The Dark Side Of Marriage

Relationship Design

Unless you’re familiar with Dr. David Schnarch, you likely haven’t heard about this dark side of married life. What follows is adapted from his work.

There is a dark side in each one of us that is seldom discussed.

An aspect of us that plays out in the shadows of relationship.

And far too often it is unrecognized and unacknowledged, allowing us to treat those we claim to love poorly, all while feeling virtuous.

Not sure what I’m talking about?

This is the couple where the husband tortures his wife with his premature ejaculation issue for 20 years while doing nothing to address his issue. Or the wife who grudgingly participates in sex with her husband and feels like she’s doing him a favor. Or the marriage where both spouses claim to be each other’s best friend yet continually treat each other with contempt.

This idea is exacerbated by trite statements like “people always do the best they can at the time” because it takes goodness for granted, minimizes how hard it can be to actually do the best you can, and it blinds you to the ugliness of those who regularly don’t.

People who refuse to acknowledge their own hatred, anger, hostility and vindictiveness are most damaging to those they love.

The problem isn’t that we have an urge to be mean at times (everyone does at some point), but when we deny it we are then more likely to act on it.

It will be better for everyone if we will accept that we each have a malevolent side.

I realize talking about what happens in the shadows goes completely against the idea of having empathy and unconditional love in marriage, or the importance of feeling securely attached to your partner – but denying its presence wreaks havoc on relationships.

You don’t have unconditional love for a spouse who repeatedly has affairs, lies to your face, goes through your personal accounts, or treats you with contempt. You also don’t empathize with a partner who won’t get a job, or won’t help out around the house, or won’t grow up, and expects you to live within his or her limitations.

It’s just as (if not more) important to learn to stand on your own two feet with your spouse as it is for him or her to make you feel safe and secure.

It can be difficult to call out the cruelty that plays out in marriage, and even more difficult to see it in yourself if you were raised to believe you’re able to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Because what happens when you marry someone who refuses to see/do life as you?

It’s easy to think that they are cruel and only want you to submit to their tyranny – but do you realize that your reaction is likely because they won’t submit to yours?

This is the level at which the growing up process in marriage operates, whether we like it or not!

For example, how about the couple where the wife refuses to have sex with her husband and avoids him for months. When she finally agrees to have sex, she wants to stop after she has her orgasm and when her husband (who hasn’t orgasmed) wants to continue she feels “abused and used.” She claims to be the victim but what society often refuses to acknowledge is in this case the wife could be perpetrating on her husband from the victim position. The husband is no saint either, he was inconsiderate and often belittling. The point is – both spouses were cruel to each other, and both failed to see it in themselves.

When we refuse to acknowledge our own maliciousness towards those we love, emotional mayhem is bound to occur (it occurs even when we acknowledge it – but the damage is mitigated).

Dr. Schnarch has even coined a term for this idea: Normal Marital Sadism.

What his work has pointed out is the tendency among all of us to at times be cruel to our spouse, maybe without knowing it but more likely knowing it and feeling okay or even justified.

In a society where attachment parenting is in focus thus leading parents to proudly declare their undying devotion to their child by letting them sleep in the parents’ bed long into childhood begs the question, are they indulging themselves or their children?

But what about the possibility that one spouse is being cruel – setting up the need for the other spouse to compete for attention, affection and status with their mate, and against their own child?

Personally, I get nervous around people who act like they are filled with nothing but compassion and kindness.

My hope is that married people will begin to realize they’re living with an emotional terrorist. Someone who can be underhanded, withholding, and vindictive. When you realize you have to deal with this kind of person day in and day out, you can then turn your attention to your spouse’s flaws too.