You’ve heard the stories.
Everything was going fine, and THEN THEY GOT MARRIED.
What were they thinking? That they were going to live happily ever after or something?
They should listened to what happened to the friend of a friend of a friend, who had a great relationship until they got married and now all they do is fight and look stressed all the time and avoid each other. Dunno why they’re still together, except now they have kids and they’re stuck.
So here’s a true confession:
I used to think stories like that were a load of baloney.
I mean, seriously? Surely that couple had problems before they got married, but they probably hid them better. If you have a good relationship before you get married, you’re going to have a good relationship after you get married. OBVIOUSLY.
I’m going to admit right now that I’m wrong sometimes. (Just please don’t tell my future husband.)
And that was one case in which I hadn’t looked closely enough.
What seemed so obvious to me—that the relationship skills you develop before you get married will serve as an unbreakable foundation for your marriage—wasn’t entirely accurate.
It’s like seduction experts who are great at getting a girl into bed but have no clue how to keep a girlfriend happy. The two skill sets aren’t the same.
Being married requires a different skill set to being in a long-term relationship. You can be great at relationships and suddenly—surprise!—you’ve got a lot to learn about being married.
That’s because marriage throws a massive wrench in the works:
The no-exit clause.
You can’t get out. You’re stuck. You’re married.
Marriage works a bit like intoxication. Someone once told me that being drunk brings out the “real you,” the parts of your personality you normally hide from social scrutiny. Inside the shy girl is a comedian. Inside the gentleman is a lecher.
Marriage does the same thing. It brings out the real you.
It brings out the parts people normally hide when they’re trying to present themselves as the person you’ve been waiting for all your life. It takes everyone’s dirty laundry and hangs it in the front room where it can’t be ignored.
Because here’s the thing:
You never see the real person when you’re dating.
No matter how much he claims to be sharing with you things he’s never shared with anyone else, letting you see inside him like no other woman has before, it’s just a bunch of lines. He won’t let you see anything he doesn’t want you to see. You can be sure of that.
Even when you get into a long-term relationship and move in together, there’s still a sense you’re on probation. You have to keep up your good behavior. You know you could do something to alienate the other person and lose them forever. So you get comfortable, but not too comfortable.
Marriage changes that.
Marriage acts as a catalyst for all of your unresolved wounds AND all of his. Every single issue either of you ever had will emerge.
You will feel angrier with your husband than you ever felt with a boyfriend.
Because he’s supposed to be the one who’s there for you until the end of time.
There’s a saying in self-help circles that love brings up everything unlike itself. The more you love someone, the more you have the capacity to hate them. Strong emotions breed strong emotions.
So, when you see two perfectly happy people get married and promptly start fighting and pulling each other’s hair out and calling in the lawyers, you start to realize that no one is immune.
You decided to marry because you thought this person was perfect. Now, you’re finding out he has all these ISSUES. (Cough, because of course YOU have none.)
His personality has done a 180. All those things you fell in love with—his thoughtfulness, his easy-goingness, his sense of fun—have vanished. It’s like you’re with a different man.
Except he’s not a different man.
He’s a more whole man.
He’s showing you a side of himself he hasn’t shared with anyone else. He’s letting you see him as no other woman has before.
This is what intimacy does. It brings out the stuff we don’t want to see, as well as the good stuff.
At that point, you have one of two options:
You can get out, or you can stick with it.
If you get out, don’t be surprised if the same thing happens with the next man you marry. And the next.
Because every man has a shadow side.
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet one of those rare men who’ve done the hard work to bring up and process their issues. If you’re even luckier, you’ll have done the same. Then you might get a marriage without any of the messy stuff … MIGHT.
If you choose to stick with your marriage through the yucky bits, then something magical might happen. (Or it might not.)
Dr. Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Therapy, talks about the importance of having no exits in marriage. We have to force ourselves to stay in difficult relationships so that we can confront and work through the issues we’ve been ignoring. Cut off all the exits, turn around, and face the beast.
He believes that marriage is the ultimate vehicle for personal growth. No other experience triggers us so strongly and in so many ways.
Which brings up another popular saying in self-help circles:
Every conflict is an opportunity for growth.
If you confront your issues straight on instead of trying to blame him or blow up or bag the whole thing, then you experience what you might call uplift.
Imagine a plane. The plane represents your marriage.
It takes a lot of energy for that plane to get going and roll along the runway until it gets up speed to leave the earth. As it rises through the sky, you might think the hard work had already been done. You’re flying!
But then you hit the weather. Turbulence. Storms.
Your plane gets buffeted about. Your knuckles are white. Your complimentary beverage spills all over. You can’t even get up to use the restroom. You have to sit there, strapped in, unable to budge until you move through whatever you have to move through.
Then it happens. You hit cruising altitude. Sheer magic. It’s smooth sailing the rest of the way. Your spilled drink is whisked away. Your shirt dries. You look out the window and laugh. You’re above the clouds!
Wouldn’t you have liked to have known, back when you were in the thick of the storm, that up here the sun was always shining?
Now you do.