Everyone around us struggles in marriage.
But you wouldn’t know it because most people feel bad about their struggle, so they hide it.
I have yet to meet a couple who were not challenged to some degree.
If you are married, or you are going to get married, it’s important to read this thoroughly. It may help you be more realistic.
The media and our culture inundate us with misinformation about how relationships are supposed to be. Many of us still think that when we find the one all will be well and they will complete us. Or maybe some of us think a “conscious” relationship means that we somehow transcend our issues, triggers and neurosis.
When we finally do commit to a long-term relationship and the warm fuzzies of the honeymoon stage wear off after six months or a year or two, we finally get to the goods of a real relationship.
One of the first things we discover is that it is challenging.
We struggle, blame, judge and even hate. We shut down, we distance, we run away. We do and say mean things or we just freeze in fear. We do all the things that we did as a child, (but probably don’t remember) or we act like our parents—the thing we’d swore we’d never do. We then suffer because our fantasy of what we thought a relationship was supposed to be doesn’t match our lived experience of the real relationship we are in now.
We discover that a relationship is full of pleasure yes, but that it is also full of pain. It’s not just happy, but it’s sad. It’s not just blissful, it’s depressing. We don’t just experience warm fuzzies, we also experience cold iciness and rage.
Then, we judge ourselves against the one-sided marriage paradigm that was sold to us. We get depressed thinking that perhaps we made a mistake or something is wrong with us. Or, we blame our spouse and hold them accountable for our pain, which is also depressing.
Some of us might feel alone and struggle to tell anyone about what’s really going on, perhaps because we don’t have those kinds of friends. And, even if we did have friends that would accept us in our funk as we fumble through marriage, our culture trained us to hide our relationship struggles so we put on our upbeat face and continue hiding. We unconsciously embrace the game everyone plays in this culture to be a half-version of ourselves.
But when it’s quiet and no one’s looking, we might be courageous enough to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are in pain, that we don’t know how to get through it, and that we are in unknown territory.
We might take the next step and admit we can’t do it alone, so we finally reach out to someone for help. We might first talk to a close friend, a pastor, a therapist or our parents to get their councel. But often what we receive is not what we need. The most common response we can get is advice, problem solving and fixing—all well intentioned with the agenda of getting us back to “normal,” which translates into getting us back to our happy place.
This lack of validating our experience has us feeling more alone and even stupid. Remember, other people don’t want us to suffer. Our suffering makes them uncomfortable. So, if we are not careful and we want their approval/acceptance, we might abandon our true feelings and take their advice and try to get back to being happy again. But meanwhile under our mask, our suffering ensues.
Next, if we are religious or spiritual, we may look to our texts and self-help books to support us. We might even pray to God to make our suffering go away. We might even meditate and try to pseudo-embrace our pain all the while secretly wanting it to go away.
This entire process is common, normal, and I see it every day.
In my experience as a relationship guide, people finally get into a marriage and have no idea what’s at stake and no idea how to proceed. It’s like being lost in a thick forest in a far away place with no map.
Add kids to the mix, years of financial stress, miscommunication, less and less sex and an inability to do real conflict, and we have a recipe for affairs, divorce and stuck marriages. If we are honest, we finally start to admit we have few to no skills in the long-term relationship department.
The feelings we bottled up or tried to hide begin to leak out, sometimes as a slow drip, and other times as a raging mountain torrent. Or we feel afraid to move one way or the other, so we stay frozen in inaction, unsure of how to proceed. Meanwhile our body bears the burden as we compartmentalize our pain in silence, all the while we get sicker and sicker year after year.
Eventually we start to see that we learned what was modeled to us. We realize there was no relationship class in school. We just digested what was modeled to us.
We look around, compare ourselves to others and think, “they seem like their marriage is great, so what’s my problem?” But remember that under the masks of everyone around you is a hidden layer, a layer they, like you, would rather hide.
When we don’t want to find out for ourselves what marriage is all about and the wild, rigorous, enchanting, painful path it forces us to face, we end up settling on a myriad of outdated and ineffective views given to us by our parents, culture, traditions or teachers. And in doing so, we perpetually avoid the massive opportunity for healing and growth that is staring us in the face day in and day out for years on end.
So, a gentle reminder that when we bought, without knowing it, the old way of relating, what I call “relational ignorance,” we set ourselves up for a big ol’ fantasy-slow-burn-let down. And, when we choose to keep living it this way, it’s supposed to suck.
Marriage is work. A real relationship is work.
It requires skill, a powerful context, embodiment and our rational thinking mind. It requires what I call “relational awareness and literacy.” A real relationship includes all of us, all shades, all colors, the dark, and the light. It’s happy sometimes and it’s sad sometimes. And, many people bail because they keep trying to live a fantasy that doesn’t match up with reality. In other words, the territory doesn’t match the map they were given in childhood.
Relating well then becomes an art, a master skill, to really see relationship as a path to our own wholeness and freedom.
Relationship is what we are all designed for. It’s who we are.
And marriage, if we have the proper view and tools, is an alchemical journey catapulting and demanding us to become all that we are.
But remember, we must say yes to growth and have a willingness to learn how to face all that comes up within the confines of marriage, monogamy and long-term partnership. And, once we do, we’re on our way to marriage empowerment and fulfillment.
Bonus: Dennis Schoneveld & Rachel Brathen just before their wedding vows:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: Rolands Lakis/Flickr