"When we marry, we don't marry one person, we marry three. The person we think they are, the person they really are and the person they will become as a result of marrying us."
This quote has much to say about the process of intimacy and marriage.
The person we think they are
When we're getting to know someone and becoming increasingly familiar, we tend to try to look and behave our best. Over time, especially after marriage, we seem to relax the rules a little more.
Many people in premarital counseling wonder, at some level, "Who is this person really? What will they be like later?"
As Bruce Springsteen put it in the song "Brilliant Disguise:"
"Now tell me what I see,
When I look in your eyes.
Is that you, baby,
Or just a brilliant disguise"
The person they really are
Things are different after marriage.
Even people who have lived together for years before marriage tend to report everything simply "feeling different" after marriage.
Perhaps it has to do with the models for marriage, intimacy and closeness we had growing up.
We all bring our own issues, both resolved and unresolved, to all of our relationships, most particularly marriage.
When quarreling with your partner, do you catch yourself saying things you heard your parents say? Do you ever catch yourself saying things even you don't believe, just to win the argument? These are all signs that old and unresolved issues are popping up.
When we marry someone, we simply marry the unresolved issues as well. For better or for worse, it's a package deal.
The person they will become
This is the part of the quote that seems to impact most of the people in the seminars I do.
Most of us have thought only about the effect our partner is having on us.
But what about the influence we are having on our partner?
Many quarreling couples are very quick to place blame. ``If only you would do X, then I wouldn't have to do Y.''
In most cases, people tend to be caught in a loop or cycle that is damaging not only to each other, but to the relationship as well. In the cycle, it's often difficult to tell exactly where it got started, but not that it has taken on a life of its own and is damaging to all involved.
Such are the cycles of marital conflict. Each person makes their contributions, and each person responds emotionally to the other person's contributions, and we're off to the races.
If you find yourself caught up in one of these cycles, how do you get out? Here's a brief list of things to consider and actions to take:
What kind of person are you helping you spouse to become?
What are your contributions to the cycle?
One couple I worked with described their quarreling cycles as if each has a sword and shield with which to defend themselves and wound each other. So they went to the toy store, bought two sets of play sword and shields and stuck them in the closet. Whenever a disagreement would begin to escalate, one of them would run to the closet and get the sword and shield. They would then break into laughter, the cycle was changed, and they were able to work things out in a different manner.
If the previous ideas don't prove useful, seek professional assistance.
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