Patterns exist in marriages. The sources for growth and conflict are fairly predictable, IMO.
I’m fortunate to have some very meaningful and rewarding friendships that live in the business and personal worlds, and, sometimes, straddle both.
I’ve noticed that marriage is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, but, also, can be extremely challenging as well. Being in a long-term partnership with someone is a source of joy. It also can create anguish.
I have noticed that conflicts tend to stem from the same issues: money, sex, in-laws, and how to discipline children. The Big Four. These issues also are very much tied up with people’s childhood memories. They can trigger very intense reactions.
Moreover, among The Big Four, there is usually The Big One. This is the one issue that can create long-term conflict and frustration. It is the one issue that feels zero sum, for neither party feels that he/she can compromise without violating one’s integrity.
The irony? Only successful marriages get to The Big One. Over time, a relationship is able to navigate a bunch of thorny topics, including The Other Three. Over many years, a couple is able to resolve many issues, but, in the end, The Big One is the single large issue left on the table. The process of elimination has resolved the others.
IMO, The Big One ends up being a crucible. You either get through it with a lot of pain and dialogue, or you don’t and the marriage collapses or a very deep alienation can seep in.
The solution to The Big One? There isn’t one. Both points of view are correct, but are mutually exclusive. If money is The Big One, you either buy that new car, or you don’t. If sex is The Big One, you either have more frequent sex or engage in a certain style of sex, or you don’t. If in-laws are The Big One, do you let them dictate terms in your own home? If raising children is The Big One, what do you do when your spouse is saying or doing something that you feel will screw up your kids? Etcetera.
Recognizing that The Big One does not have a solution is the key. It doesn’t mean that either party is bad or wrong. It just “is.”
And, it requires the couple to speak openly and honestly to navigate The Big One. It requires people to agree to disagree and persist through a long-term series of negotiations. The discussion feels never-ending. That is because it is. There is no compromise possible, for, again, each person’s sense of self is at stake.
But, you can get through it. It requires you to self-advocate for your own needs, whilst also respecting the other person’s views. It requires grit to talk yet again about the topic. It forces you to engage in positive self-care vs. running to avenues that can lead to addictions (e.g., alcohol, porn, work, drugs, etc.) or an affair. And, it requires your spouse to be empathetic. A gun to your head won’t work.
Couples that navigate through The Big One often say afterwards that it radically transformed the marriage for the better, created more deep intimacy, and led to tremendous personal growth.
I speak from personal experience.
So, this morning, I read with great interest a New York Times article on “13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married.” It’s an interesting read.
I know every marriage is different, but, regardless of the issues, I think it is very important to “make explicit the implicit.” Each one of us has certain assumptions about how the world works and how a marriage should function. And, they may not be congruent with your partner’s point of view.
In my marriage, Mrs. T. and I have tried very much to make explicit the implicit, and I’ve found it to be very rewarding. We try to speak the truth with compassion. It’s very easy to duck topics and become passive-aggressive, only to erupt later. It’s very easy to be harsh when feeling frustrated. But, it’s very productive to be very direct and honest while also showing empathy.
So, read the article. It’s a good one.
A good Good Friday to all.