardless, when you read between the lines of most fights, this is the question you find: Who gets to decide how much distance we keep between us? If we don’t ask that question explicitly, we’ll fight about it implicitly. Forever.
9. We don’t know how to maintain interest in one thing or one person anymore. We live in a world pulling our attention in a million different directions. The practice of meditation–attending to one thing and then returning our attention to it when we become distracted, over and over and over again–is an essential art.