What Marriage Is, What Marriage Is Not
Written By: Mark Smith
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I dearly love attending weddings. The beautiful music, the innocence, the joy and the unbridled faith in eternal love never cease to make me shed a few tears (that as a self-respecting counterdependent type I wipe away before anyone catches on). The message is almost always given that marriage is THE source for such priceless goodies as unconditional love, bliss, happiness, fulfillment, joy and a life blessed by God. In the weddings that I attend the stars of the show are usually in their early 20’s. Bless their hearts; they have no idea #1 who they are, #2 who their beloved is or #3 what in the world they are committing to. I can’t help it though it still makes me cry.
During these lovely services I frequently day dream about the young couple asking me, as the renown expert on marriage to the microphone to say a few uplifting and pithy statements about the blessed institution of marriage. The bride and groom swell with anticipation as I clear my throat and direct the following statements in their direction… ‘ You have no idea what you are about to get yourself into. Marriage is not at all what it has been painted as in this wonderful service today. In fact, marriage in reality is ultimately the following … a reenactment of the most painful experiences of your childhood, a Trojan horse, a seemingly cruel cosmic double cross and the great un-masker of your unresolved childhood issues, an opportunity to heal deep emotional wounds, and just plain brutally hard work’. In my day dream after an awkward moment of silence the poor bride always breaks into uncontrollable tears at this point.
For some reason no one has ever actually asked me up to the microphone – can’t understand that. While I’m obviously having a little fun here, I am completely serious in my descriptions of what marriage really is. Let me go through the vision of marriage that I outlined above point by point – I want for you to get this. It could make a world of difference as you go about making your relationship choices and plans. Consider article this a ‘consumer’s reports’ type of assessment on the product called marriage. The wider your eyes are opened the better.
#1 Marriage is a reenactment of the most painful experiences of your childhood – absolutely positively, amen. I didn’t invent this phenomenon – God did. I’m just here to do my best to try to explain it to you. Every one all of us sustained some wounds during our childhood experiences – be they horrible abuses, spirit crushing abandonment or run of the mill mild dysfunctions. All families have some stuff – some more than others. Thankfully kids are extremely resilient. We naturally develop highly effective psychological defense mechanisms which help us to cope, keep us from seeing who we really are and help us to avoid feeling the emotional consequences of our childhood wounds. So most of us are cool from 18 throughout most of our 20’s. We think that we have beaten the ‘crapolla’ (my word) from our family tree, we are feeling little pain and we are under the mistaken impression that we are free to make our own decisions independent from what went on the first 18 years of our lives. God wants to heal us. However, as long as the psychological defense mechanisms that I described are intact nothing can reach us or heal us. So, God invented this very wonderful and this very horrible mechanism called relationship and marriage. We are unconsciously attracted to a hidden this generational version of your parents worst qualities. I’m serious. THAT is the meaning of love and marriage. The purpose of marriage is to break down our walls so that we are confronted with the real and hurting person underneath. This generally happens anywhere from the late 20’s all the way into the early 50’s. When I get calls from people in their early to mid-20’s I tell them that I rarely take on clients of that age because so few of them are broken down and in pain enough to get much work done. Your spouse isn’t problem – they are just a symptom of your unresolved childhood stuff. So the woman who grew up being wounded by her raging critical alcoholic father has to work on those issues with her similarly raging critical workaholic husband. However, there was nothing but sweetness and light at the wedding ceremony – she had not ever noticed even a trace of finance’s strong similarities to dear ole dad. The man who grew up dealing with his unstable, reactive, addictive and abandoning mother figures out the that sweet saint that he married has turned out to be just another version of his mother. That is what marriage is – for all of us.
#2 Marriage is a Trojan horse. When we fall in love we fall under the powerful grip of what we family system’s therapists call ‘enmeshment’. Enmeshment is pretty cool stuff – it is what all the songs on the radio are about. It is blind, heart felt, head- over-heels intoxicating passion. It is that chemistry that leaves you cold with one person while making you absolutely adore another person with very similar looks. It is difficult for us to see or be aware of any faults that our beloved might have. We build them up in our minds as being the most awesome person in the world. However, lurking un-noticed on their insides are exactly the traits our parents had that hurt us the most. If we all knew who we were dealing with we would turn and run as fast as we can. Unfortunately, enmeshment usually only lasts for anywhere from 2 to 7 years for most couples. The real marriage begins after that. That is when we really get to know and have to deal with who our spouse really is.
#3 Marriage is a seemingly cruel cosmic double cross. I have heard some truly awful stories. I have talked with many people who are just devastated, shocked and completely un-done after their perfect spouse abandoned and betrayed them by finally showing their true colors. It does seem cruel and unfair to them at the time. This is where the truth about what marriage is can be such a lifesaver. I help them to proactively embrace that relationship lesson as an expression of their own unresolved issues. I teach them that in relationships it is all good and all fair – there are never, ever under any circumstances any victims. We get what we need. We get what we seek out. We can both learn and grow from our relationship pain or we can become bitter, cynical and jaded for the rest of our lives. It is spooky how we re-invent our childhood dramas – it is not a cruel cosmic joke however, it actually really is God lovingly attempting to heal our deepest wounds and teach us who we really are.
#5 Marriage is the great un-masker of our unresolved childhood issues. We rarely get calls from people who directly say ‘I would like to come into therapy in order to work on my unresolved childhood issues’. No, we get calls from people saying that their marriages aren’t working and that they would like to fix them. Many times the first trip to the therapist’s office coincides with the first real unmasking of the marriages real nature – a scary burst of rage that explodes out of a seemingly gentle young husband, an intercepted e-mail from a what he thought was his happy and forever faithful young wife’s new office lover or just your basic dull and non-sexual distance that has surprisingly slowly developed in a once extremely connected and passionate couple.
By addressing issues such as these, couples face both the loss of innocence in the relationship as well as the beginning of real work, honestly and communication. Under the attractive mask of your perfect new love is the face of the parent who hurt you the most. Unmasking is extremely painful, but it can be a beginning rather than an ending if you understand what it all means.
#6 Marriage is an opportunity to heal deep emotional wounds and it is just plain brutally hard work. This doesn’t get covered in the warm and fuzzy marriage ceremonies. Marital pain is exactly an opportunity to work as hard as you have ever worked on anything. If your spouse hurts you a lot it doesn’t mean that they are the wrong person for you – it means that they are the perfect person for you, no matter what it is that they have done. In our culture we tend to run from pain. We medicate emotional pain WAY too much with anti-depressants. Emotional pain is meant to be faced, embraced, cooperated with and cried through. Marriages are thrown away much too easily because people don’t understand what marriage really is and what it is meant to do for us. Everyone who has ever been in a relationship has been in some serious therapy – even if they never actually go see a therapist. I have grown to really admire many of my clients – they have been gladiators in their heroic work together to build an awful emotionally cutoff marriage into something solid, life giving and special. Given this way of looking at marriage and in the hands of talented and well trained therapists, I believe that highly motivated, teachable, trusting, and trustworthy people who are willing to courageously square off with their marital/childhood demons have an excellent chance of not only salvaging a broken marriage but of building it into something extremely satisfying. So there you have it – a consumer report on what marriage is, what its purposes are in your life and what you can learn from it. If that is what you want and if that is what you need then give us a call today at 844-2442 and we will help you to do just that – turn your current pain and marital heart ache into growth, learning, healing and a much, much more fulfilling marriage.
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