Marriage is such an important step in our lives, but many of us enter into it without a plan or any serious preparation. We’re caught up in the romance of it and the notion of happily ever after. We put more diligent effort into other more mundane things, like getting a driver’s license. To earn your driver’s license, you have to study a handbook, take behind-the-wheel lessons from an instructor, and practice on your own. And even after all that preparation, you may still flunk the driving test and have to go back for a second try.
When it comes to marriage, however, you’re on your own. There’s no official handbook, no marriage class at school, no dry run. For many of us, “marriage prep” boils down to an emphasis on planning the wedding and dreaming of a perfect life together. But once the big event is over and the newlywed bliss has worn off, we discover that we don’t have the tools to talk things out, or we’re stifled by taboos and avoid discussing the important things that aren’t working in our marriage.
Many people have the flawed notion that when we tie the knot all of our relationship issues will magically be resolved. We believe that if one of us has irritating habits or we don’t agree on certain things, the act of getting married will make all the problems disappear. Unfortunately, marriage doesn’t stop dysfunctional behavior. It doesn’t prevent harmful family dynamics, compulsiveness, addictions, depression, anger issues, or any other damaging behavior. It doesn’t change the person. In fact, it can often exacerbate bad behavior over time because we may feel relaxed enough to let that part of us show, we can no longer hide the truth of our inner life from our partner. Then we’re lost in a sea of regret, and the distance between spouses begins to grow.
When we wed, we expect marriage to make us feel safe and secure. This is a beautiful concept, but we are never really safe from one of us having a change of heart. Just because we have voiced a commitment to each other, it doesn’t mean we are protected from being abandoned or from falling out of love. What keeps marriages or committed relationships strong and connected is not a marriage certificate or the simple fact that we have taken vows.
Think back to those vows. When we promised to love each other “’til death do us part,” did we really mean that, or is it more like, “I will love you as long as you love me back as your romantic partner?” Perhaps a better intention would have been, “I love you, and I promise to give you my best and do the work with you to help each other to grow and to stay connected”
Core responses to dysfunctional behavior:
Denying – ignoring the problem, hoping it will go away, encouraging others to deny the problem by making excuses for them and creating an environment that is focused on not upsetting them, even if it compromises others wellbeing as well as your own.
Enabling – inadvertently enabling by lying or denying the truth about what is really happening with them. Minimizing the damage from their behavior. Acting like your happy to be doing what they tell you to do. making excuses to cover up for the person so they don’t act out, or explaining why they are doing what they do i.e.… they had a hard childhood, they lost their job, their partner left them… their kids are difficult … whatever sounds like a good reason for everyone around them to feel bad for them or at least tolerate their behavior. Tolerating difficult behavior, becoming upset and punishing with others when they confront the behavior or if they react by refusing to go along with the abusive or controlling behavior.
Controlling – taking control of the user’s environment, in an attempt to make them stop acting out. Anticipating things that will upset them and trying to control everything around them. Ignoring the needs of others to always favor the one who is acting out.
Apathy – withdrawing, casting the abuser out of the family events, giving up, giving in, acting as if you don’t understand why others feel so upset, becoming numb to the issues, joining in and doing your best to align your attitude to the abuser, therefor becoming just like them.