To become acquainted with oneself is a terrible shock. ~ Carl Jung
Marriage, or any committed relationship, has the ability to bring excitement and passion into our lives.
At the same time however, as the relationship progresses and more roadblocks and perpetual issues arise, we may begin to feel distant from our partner.
Think back to when you first began your current relationship.
It’s likely that you believed you had found the answer to life’s problems, you’d found a partner to share in life’s journey, you’d never again be alone, and it would be smooth sailing from here on out. It’s equally likely that if your relationship was based on these assumptions, it wasn’t long before you were sorely disappointed that your partner failed to live up to your expectations.
Here’s a truism for Simple Marriage: if you look to another person to provide fulfillment, you will begin to focus on the failings of that person as the cause of your own disappointment.
In every important relationship, you’ve brought your own legacy of fears, anxieties, and unresolved problems – so has your partner. As the relationship progresses, it’s often uncomfortable to come to terms with your own baggage. So much so, that when you’re unable to look within yourself, you’ll attribute the problems to your partner rather than accepting the fact that your partner is just being themselves and likely has the best of intentions.
Whenever you’re uncomfortable about something your spouse says or does, it helps to realize that your discomfort may derive from a source you’ve yet to examine within yourself – a control issue, a jealousy, an insecurity or fear, etc.
This is part of your growing up – becoming emotionally mature.
One key to emotional maturity involves the art of self-soothing.
When you blame your partner for your discomfort, this tends to create distance within an emotionally committed relationship. This distance then, creates a feeling of further discomfort. The trick to dealing with this dilemma is to learn how to soothe your own emotional pain. Which in turn, can open the way to more passion and closeness in your relationship.
Here’s a few suggestions that will help:
- Don’t take your spouse’s behavior personally. Even if your spouse doesn’t make all the changes you’ve made, don’t take it personally. If you and your spouse are having a conflict, try some inwardly focused relaxation techniques. Focus on your breathing. Stop talking and try to slow your heart rate. Lower the volume of your speech and work on relaxing your body. In other words, you take care of you.
- Keep the current conflict in perspective. Think about past instances of the same type of conflict. What resources did you use in the past for dealing with the conflict? Think about how discomfort will surface again in the future – and if you learn now how to deal with it, you will be better off in these future instances.
- Control your behavior, even if you can’t regulate your emotions. While you may have difficulty in controlling your emotions, especially in the face of a conflict, you can have control over your behavior. Prevent yourself from saying and doing things that you will regret later. Tell yourself: “I don’t have to take action on my feelings.”
- Stop the negative thinking. Thoughts drive your feelings and behavior. When you find yourself engaged in negative thinking, make the change to more positive thoughts. Accept what is happening – then calm down.
- You may have to break contact temporarily with your partner until things cool down. When you are engaged in a conflict, you may need some time to get in touch with your self again. Look on this as a time-out, not a separation. Tell your spouse that you need some time alone to calm down and that you can discuss the issue better later, after both of you have had some space from each other.
- Self-soothing does not involve substance abuse, the abuse of food, or emotional regression. You need time to confront yourself and understand what your part in the conflict may be. This does not mean hiding out, sleeping, binge-eating, or the use of drugs or alcohol, which are all ways to avoid self-confrontation.
The ability to validate your own perceptions, feelings, and self-worth, and soothe your own heartache and anxiety when the inevitable marital disappointments, frustrations, and misunderstandings occur opens the door for the relationship, and both of you, to experience more. Your “relationship with yourself” determines how you’ll handle the good and bad times of life.
Paradoxically, the better you are at soothing and validating yourself, the less you need your spouse to “be there” for you and the more you can “be there” for others. Likewise, you can let yourself be influenced by your spouse, taking their needs and opinions into consideration without feeling like you’re weakening your own position or interests in the process.
Your ability to self-validate and self-soothe is absolutely vital to maintaining long term passion in marriage.
Adapted from David Schnarch, Ph.D.
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