The institution of
marriage and what it means needs exploration because serious questions have
been raised in recent times. As it stands now, the foundation of the marital
state is shaky. Trying to understand all the implications probably requires
thousands of volumes with no guarantee that anyone will come close to solutions
on how to make it better. For my part, I wish to contribute a tiny piece to our
unrelenting search into this aspect of life that can be the cause of delight or
inflict enormous emotional, economic and psychological pain. We all know about the
high divorce rate and the even higher percentage of unhappy marriages of those
who remain in so-called committed relationships.
That word – committed
– does it really tell the whole story? Married couples may say they are devoted
to each other. Let’s dig a little deeper and look at the implications.
As far as I’m concerned, being married does not necessarily
mean committed. I’m not judging the
right and wrong of what goes on in a marriage, but rather the meaning of the
words used. If there is, on the part of one or both, verbal/physical abuse,
lack of empathy, extra-marital affairs, intense power struggles or an emotional
disconnect (among many other issues), can they still claim an undying reverence
simply because they are married?
Is it necessary for marriages to be committed in every sense of the word? Almost all relationships function
in varying degrees, but when they are merely tolerated then action is called
for or the breakup seems inevitable. A word like commitment allows us to hide behind a false image. Words get tired and
can be useless, but examining behavior (what you say and do) is what gives us
the insights we need to make relationships better. Perhaps reevaluating the “C”
word might help reach a more realistic understanding of how we interact as
Let’s touch on some of the issues that contribute to the
breakdown of a relationship. Some people
thrive on anger and chaos because they were raised in that kind of atmosphere and,
as adults, that kind of behavior is all they know. Experiencing happiness and
serenity is foreign and tends to make this type of personality uncomfortable. They
constantly create a disturbed environment, continuing the pattern of their
upbringing although they desperately want love and happiness. They don’t know
how to get it.
Along the same lines, unconsciously creating this unpleasant
world with loved ones might keep someone from facing their own depression or
other emotional disorders. This type of individual can create bedlam, get their
partner to respond angrily, and then rationalize by labeling themselves as
blameless. Through this manipulation, they can then deny responsibility and single
out their mate’s anger as the cause of his/her unhappiness. These are
smatterings of unconscious and semi-conscious deceptions that take place in
relationships. For a marriage to succeed, responsibility for your actions is
Also, we must be satisfied and content within ourselves in
order to come to a relationship maturely and with the best possibilities of
succeeding. If you arrive with all your negative baggage intact expecting your
mate to make you happy you are in for big disappointments. A positive outlook has
to come from within. The bottom line is that without self-exploration and self-discovery
one cannot pull out of this emotional quagmire.
On another note, I believe the excessive divorce rate
highlights the inherent misconceptions our society has about the leap from
courtship to marriage. Frequently, the unspoken rules, demands and expectations
change the moment you sign on the dotted line. Because a new family is formed, does
the specter of a dysfunctional childhood rise up?
Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.D., psychologist, author, speaker and
relationship expert on i.village, had this to say in an online article entitled,
When Your Husband Becomes Your Father. “During marriage, the original family
configuration is naturally reconstructed, and the individual often projects
onto the mate qualities he or she dealt with in the parent. When original
relationship with parent has not been worked out, these projections can be
lethal, not only plummeting the individual back into the original situation she
thought she left, but bringing a sense of doom, as if this will go on forever.
“In these instances the repetition compulsion – the
compulsion to re-enact a painful situation so that it can be mastered and
worked through – comes into play. An individual chooses a mate that resembles
the parent in order to work through the original trauma, to make it right this
Those who do not marry, which is now the majority of the
population according to the last census, may have decided it’s too risky to
make the leap. Too often, a finger is pointed at single people, saying they
avoid marriage because they fear dedication to another person – the implication
being that they are selfish. In many instances, they are acting wisely. If they
are realists, they know what such an arrangement means and whether they can
deliver. Anyone would think long and hard before putting your life savings
into an investment you know has only a forty-eight to fifty percent chance of coming
out ahead or if you were asked to invest in stock where you saw long-term stagnation
and no rise in profitability. That description is similar to the state of marriage as it exists today.
Yet, it’s common to rush into marriage without considering
the good and bad factors about what attracted you to that person, and what is
needed to clinch success. To go into marriage based on wanting social
acceptance, you have stepped into a mine field.
Most people will tell you that attraction to a potential
mate is a mystery to them. They can only say chemistry brought them together. I
see this “inexplicable” magnetism rooted in a mix of early impressions that remain
branded in the unconscious; reactions to your caretaker’s style of raising
children, traumas/happy events, contemporaries, close friends, books, movies,
societal standards, advertisements and a host of other influences. Sometimes this
childhood input is loaded with unhealthy aspects.
When unexplored, some of these buried toxic elements are the
driving force behind your romantic chemistry and behavior. In order to come to
a relationship fully mature, you have to dig into the inner folds of your
unconscious that is concealing these unhealthy elements. Self-exploration may
help alter the romantic chemistry that impels you to choose inappropriate mates
– often multiple times. It might mean allowing your intellect to intercede rather
than relying on chemical attraction that many times can and does lead people
Think about it. We make one of the most important decisions
of our lives – living with a relative stranger with the intention of permanence
– by depending on impulsive bodily responses (pounding heart, weak-kneed, unable
to focus, disinterest in eating, obsessively centering attention on the object
of desire, etc.). Without deep understanding of why we react that way to a
particular person, relationships are often doomed to fail or falter.
“To some degree, we all use denial as a coping tool.
Whenever life presents us with a difficult or painful situation, we have a
tendency to want to ignore reality and create a more palatable fantasy. But
there is no time in our lives when our denial mechanism is more fully engaged
than in the early stages of our love relationships.” This statement came from
the book: Getting The Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. He works with
couples in private practice, conducts couples workshops, teaches marital
therapists, and gives public lectures.
If denial is at work in the early stages of a love
relationship, then do the problems that have been repressed come to life after
marriage? I would suspect that is exactly what happens. They can only be put
off for so long. Even if we are partially or fully aware of negative issues during
the courtship it is easy to look to marriage as endowed with magical powers
that will cure all ills. In actuality, the demands of coupling can create greater
pressures as it becomes vital to communicate, compromise and compensate.
As Dr. Hendrix says, “But, no matter what their conscious
intentions, most people are attracted to mates who have their caretakers’
positive and negative traits, and, typically, the negative traits are more
The theories are innumerable, but, in the end, we must look within
ourselves. It is mandatory that we dive in and swim against the powerful rip
tide of romantic chemistry that can pull us under. Knowledge of what factors drive
our behavior and our decisions can only help the interaction with our partners.
From my perspective, this kind of action might be our only line of defense.
All too often we anticipate that the “marriage fairy” will
swoop down, sprinkling positive/ happy
dust on our heads. Or to put it another way, we sit back and trust that our
initial, mindless attraction will carry us forward into the setting sun with
joy and happiness. To some, single life may seem more compelling because it
offers far fewer unrealistic demands and expectations. But Marriage can offer a
wonderful, blissful haven if viewed with stark, unvarnished realism and the willingness
to do the necessary work.