Did you simply marry the wrong person?
What a question! I wonder how many reading this think that it is true? The thing is, it probably isn’t true unless there are some serious issues in your relationships like abuse or addictions that prevent the possibility of having a real connection with each other. Most of the time, I think we marry some-one who is close to being the right person. No-one will ever be perfect. Alain De Botton says that seeking perfection will end in loneliness.
The fact is, that we tend to go into a marriage expecting it to be perfect, to be exactly what we expected it to be. The truth is something very different, as the joining of two people in marriage inevitably results in us encountering areas of disappointment, particularly as we move out of the romantic stage, and into the reality of living together as husband and wife.
Imago therapy talks about this point of the relationship as entering the ‘power struggle’. This is a place where all the things you found attractive in the beginning suddenly seem somewhat irritating.
The power struggle is a place of competition and conflict. The good news is that it is completely normal. However, couples often do not know what to do in this stage of the relationship and very often they give up, thinking ‘I simply married the wrong person’ and they sadly move from there to divorce. If you can push through it, you will end up experiencing the joys of a really mature and sustainable love.
Alain de Botton tells us about the mistakes we make when choosing a partner. He says that the way we love as adults sits on top of our early childhood experiences. Most of us are unconscious of this influence on our relationships and our expectations of our relationships. Inevitably we choose a partner that we connect with one of our primary caregivers in childhood, in short– we marry what is familiar. In an extreme example, we often find sexually abused women will inadvertently be attracted to partners who are of the same nature.
In fact, it may well be that it is in recognising this familiarity, that a spark is lit and an unconscious connection is made, which kicks off the romantic stage in a relationship. It is something that is hard to fathom, why would we want to repeat the injustices of our past? Well that is just how we are as human beings. If we knew better from the start we would be able to manage our relationship conflicts much more effectively.
Now here is something interesting. Our brains have things called mirror neurons. These neurons mirror the emotional world of our partners. They determine how we react to each other, whether we see risk or attraction. These neurons are what makes us recognise familiarity in others and this kicks off the stage of romantic love. Mirror neurons work in tandem with other brain centres and release adrenaline, oxytocin and dopamine into our systems. Adrenaline and dopamine are chemicals that bring about excitation in our nervous systems.
Oxytocin is known to many as the chemical of love because of the feelings of euphoria that it brings about. So your first reaction to your partner was more than likely the correct one. You have simply passed the romantic love stage and moved into the power struggle, which is a place rich with potential for growth. You just need to commit to doing the work.
De Botton argues that we need to reach a stage of psychological and emotional maturity where we realise that to love and hate a person at the same time, is entirely possible. He gives us a definition of what I will refer to for simplicity’s sake as real, mature love :
Love is charitable and benevolent responses to interpreting some-one’s unreasonable reactions. (Paraphrasing by the author)
In other words, the expectation of perfection and wanting things your way all the time, are unrealistic and unsustainable. Mature love is sacrificial – it says - ’let me understand you and feel compassion and empathy for the things that have made you behave in this way’. It is not one sided, it is reciprocal, it is how couples should respond to each other. Despite what we have probably been taught, compromise in a relationship is noble, it is the work of love (de Botton). Working through the power struggle, will bring your relationship to a point where you can experience this kind of sustainable, mature love.
In conclusion, have you really married the wrong person or would you encounter these same difficulties in a relationship with some-one else? The reality that yes, you probably would. Marriage is a journey of discovery, fraught with challenges, but it is worth working for.
Alain De Botton. ‘Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person’. YouTube.