A vivacious young woman sat across from me in the counseling office. She was talking about her marriage and specifically her husband. Her words were, “One day I’m head over heels in love with my hubby and then in 48 hours his very breath annoys me.”
Before you condemn her, think back to a time where the affection that you valued on Tuesday becomes a threat to your independence on Thursday.
You said the words “I do” standing before family and friends. You meant those words with your whole heart. Perhaps now you find yourself questioning the commitment you made.
The future that you dreamed about is no longer a fantasy.
It’s real and it’s much harder than you thought it was going to be. He isn’t the man you thought he was. Maybe he’s partially that guy, but now he seems more interested in his independence than he is in your connection.
The stage of being madly in love is beginning to seem like a distant dream. Rather than all your efforts going towards accommodating and pleasing each other there has been a shift.
He/she seems more interested in pleasing himself/herself. Did he give you false advertising? Maybe you should not have married him/her. You feel as if your world has turned upside down. Who is he anyway? Who is she?
You need someone to reassure you that this is normal, absolutely normal. It is! Absolutely normal! In long-term relationships a period of disenchantment often follows a period of romanticism.
The problem may not be your partner or your relationship. The problem may be unrealistic expectations. Love isn’t static. We grow dissatisfied, move apart, then affection returns and we pull together once again. If we aren’t aware of “real”, we may make terrible choices in the down times that destroy love. Why, because we are pursing a fantasy not a reality. Some researchers have gone as far as to say that every four years long term marriages go through a period of discontent. So we don’t want to make unloving choices in those times.
The first stage of any relationship, the one of being madly in love, which developmental therapists call “symbiosis,” cannot be sustained forever. For one thing no one would get anything done and for another the temporary “morphine “ in your system has to wear off. You have been “high” long enough, now it’s time to face “real.”
This is your opportunity to learn how to love a separate, unfinished mate and they get to learn how to love you.
Up to this time you have been loved and it has been so easy because frankly there has been little difference between your “I” and his/her “Not I”.
There really needs to be a “warning zone” sign that goes off in every one of our heads as the uncomfortable shift begins to happen. Why?
There is a highly dysfunctional way to maintain “symbiosis” rather than embracing the next stage of differentiation. That is when a couple uses anger and conflict as the glue that holds them together. Rather than being curious and getting to know yourself and your spouse better, you spend all your energy trying to get your spouse to be who you want him/her to be. You become highly critical. The conflict keeps you close even though you are both miserable. This is not the type of connection any of us want.
What if you used this shift in your relationship to examine yourself?
After all, your spouse is who he/she is. They have the same characteristics that they had when you fell madly in love. Your perspective is what has shifted.
You have put different meanings on the same behavior.
Janis Abrahms Spring Ph.D refers to this tendency as the Flip-Flop. How do we know that it has happened? Rather than focusing on the positive characteristics of our partner we zero in on the down side of the same trait. Think about it. Have you turned into a fault- finder?
Let’s say that you married someone who is creative, carefree, optimistic, and spontaneous. How could you view the very same characteristics negatively? Well, they lack discipline, they are irresponsible, perhaps rather naïve and certainly not a planner.
Guess the mate that creative genius married? He/she is resourceful, an achiever, organized, focused, stable and responsible. How can those characteristics be flopped? It’s so easy. He/she is driven, insecure about finances, no fun, a boring stick in the mud, doesn’t do anything spontaneous, and is a workaholic. You get the drift.
So what if you changed your focus?
What if instead of focusing on the flop characteristics of your mate, you focused on the task at hand? Fault-finding creates quite a diversion from the work needed. Is it possible that you’d rather find fault than face the emotions that this new distance brings? Are you trying to avoid some personal work?
There are so many ways that focusing on our mate’s flaws is a much easier choice than looking at our own and choosing personal growth.
- I can avoid taking responsibility for my own happiness by zeroing in on all the ways my mate contributes to my unhappiness.
- I can avoid looking at the unloving parts of myself, the parts that restrict my ability to relate to my partner, and others, that I need to face and confront.
- I can avoid my feelings of “not being enough.” Instead I can feel superior and “right” by judging my mate. Do I try to cover up my own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity by focusing on my lover’s faults?
- I can avoid seeing how the qualities I dislike in myself can be related to the qualities that I suddenly find distasteful in my mate.
Maggie Scarf puts it this way:
“What was once unacceptable within the self is now what is intolerable and unacceptable in the partner. The war within each member of the couple has been transformed into a war between them. And each believes that peace and harmony could be achieved if only the other would change.”
- I can avoid the awareness that what I have not developed in myself becomes what I hate in my spouse. If I view emotions as “weak” I hate it when my mate is emotional. If I married my partner because I valued his ability to take charge because I have never developed my own personal strength it won’t be long until I view my partner as controlling.
Turn the light on you!
Dedicate yourself to some soul searching. Get a therapist. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too early in your marriage to do some couple counseling. Discover who you are and what you enjoy.
Learn how to ask for what you need, not what you want but what you need. Do you even know what you need?
If you don’t it is time to get to know yourself rather than using your energy to be critical of you partner.
It is possible that the problem is not in your spouse but rather might be you? A very wise woman, Molly Guy, had this to say:
I would guess that all the traits in him that you claim to hate are really dark parts of yourself that you’d rather not deal with. Focusing on his flaws is an epic waste of your time; the ultimate distraction from your next right action. It’s time to root around in the nucleus of your own emotional DNA, look for what you love in there and claim it- then do the work to make the parts of yourself that you don’t like go away. It’s not easy.”
Until our next Conscious Lovers Blog…