Clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Flanagan recently posted a nice piece in the Huffington Post (10.13.14), in which he urges us to look more realistically at the messiness of life and the disappointments of marriage. He lays out the playing field of marriage as one fraught with challenges, yet worth working on in the long haul.
In this posting I have shortened and edited his list of “the 9 most overlooked threats to a marriage.”
- We marry people because we like who they are. People change, so plan on it. Don’t marry someone because of 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.
- Marriage doesn’t take away our loneliness. To be alive is to be lonely; it’s the human condition. Expecting marriage to make us completely unlonely places too much pressure on the relationship, and often blame on our partner.
- Shame baggage. Yes, we all carry it it. When the person we love triggers our shame, we blame them for creating it, and even demand they fix it. But the truth is, they didn’t create it and they can’t fix it.
- We’ve all got an ego. We came by it honestly; as children, it kept us safe from many emotional slings and arrows. In adulthood, the ego can be a wall that separates. We can keep it in check by practicing openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, vulnerability instead of strength, grace instead of power.
- Life is messy and marriage is part of life. When things stop working perfectly, we tend to blame our partner for the snags, adding unnecessary mess to the already inescapable mess of life and love. When we stop pointing fingers, we can we walk into, and through, the messiness of life together.
- Empathy is hard. One partner must always “go first,” and there is no guarantee of reciprocation. Many couples spend a lifetime waiting for their partner to go first — a lifelong empathy standoff. When the people we love, infallible human beings that they are, disappoint us, can we still love them and find ways to empathize with them?
- Our children should never be more, or less, important than our marriage. Family is about the constant, on-going work of finding that balance.
- Most conflict in marriage is at least in part a negotiation around the level of interconnectedness between lovers. In the power struggle that takes place between many partners, the hidden question relates to who gets to decide on the level of intimacy, the amount of distance. It is a question that should be asked and explored explicitly, if we don’t want to fight about it implicitly… forever.
- It is a great challenge for us to maintain interest in one thing or one person. The many shiny surfaces of our world demand our attention, pulling us in a million different directions. Making our life a meditation upon the person we love is absolutely essential if a marriage is to survive and thrive.
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Learning communication skills is not that complicated. But dealing with the challenges enumerated above? Well, that takes a lifetime. And yet…
It’s a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness.