Conflict is an expected phenomenon in marriage, and it is vital to learn to cope with it in order for a relationship to thrive and endure. One area of conflict that we see frequently in marriage counseling is the impact of subconscious habits.
The above circle represents a person. The dotted line divides the conscious thoughts from the unconscious ones. The unconscious area includes the thoughts that we do not want to think about because if we think about them all the time, it would be difficult for us to function in life. The smaller part of the circle represents those unconscious thoughts. The larger part of the circle includes the decisions we make consciously such as what to eat, where to sit, where to go, whom to marry, etc. These decisions, big and small, are typically the ones that we actively pay attention to.
Conversely, our subconscious thoughts lie beneath the surface, and often happen automatically, as patterns and habits. Some subconscious thoughts are benign: which way to drive to work, breathing and swallowing are all subconscious for good reason – there isn’t much thought needed. But other subconscious patterns can damage our relationships by driving behaviors that are unintentionally hurtful to others.
Here is an example of a classic conflict for a married couple: The wife wants to feel a deeper, closer connection with her husband. She wishes he could understand her needs without her having to bring them up all the time. It feels sometimes as if he is actually resisting being closer to her. It turns out that she is actually correct – her husband unconsciously remains distant in his relationships because a woman with whom he was infatuated broke his heart. He had worked hard to convince her to date him, but she ultimately dumped him and left him heartbroken. This situation left him with a deep shame, and he subconsciously decided to keep his distance in future relationships. When marriage therapy illuminated this problem, the husband’s subconscious pattern became obvious, and now he had a choice: to continue the pattern or attempt to deepen his marriage by overcoming his subconscious.
In most marriages, both partners have subconscious habits that may be limiting their connection with each other. By bringing them to light, many marriages can become deeper and more fulfilling.