My guide and mentor, John W. Jacobs, M.D., the only other board-certified psychiatrist and Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) relationship coach and consultant I know, wrote in his book All You Need Is Love and Other Lies about Marriage,“expectations of marriage are often so unrealistic that even the strongest of relationships [sometimes] doesn’t stand a chance.”
Maybe Margaret Mead was on to something when she noted that “every woman needs three husbands: one for youthful sex, one for security while raising children, and one for joyful companionship in old age”.
What if we could find one life partner for all three: sex, procreation and companionship?
Unfortunately, that search is a perfect setup for ‘The Soul Mate Delusion’ a variant of Marital Psychosis. There is after all no such thing. A successful marriage requires both the partners to to be present, do loving deeds and nourish the bond on a daily basis. It demands heavily that you be the right person for your spouse.
Other signs of Marital Psychosis (a state in which newly engaged couples completely lose touch with reality and live in a world of false beliefs, denying the truth in front of them) include The ‘Mind Reading Delusion’, often expressed as “if you really loved me you would know what I want and just do it without me having to ask,” and The ‘Changing the Other Person Fantasy’ which consists of the convictions that:
(1) You are right.
(2) All would be well if only your partner recognized that.
(3) Then your partner would become more like you.
(4) You have the necessary omnipotence to effect the change.
Conversely, “Real marriage for real people” is a lifelong process that requires continuous reinvestment to be sustaining and long lasting. Dr. Jacobs articulates three basic factors that help maintain mutually satisfying marriages:
The careful and wise initial choice of a mate
A more realistic understanding of internal and external stressors
The ongoing willingness to address concerns, differences and dissatisfactions
So how to combine mindful awareness and romantic bliss?
How best to consciously engage in our romantic, intimate partner relationship with presence and compassion? A six-week marriage preparation and enrichment educational program developed by Phil Guerin and colleagues at the Center for Family Life sets goals that include teaching couples:
A reality-based view sees marriage as the ideal place for developing a Solid Self in Relationship. The journey to self-differentiation helps you learn to ask directly for what you want, calmly maintain your position in the face of criticism and disagreement, and develop appropriate responsibility for self rather than over-adequacy for others. The problems, issues, and predicaments we all struggle with are not so much the problems, issues, and predicaments we all struggle with, as the difficulties we have in resolving them in a relationship context.
What unrealistic expectations have you brought to your marriage?
Did you expect to find true love and the perfect partner?
Have you ever thought, “If you truly loved me you would always do exactly what I want you to do”?
Are you laboring under the misconception that your partner will “complete you”?
If we enter our relationships in a search for fusion then at some point we will inevitably feel distant, unloved, not attended to and unseen. Rather the prescription for life enhancement is the active engagement in addressing one’s own unresolved emotional attachments to one’s families of origin so one can be in relationship without taking on one’s partner’s “stuff”.
Also watch: How to Avoid Common Relationship Mistakes
Practice joy, gratitude and appreciation each day. Make sure you are communicating these to your partner on a daily basis. Nourish your relationship and let your partner know how much you care. Your efforts will surely be appreciated.
An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.
—-On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978
Best of luck on your unfolding journey of a lifetime.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Ronald B Cohen is an experienced family therapist specializing in Bowen Family Systems to help individuals, couples and families to develop healthier relationships. He is associated with the American Psychiatric Association and is an affiliate member of American Academy of Marital and Family Therapy. Ronald has also served as a supervisor to residents on inpatient psychiatric unit at North Shore University Hospital.