This Is Very Hard Work
I have done marriage counseling here and there. Couples come when they get stuck. They have usually been stuck for quite some time, but previously had not been motivated to do anything about it. Then something big happens and everything breaks apart and they call for an appointment.
When marriage therapy begins there is a lot of noise, replete with screamed accusations. There might even be hatred. Of course, hatred is not the opposite of love. You do not hate something unless you have a lot invested in it and care deeply about it. The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. I am always concerned about the couples who have become apathetic. If condescension is also present in the counseling session, I know the marriage is in serious trouble. When condescension and apathy combine, you know Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall.
That is why I am surprised when, against all odds, some of these marriages make it. The healing happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. Mark Nepo says when things break apart, they do so loudly. When they come together, they do so slowly and quietly. The changes usually begin when both spouses realize they have each allowed the relationship to become what it is. They have signed the contract allowing their dysfunction. The husband may be controlling, but the wife has not put her foot down and refused to be bossed around.
We all enter into these quirky contracts. That’s because we focus more on fitting in and less on belonging. We try to become what our spouse wants us to be, or worse yet, what our spouse’s family wants us to be. That might work for a year or two, but eventually you’d like to bring your entire self to the party. A marriage will not survive if one spouse is trying to fit in to the expectations of the other.
To belong is not the same as fitting in. To belong is to be accepted as your true self. No adjustments must be made. You are allowed to bring all of you into the relationship. No one is allowed to change you. You simply show up as you are. If you change, it is because you decided to change, not because someone forced it.
Once couples realize they have signed the “fitting in” contract, they gain the insight necessary to begin breaking old unhealthy patterns. They learn to live authentically, as a daily practice, in the presence of one another. Slowly and quietly things come together and hope is restored. If it sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. Breaking long-established patterns is hard. But divorce is harder.