How To Diminish Self-Preservation In Marriage

How To Diminish Self-Preservation In Marriage

Do you ever sit back and wish things were different in your marriage? Do you experience constant arguing or a tug-of-war that makes your marriage more of an exhausting experience than it needs to be? Certainly, there will be disagreements in marriage; we are all human and have our own opinions and preferences. However, it pays to know how to disagree civilly and in a manner that moves action and dialogue forward in marriage.

You might be wondering how you can change the tide or initiate change in your relationship.  Well, one critical place to start is by examining your self-preservation drive. Honestly consider the following questions: 1) Am I open to alternate ways of doing things in my marriage? 2) Am I easily upset or bothered when I don’t get my way? 3) Do I feel threatened when I feel I am not in control in my relationship or household? 4) Do I have to get my point across or win no matter the cost? If you answered yes to those questions, then you might have a high self-preservation drive. While self-preservation may be helpful, say if you are naked and afraid left in the middle of the Amazon, it can be counterproductive and may sabotage your marriage!

What is self preservation?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes self-preservation as “preservation of oneself from destruction or harm” and “a natural or instinctive tendency to act so as to preserve one’s own existence.”  Now if you are stuck in an abusive marriage or with a partner that is manipulative or coercive, then preserve on my friend. However, if you believe that your partner is generally likeable and you want to improve your marriage, then the innate drive to preserve your own existence must be diminished. In marriage TWO become ONE. Sounds extreme? It might be, but when paired with the right partner there is nothing extreme, or destructive, about it. Marriage actually gets easier when both partners live out this “two become one” philosophy. You no longer exist as a singular entity once you take your vow. If there is any harm or danger there, it rests within fear of vulnerability and change (but that’s a separate topic worthy of its own blog post!). When you become one with your spouse, you strive to understand what you AND your partner need as a unit. Then you move forward to accomplish that jointly. Instead of preserving your comforts, preferences, style, and opinions, in some never ending ‘every man for himself game’, you surrender to what works best for the marriage. I understand that vulnerability and relinquishing control may be scary. You may not even know how to behave differently than you have been behaving in this regard.

Here are few steps to transition from SELF-preservation to US-preservation. I define US-preservation as a developed instinct to preserve your marriage from destruction or harm, including the harm you  cause when you act as a self-absorbed control freak (yeah, I said it). Here we go…

Step 1: Mindfully examine your fears

Consider what you are afraid will happen if you become flexible and open to change in your marriage.

Step 2: Determine whether you trust your partner

Determine whether you trust your partner as someone who is honest, seeks the greater good for the marriage, and is skilled or capable of putting forward useful opinions and ideas. If not, you’ve got some real work to do examining why you can’t (or won’t) trust your partner in those ways.

Step 3: Communicate your fears and concerns

Do it in a way that helps your partner understand how to help assuage your concerns and remedy the issues.

Step 4: Identify the key values in your marriage

Sit down with your partner and outline the key values you want to uphold in your marriage. Then outline key terms of engagement so that you can discuss differing points of view with respect, love, and civility when the time comes . Why start World War III in your home if you don’t have to.

Gandhi said to be the change you wish to see in the world; I say be the change you want to see in your marriage. I invite you utilize what you’ve found helpful to reflect and start changing the tide in your marriage. Until next time, be mindful, love strong , and live well!

Dr. Jerren Weekes-Kanu
Clinical Psychologist, Ph.D, MA
Jerren Weekes-Kanu, Ph.D., LP is a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Wellness First, PLLC in Farmington Hills, MI. Her passion is helping couples renew the health and vibrancy of their relationships despite notable challenges.

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