12 Lessons on Marriage
As a marriage therapist, writing something of value that might be helpful for for every couple is hard because every couple is different. In my office, I know it is critical that I understand each unique relationship and the specific challenges they are facing. I ask questions until I find out what’s going on, how it went wrong and what needs to happen. If there’s nothing else that 20 years of counseling couples has taught me, it’s that you don’t understand a relationship until you’ve heard from both sides and asked a lot of questions. And even then, the most important things - the things that eventually make or break the marriage - are often subtle and hidden from awareness.
So, before I say anything to you about your marriage, I have to confess that I don’t know you or your marriage. I am painfully aware as I write, that some of the information I feel compelled to share - maybe all of if - will be off-target. Even worse, in my effort to write in broad strokes that might be applicable to a larger group, I may speak to no one. If I, thus, assert myself into your marriage or family without adequate understanding for what you have gone through, please forgive me.
With that acknowledged, I would like to offer 12 lessons on marriage. Some are learned through 35 years of marriage to my wife Michele and some arise from the past 20 years of counseling couples. Most are a merger of both. These lessons provide little practical guidance or steps - to offer such would feel disrespectful to the complexity of your relationship. Rather, these lessons provide a framework - some truths and principles - from which you can, perhaps, see your heart, your marriage and your faith more clearly. Perhaps one or two of them will be helpful.
Lesson #1: LOVE IS A RUSH, BUT MARRIAGE IS HARD
I know that you’ve heard this before, but marriage is not easy. It only feels like its going to be easy when you’re dating because you’re in a state of limmerance. What you may not have heard before is that this “honeymoon” period involves a very real physiological and neurological change that accelerates the bonding process. It lasts as long as 18 months, but more often less than that. The “high” associated with it is triggered when you think about - or are with - your love. Although it can become sexual, it is not fundamentally sexual. Rather, the chemical change produces a feeling of euphoria and, to some degree, an immunity to physical or emotional pain. If you were struggling with anxiety or depression before, you’re probably not feeling much - if any - of it when you are in this stage with your person. More importantly, the neurological re-configuration associated with the change in chemistry provides you with an illusory experience of oneness with the person to whom you are bonding. You get the sense that they think and feel in the same way that you do. So, besides experiencing a massive bump in mood, you feel a deep sense of emotional connection that may be like nothing you’ve experienced before.
But, it doesn’t last.
And somewhere in the midst of this emotional/relational crack high, you get married.
Then it goes away. Maybe abruptly or maybe progressively, but it goes away.
Then you’re confronted with the realities of your shortcomings as individuals and differences as a couple and you feel like you’ve been duped… it was a bait-and-switch. The “happy” is gone and you’re really not sure that you even like this person to whom you are now married. During limmerance it really felt like your spouse could meet your emotional/relational needs for a lifetime and now they’re not doing it anymore. When the party ends and you’re relational super-hero is exposed as being just another human being, you’re confronted with the challenge of some hard relational work. You’ve got to learn how to navigate conflict and disagreement as you meld two very different personalties and backgrounds into a cohesive one. You come to see that your spouse is more wounded and reactive than you’d previously perceived them to be. Further, if you stop blaming them and are honest with yourself, you see that you’re more wounded and selfish and reactive than you’d previously known.
When the buzz wears off its a bit of a shock. You thought you had a good relationship and you’re confused. The good news is that the ground is razed, “demo day” is done and you are ready to start work. You have the opportunity to build a real relationship… a real marriage. It’s going to be harder than you thought and it’s going to take ongoing work to build it and then keep it vital. But if you put in that work as a couple you can re-claim that passion you had earlier. It will be a little different - less consuming, but deeper; less fiery hot, but more resilient; sweeter - but no less passionate. But that reclamation process will take decades, not a few months or years.
Next: #2 The Death Spiral and The Gospel
Posted on Wed, September 4, 2019
by Jeff Pipe filed under