In the end, all we have to offer each other is emotional commitment as we share our lives. Marriage is a system that is full of intricacies and wonder for personal growth.
Loving is not for the weak, nor for those who have to be carefully kept, nor for the faint of heart. That's why there is so little of it in the world. Love requires being steadfast through many difficulties. If our society ever tolerates a realistic view of marriage, we will be less cavalier about encouraging people to love and want each other. The end result of loving a cherished long-term partner is grief few of us are prepared to handle. Many of us would rather bury a "pain" than risk pain in our heart. A "pain" is easier to love less, so the loss won't be too great when he or she dies.
The biggest trust issue in marriage isn't about trusting your partner. It's about whether or not you can really trust yourself. The better your partner, the better your ability to soothe and console yourself needs to be. People find in their minds it is "not safe" to love their partner more than they can self-soothe if you need them to "be there for you". Your partner will not "be there for you" to hold your hand through their death. You'll go through that alone. The increasing vulnerability that arises from your partner becoming more important to you makes a passionate marriage daunting. Many people feel they can not trust themselves with this enormous risk.
Critical points mark the turning point in your connection with your spouse. It either shifts you from emotional fusion or greater differentiation. When couples use critical points wisely, there is an intense sense of intimacy, yet the future remains unknown. It is not always easy to continue to sail in the same direction through critical points with the intensity of the issues and the amount of self-soothing required. However, showing yourself as a peaceful vessel rather than a person of war can be an act of integrity.
Some things that can help with fusion during critical/stressful points in a marriage are:
Repair the positive connection with your partner by sending positive signals. Most couples have their own code.
Pay attention to your partner's attempts at repair and do not take them for granted.
Be willing to make the first move by pulling out of discussions that are going nowhere by making overtures to get back together.
Remember that monogamy shifts as your own differentiation increases from being a promise to your partner to one you make to yourself.
Remember that sometimes your partner can not "be there for you" in the sense that you desire as they may be having trouble regulating their own anxieties in times of discord. Taking care of yourself at critical/stressful points is important for you and a kindness to your partner. Poorly differentiated people do hurtful things when their anxiety goes up. This is why it is important to not let your partner "hurt you" in the sense that it is more important to remember that they may be reflecting their own anxieties. If you are well cared for mentally, you will be able to differentiate this and not expect your partner to take care of you. "Being there" for your partner in the positive sense is great if you can do it as it is the essence of true mutuality but we can not always expect it in return.
Life presents us with the choice of getting what we want, but not the way we might want it. It's disquieting when long-sought improvements occur in ways we don't anticipate. We are challenged to give up cherished notions that keep us stuck. Giving up fusion fantasies isn't easy. Our desire to merge and relinquish personal responsibility dies a slow death but there's no peace until it does.
The other side of the looking glass- the passionate marriage.
The most lasting "we-ness" often comes after a critical point, not before. The "we-ness" gained from experiences in the growth cycle, examining your self and your marriage, fosters further growth. Monogamy operates on a different level feeling like an ongoing commitment. Couples schedule time together because they want to be together and they protect this from the invasion of other demands. They address issues as they arise rather than waiting for things to feel intolerable. There is a stability that transcends day to day ups and downs.
You begin to allow your partner to influence you which creates new options and de-escalates fights. Feeling that you have influence in your relationship, reduces the urge to criticize or withdraw. When partners try to influence each other on issues about which they disagree, they do so in a straightforward manner that is softened with playful persuasion. People relax. Their facial features soften and their body tension melts. They touch more frequently and easily, leaning into each other for contact when sitting close. They no longer fear that straight talk will become adversarial. They have the comfort that comes in knowing that both of them can stand on their own two feet. Respect develops from watching their partner master himself or herself and maintain integrity during the critical points. It is a respect that includes rueful admiration that partners won't knuckle under to each other or their own anxieties. Respect makes partners willing to give each other the benefit of doubt in times of misunderstanding.
In marriage you can expect many blisters along the path to bliss. Hold out through this nerve-racking process and you can find the 'passionate marriage'.
Excerpts from this article are taken from the work of David Schnarch.
Colleen Montgomery is a well-known Individual and Couples Therapist in Severna Park, Maryland. Her office is located at 821 W. Benfield Road in Severna Park. Colleen specializes in Marriage Counseling and feels passionate about helping couples. It has been an honor to have couples share their struggles and victories as they grow individually and together as a couple.
Soon to be released, Joyful Marriage will share experiences and techniques to find true happiness within marriage.
You can reach Colleen at 410-336-4950 to set up an appointment for counseling.
Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage, Henry Holt Publishing, 1997.