I recently read an article in the New York Times by Alain de Botton that ignited my thoughts on marriage and I would like to share those thoughts with you. Among many things in his article, de Botton expresses a belief that “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” Further, de Botton supports pessimism rather than the romantic idea in marriage stating, “Pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage.”
Marriage is challenging and complex; I would never argue that – ever. And I would never argue that moments and degrees of suffering exist in marriage. In our 25 years of marriage, my husband and I have had our share of suffering. However, I do believe that while some degree of suffering will, at times, exist in marriage – marriage is more of a struggle or a challenge, rather than suffering which implies despair, hopelessness and a lifetime of misery. Struggle or challenge implies the reality of the challenges that will come with marriage, and there will be times that are more challenging than others. Keep in mind – I never encourage one to stay in a marriage of abuse.
Pessimism creates despair, which can create a desire to find your way out as opposed to finding a way to stay in marriage and finding ways to stay in love. At one point in our marriage, my husband and I decided to email each other a weekly positive reflection about the other. In preparing to find a positive reflection, I found my brain flooded with positive memories and serotonin was flooding my brain! And we had decided to do this because we were going through a challenging time in our marriage! What a pleasant surprise!
It is easy to focus on the hurt, disappointment and pain, but when you balance it with positive memories, it brings a necessary relief of love and hope.
“Marriage is a balance of joy and pain, hope and loss, love and doubt, challenge and victory, companionship and loneliness and so on”
How to find hope in marriage
Love changes over time, as does the romantic aspect of love. I feel romantic toward my husband when he plays with our grandson or when he chuckles at me when I do something that only he knows about me. Or when we enjoy a summertime meal that I’ve created and spend the evening in our back yard, chatting while losing touch with time. And I know that he feels the same in return.
Marriage is a lifetime of learning about oneself, if you choose to do so, and if you do, it can be life changing in a good way. Marriage – rather than suffering – can be viewed as “Commitment to stay in the challenge” and “choosing personal growth”
Marriage is a lifetime investment that has its payoffs and its losses. The payoffs can be personal growth, shared experiences and a lifetime of memories. Even the painful experiences can be transformed into growth if you choose to self-reflect in your marriage. The loss might be recognizing that one person cannot meet all of your needs as perhaps you once hoped. Loss is recognizing that your hopes and dreams for your life together will not unfold as you imagined.
However, you will almost certainly have positive experiences in your marriage that you never imagined. I never imagined that my husband and I would enjoy some of the things in our life. We spent the first half of our life in financial hardship raising four children. During those times I never imagined that we would be able to do some of the things that we now enjoy.
The challenges each of us experience in marriage will vary from marriage to marriage for a variety of reasons. There are those who have had more than their fair share of hurt and pain growing up, therefore being in a marriage may take more work because you have learned about relationships only through hurt and pain. Also, one never knows what life will throw at you – unexpected death, loss and hardship – these unexpected painful experiences will challenge a marriage.
Believe me, regarding personal growth in marriage; I have had times when I have wished for the personal growth to come to an end! Living alone can sound inviting, especially when I have felt trapped in my marriage. I don’t know of many people who have not felt trapped, hopeless and helpless at some point in their marriage. When you make an investment in a life together, it is inevitable that during times of disconnection you will feel trapped. Like so many, the disappointment is something that I never expected to experience in marriage. Sadly, I had only hopes and dreams for a future with my husband. When reality hits, it hits hard. Reality would not be so hard if all of us were better prepared for marriage and if learning about relationships became a part of our education!
The value of partnering in marriage
Marriage is a partnership in which we go through the battlefield of life together and the joy of life. Yes, it has its growing pains – that can cause suffering. With the complexities of humans and the complexities of life, struggle in marriage is inevitable. However, marriage is a partnership that is meant to pull you through life. It can provide safety, security, comradery and collaboration.
A partnership in marriage means that you know you share the same mission in life, that someone always has your back and that you go though it together. This does not mean that you do not enjoy separateness, separate interests and separate friends, but these separate times are even more enjoyable because you know that you always have a partnership behind you.
And this is what no one tells you before you marry – isolation is the cause of suffering, and you will feel isolation in your marriage – this is the cause of loneliness. You will always have times of loneliness in your marriage during times of disconnection due to the complexities of a relationship. However, times of disconnection can be productive if used to self-reflect, learn and grow. Pain can bring growth and result in a deeper and more loving connection with your partner.
Learn how to stay in love
We need to learn how to stay in love after we’ve been hurt by the one we love. And we need to learn how to be in a relationship with all of its complexities. We need to recognize that learning is necessary to grow in connection with one another. All of us seek to be understood, accepted, respected and loved, flaws and all, and to be seen (and loved) for who we are as a person, however this takes learning about all aspects of a relationship.
Gaining perspective on our marriage is challenging because we don’t have distance to see clearly. I am able to help couples in therapy because I can view their relationship from a distance. It is much more challenging to gain distance, clarity and a healthy perspective in one’s own marriage. It is easier for me to help others than it is to gain perspective in my marriage! Help from another person who is fair and understands both sides – this can provide hope in marriage. It is when we feel lack of hope, trapped, and lost in marriage that we need support from others.
Remember though – we must learn, learn and then learn more how to stay in love. Learn how to love after hurt, injury, miscommunication, and the challenges that life will present to you.
You cannot “fly by the seat of your pants” in marriage – it is a lifelong journey of discovery
But it is a discovery that can be beautiful, liberating and enlightening if you do it as if you were taking a lifelong class where there is always something new to uncover.
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Please let me know!
Thanks for reading!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
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