Early in marriage you focus on loving your partner. You are busy giving love, and it feels marvelous to receive it. Then, in the natural way of human nature, the two of you begin to focus not on giving love but on getting love. Each one begins to pay attention to ways the partner is failing to care enough. The groundwork of blaming has begun. With time it can grow like a cancer between two hearts.
A growing relationship requires that we let go of the idea that someone is wronging someone. To cease the blaming is not an automatic process. It must be learned. Yes, it can be learned.
In a mature marriage there are two independent personalities. The sense of well being that each experiences does not depend on the partner's behavior. Each one is respectful of one's own and the partner's happiness in equal amounts.
If you find yourself thinking constantly about how your spouse is failing to understand, or failing to act maturely, then you have not reached this ability to think in no fault. The same is true if you are preoccupied with how to change yourself so your spouse will care.
All the parts of righting the marital mess require communication. Before there can be trust and closeness, there must be clear and respectful talk in times of emotion. Both of you must hear each other's good will intentions.
As your therapist, we can hear you both in neutral.
Some rules to get you started:
When you talk to your spouse,
Be honest about your real feelings.
Don't guess a partner's feelings.
Listen more than you speak.
Say what makes you angry.
Do not act on anger.
Anger is the most problematic part of communicating successfully. We hear the emotion and react defensively, even when the words that show the emotion are mild. It is essential to learn not to deal from anger.
Always remember that the other person's view is just as valid as yours. The other person has sensitive feelings, too. This is true even of people who think they have no feelings. Yours are valid. The other's are valid.
No one gets to be more justified in life or in marriage.
It is often the wife who first becomes alert to a lack of intimacy in a marriage. Girls are taught to be sensitive to issues about people making each other feel good. If someone she about ignores her, a woman is likely to worry. To a man this is often a circumstance worth putting out of his mind. Both may, in fact, feel something is missing, but it is the wife who begins to talk about it.
Intimacy is crucial to lasting relationships. As we grow up we are all subjected to the opinions of our parents on how we act. The opinions are their way of taching values, but to us it feels like judgements on our character. Being parented this way taught us to defend ourselves against the opinions of others.
In a marriage, the partner is someone who again has opinions about who we are. The longer the marriage, it seems, the more the opinions. After a while, each partner turns more reluctant to reveal anything vulnerable: personal worries, feelings of inadequacy, old sensitivities. If the reluctance takes over, misunderstandings are automatic. Distance grows.
It is very likely that both you and your spouse have equal reluctance to let the other one in.
Couples therapy can help restore the trust you need to be close.
Power and Control
Couples often end up talking about two power styles. We tend to associate one of them with men, the other with women.
One is direct, obvious power style. Often a man, this person states his preferences and expects to get his way or be told, 'no,' straight out. If he doesn't like the 'no' he'll stand firm for his own opinion. This is what he expects other people to do as well.
The other style is more indirect, paying close attention to avoiding hurt feelings. Often this is a wife. She watches subtle communications and expects others to as well. She believes it should be sufficient to mention what she wants, or to depend on emotional signals that to her are obvious. If she is mated to the man above, she is likely to feel hurt and confused.
The direct style can feel like domination to the indirect person. She says he always gets his way because he insists on it. To him, her style feels like manipulation and control. He says she always gets her way because she makes him feel guilty. Neither one sets out to control. Both feel controlled by the other.
Marital therapy can address the hurts and negotiate a balance of power. Then both win.
Severe depression, not occasional sad moods, is a complicated entity. There are several diagnoses to categorize depressive illness. Some respond to medication and psychotherapy, some to psychotherapy alone.
Depression in one partner is also a function of the marriage. Depression strains a marriage and a strained marriage deepens depression.
Marital therapy is often crucial adjunct to other methods of treating depressive illness. A couple usually underestimates the importance of how they relate to each other. For instance, if the non-depressive partner takes over too much, the depressed one can feel resistant to improve.
When this happens both feel terrible, yet both become locked into the miserable comfort of their roles. It is as if one says, "It is easier for me to be sick than to think independently;" and the other says, "It is easier for me to do everything than to face my own uncertainties."
Part of changing the self is changing how we relate.
Marital therapy teaches a couple to form new patterns that will outlive depression.
What about an affair?
A discovered affair feels as traumatic as an amputated arm. It does not, however, predict the death of the marriage any more than losing the arm means death to the body.
Many factors go into one partner's attraction to outside enticement. A most important factor to keep in focus is, what is it about your marriage that has made you or your spouse emotionally available to someone else?
If you get lost in guilt or anger, you lose this important question. Some couples look back on the affair as a red flag that alerted them to begin the hard work of changing their relationship. Both partners are responsible to answer the call for change.
The partner who has an affair is responsible for having decided to act out in avoiding the home issues. The other partner, who feels like a victim, gets 50% of the responsibility for the relationship pattern that resulted in this way.
Both partners must draw on courage to uncover what is going on. If you part because of your instant reactions, you may perpetuate you own emotional problems.
Therapy can help you decide. It can help both of you heal.
What can therapy do?
Four words come up over and over in marriage therapy. A couple can usually describe all their problems with them. Change comes by addressing them this way:
Communications: To achieve honest, respectful, two-way discussion leads to trust and makes the next part possible.
Emotions: With trustworthy communication it is possible to explore and understand the emotions that make each of you defensive. Then you can approach the next area.
Intimacy: Once you are routinely expressing real feelings together, it is possible to look at the personal past that makes you each react to particular emotions.
Power: This is very critical in some marriages and must be addressed from the beginning. Fairness and equality then make for trust. Other couples find that worries about who is in control simply fade as the true understanding of each other increases.
As your marital therapist we will keep you fair, honest and focused on your goals.