In Marriage There Is No Failure, Only Feedback!
Written By: Mark Smith
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"There is no failure. Only feedback." ~Robert Allen
In my work as a marital therapist in Indianapolis I frequently hear people bludgeon themselves unmercilessly and endlessly for what they see as their horrible failures as spouses, as parents and as human beings. And the truth is that they did make many hurtful mistakes that damaged relationships and many times resulted in divorces. But they did not fail! They were too broken and dysfunctional as a result of their childhood wounds to even be dreaming about realistically maintaining a healthy, loving, functional marriage for 50 years. Their marriage didn't have a chance from day one. And yet they hold themselves to a standard of near perfection and they beat themselves down if the marriage does drift apart or blow up, as virtually every marriage eventually does. "There is no failure. Only feedback." The truth about you and your issues will ultimately be revealed by your marriage. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Learn from the pain. Squeeze every ounce of insight out of the difficulties you experience in your marriage and in your life.
The universe is trying to teach you something. Are you getting the message? The message isn't that you are a loser and a failure because you got divorced or had an affair or had an addiction to alcohol, or worked too much to be there enough for your family. The message is that you are a good and well meaning person who was wounded as a child, picked a spouse like your parents and then inevitably faced some very serious marital issues that were meant to drive you to deep reflection and hard work on yourself. It is all good.
If Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter and world record holder in the 100 meters did not win a race because he had a broken leg, it would not represent a failure on his part. He would have been severely hampered by an injury, a broken part that was outside of his control. No one would point at his not winning that race and say that he was a failure because he didn't win.
But many of us do the very same thing when it comes to marital issues. Life is hard. If your childhood was healthier then your marital and love destiny would be more attractive and pleasant. You will only be attracted to someone who basically has the very worst (disguised) qualities of your parents. Not everyone is created equal. If you had broken, dysfunctional parents (and we all did) then your life and particularly relationships are going to be broken and dysfunctional too! Anyone who tells you different is selling you a bill of goods. Nature will always attempt to heal and in relationships that means that you are going to be strongly attracted only people who are more out of the very same psychological DNA as your parents. Plan for that. There IS NOT that perfect special someone out there who will love you in the way that you deserved to be loved. That is a myth, a fairy tale. If you subscribe to it and build your love life on it you are most certainly in for a major butt kicking emotionally. There are only people out there who know your particular crazy dance very well. They are your people. You will date, fall in love with and marry one of those.
I wish that wasn't so, but it is. With insight and hard work on your own Recovery process you can have a workable marriage and it be light years safer than when issues ran wild without consequences or understanding.
If your childhood was impacted by workaholism, divorce, control, criticism, rage, alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, early death of a parent, helicopter parenting, depression, under-functioning, drug abuse, not enough touch, not enough praise, favoritism, poverty, too many kids, affairs, sexual addiction, codependency, loss, triangulation, victim thinking, shame, etc. then you will grow up and marry those same issues and it will be completely impossible for you to build a healthy, fulfilling marriage without a lot of therapy. There is not a single person you know whose childhood was not impacted by at least several of the above. You are believing a myth if you think you can have a broken childhood and then live the dream during adult life.
I have been privileged enough to conduct intensive studies of many hundreds of people throughout my career as a therapist. We fill out a very exhaustive "geno-gram" or family tree (hence the name) for every client who comes to our office. Our worldview is reflected in an Old Testament scripture which reads "The sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children and upon the children's children to the third and fourth generation" - Numbers 14:18. I have never conducted a family background study without uncovering massive amounts of dysfunction that has spilled over from generation to generation-divorces, addictions, distant fathers, raging mothers, shaming parents, sexual abuse, parental abandonment, physical abuse, parents who just weren't emotionally close to their kids, financial problems, etc. You might say, sure, that is because you only work with those few pitiful people who have major mental health issues. Nope! That is just not the truth. The people I work with are normal. To have a good bit of dysfunction in one's family tree is COMPLETELY normal and it is extremely common. I frequently illustrate this concept by saying that on an emotional health scale of 1 to 10, in my opinion there are precious few"6's" and zero "7's", "8's", "9's" or "10's". I believe that the national average it would be about "3" on that scale of 10.
People spend their lives trying desperately to look and act like "8's" when they are actually "3's." "Even though the old man was a raging alcoholic . . . if I have a beautiful house, a fine education, a great car and a pretty little passive and supportive wife, then I have pulled myself up by my bootstraps and overcome my childhood wounds with hard work and superior intelligence"-or so the myth goes. Eventually the pretty little passive/supportive wife becomes angry and bitter. The marriage lacked depth, intimacy and equality because both parties were hiding behind psychological walls in nature's attempt to shield them from the hurtful aspects of their childhoods. It is normal to have TONS of issues.
Trust me, you are normal. You, my friend are a "3". What are the issues in your family history? What pain, trouble, problems, addictions, sins, misfortune and imperfections have passed from generation to generation in your family system? Think about it. Do you know your family's history? Do you know who you are and where you have come from? Deep down you are where you came from.
"Failure sometimes enlarges the spirit. You have to fall back upon humanity and God." ~Charles Horton Cooley
Having painful issues can produce a humble heart, a teachable mind, an openness to feedback and a strong desire to get healthier. It can enlarge the spirit. It does drive you to communities of people who are also humbly seeking to get healthier. It does drive you to seek the help and guidance of God. After hearing my topic for the Blog this week, my good friend Michael said that people who have struggled and made mistakes should tell themselves "all I do is win" because their failure is just a step to getting them towards being happy and healthy. I couldn't agree more. You didn't lose or fail. If you humbly learned more about yourself, if you felt regret and genuine remorse for hurting your loved ones and if you engaged yourself in a process of Recovery and therapy to heal the underlying brokenness and dysfunction then you most certainly did not fail. You won! You did the very best that you could do. In my book, you are not only not a failure, you are a hero! There is no failure, only feedback!
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