Lifelong researchers of the life cycle of marriages and intimate relationships know that certain common characteristics sit in all the couples that end up in divorce – contempt, lack of kindness, loss of compassion all sit at the core.
My burning question was what is it that takes couples that have freely chosen to live a life together to then move towards such destructive behaviours?
The answer to this question is critical if couples wish to protect their marriage from future problems and it’s a fundamental must if a couple in crisis are going to rebuild their marriage from their crisis.
What sits at the core of a couples challenges is fear. Fear I’m not enough, fear I’m not loved are very common and powerful themes, however, we all have our own unique fear machine and unique triggers that lead us to pain.
Many people are not even connected to this possibility. They will say they are not afraid yet I see them I see them running a self-numbing strategy or detachment process to protect themselves.
If the fears are powerful enough we will do almost anything we can to avoid triggering them so we protect ourselves from connecting to that future pain whatever it is. Some of us are aware we do this, but many are unaware.
This is where resentments start as the person who feels the need on some level to protect themselves from their partner. Some consciously protect themselves and some simply chose to spend time where they feel good away from the relationship.
This process of protecting yourself consciously or subconsciously from the very person who is supposed to love you is destructive for the relationship and will create resentments.
All couples I see do this on some level.
What sits at the core of this process from love to resentment to divorce is the meanings that people are putting to their partners’ words and actions.
Couples are putting their own meanings to their situations or relationship that paralyse their ability to connect, to love, to grow and so the relationship dies as they no longer feel safe to fully invest in the marriage.
It’s this one perspective approach that’s damaging to both themselves and their relationship.
I was talking with a lady this week who was so frustrated with her husband because he was not showing up in the way she needed. So I asked her what she needed? We discovered she didn’t know but she expected him to just know.
If he loved me he would know. This process she was in was so damaging to her and her partner. He’s never been female and he’s never been her – how would he know?
At the sharp end of marital crisis, this is very apparent as a couple who are clearly disconnected through years of problems are describing the same situation very differently.
Each person has attached their own meaning to the same situation and this presentation alone is telling us their story that we are on a totally different page.
So couples end up with, “you clearly don’t understand me” and “if you think that way then I clearly don’t know you”, this process presents trust issues and self protection is like to be triggered to avoid powerful fears being realised.
Look at this middle aged couple, she used to get so upset with him she asked him to leave and every time she asked he obeyed.
She cycle through rage and sadness for a few days and then begged him to come back. He was becoming more reluctant to come back each time as he questioned his own safety in the marriage.
I asked her what was really going on in her mind as she was asking him to leave, she said “I could hear what I was saying to him, but I was hoping he would stay and fight for me, I really didn’t want him to go and when he did go I was devastated alone and abandoned” she said “I just wanted him to love me and keep me safe”
Until that meeting he never had that perspective, naturally, he was confused, but his meaning was no longer black and white.
So spent time with him helping him understand her in a way that connected him to being a husband that would no longer need to protect himself from her, but one that could look after and protect her.
Naturally, this illustration shows men and women process the same situations very very differently and in intimate relationships that difference is dramatically magnified both in pleasure and fear terms.
So if couples are to create meanings that keep their relationship alive the number one rule is their meanings cannot have fear as a solid foundation.
In other words, if past fears are sitting in a relationship the meaning to any behaviours will be filtered through those fears.
The bigger picture is couples that are genuinely successful passionate, connected, loving, are constantly putting empowering meanings to their relationship.
For example, when they don’t assume their partner is trying to hurt them, they avoid triggering their own destructive fears and put their energy into supporting their partner.
This changes their approach from judgement and self-protection to compassion and learning and so they become valuable to their relationship.
When couples/individuals can see the same situation has the possibility of many different meanings and they explore them from a position of love and care, the couple then have the confidence to find meaning that’s empowering and this helps to keep energy in the marriage alive.
Unless a person is putting a meaning to their relationship which reflects the truth of their situation that person could end up either suffering unnecessary or can leave the relationship only to repeat the same patterns with new partners.
To be clear I spend significant time helping clients gain the right perspective so they can really hear the truth of their situation.
When people listen to each other through their pain, fears, judgements, assumptions they end up with distorted meanings that create feelings so bad they end up protecting themselves from partner and this kills the relationship.
It’s so important to get to the truth before a life changing decision is made.