Psychologist Dr. Sonya Freedman wrote the book Men Are Just Desserts, How learning to be a woman with a life of your own can enrich the life you share with a man. The pun in the title proposes that a person marries someone they deserve for good or for bad. Freedman taught her readers that adults of either sex need to work on themselves enough to be ready for a mature, sensible and rewarding love life. Let’s look at the issues.
Maturity is an emotional reality, a willingness and preparedness to function as a mutually beneficial unit. Mature marital partners focus on being expressed by the partnership, not as individuals living for themselves. Each half of the pair feels unfulfilled, not fully expressed, if the other person is not part of their life. The two individuals literally relate to each other and are thus a “One.” Without the preparation to be a suitable spouse, marriage might amount to something of a gamble.
A person needs to be ready to sustain a relationship before they begin it, and to improve their contribution to the relationship over time. As life continues, challenges will arise. The birth of children, unemployment, medical, social or financial problems, unsubstantiated expectations, and lots of other complications are part of normal life. Coping mechanisms to deal with them will be adopted or abandoned for something better. Increasing insights and strength of character will mesh with those used or discarded coping mechanisms. Maturity does not develop just because two people paired up, though. It requires effort.
Immaturity at the outset of a marriage can doom it. Initial insights are lacking, let alone the strength of character to build upon. Adults unprepared for mature relationships need to make up for lost time quickly in order to save their marriages. But in cases of arrested maturity, the lack of readiness or willingness to behave in adult fashion, one or both partners might end up hating each other, possibly undermining each other at will. Guilt trips, insults, and public or private humiliation efforts are only a few of the hate-fomenting possibilities. Should the paired people flee each other? The answer is not as simple as the warring couple might want or expect.
Reasons to Run
Relationship therapists can help a couple to sort out the issues before them. Working as a team, the marriage might be savable. If one or both adults in a given couple chose instead to sabotage each other’s lives, however, then yes, they need to separate before more harm is done.
There are known methods of marital sabotage, financial mismanagement among them. It can ruin long-term purchasing power for the hapless victim, bringing on legal complications and other consequences. So can addictions of any sort. They cripple a marriage, endangering the other spouse, children if they exist, and in some cases other people, too.
Mental and emotional limitations that prevent positive change are also reasons to run, unless the other spouse is unusually competent and willing to finesse the problem. Violent behaviors, an inability to function in adult manner (e.g., keeping a job, polite behavior, proper hygiene), and mood, thought or personality disorders that require constant mental health professional or legal interventions are among the reasons precluding positive change. The problems are not prone to quick or lasting “fixes” that make a marriage more durable.
The absence of trust or dependability between each other is destructive to personal and to employment lives. Adults in such relationships need to recognize that one or both persons have essentially left the relationship for all intents and purposes. Physical relocation and divorce might be wise, creating a formal end to the unending cycle of harm. If children are involved, then the misery might last as custody and visitation cases become the arena for symbolic, destructive victories that too rarely end before the victimized children need therapy.
If either spouse takes the other for granted, not sacrificing for the other person, not fulfilling responsibilities, not giving, and actually undermines the relationship in other ways, then their refusal to invest time, effort, conscientiousness and loving care foments the end of happiness for all concerned.
Abuse in any form, be it sexual, verbal, emotional, financial or selfishness, destroys any hope for a stable, desirable relationship. So does lying. Stalking a spouse undermines the relationship, even if the excuse for the stalking is that “I just want to check up on you,” I want to make sure you’re OK,” and the like. It is a method of controlling the other person, not constructive attentiveness.
If an errant spouse repeatedly asks for more time, for more do-overs, or for their errant ways to be overlooked, then they’ve served notice that they will continue to undermine the marriage.
Ultimatums from either side, such as “Do X by such date or else,” are not repairs to the problem. Like band aids on fractures, they’re impotent gestures, and worse, they invite rebellion. Dares are simply signs of how poorly the couple interacts, that they’re in a ruinous rut. The more functional partner, if there is one, can’t compensate for the dysfunctional other. If both people in the relationship are abusing the other half, they are also locked in a ruinous hell. Separation is necessary.
Gambling, pornography, religious divides, and divergent political views tend to evoke hatred, fear, or a sense of betrayal. Hatred between the spouses can become inevitable. So can life-threatening events. It is wise for the couple to end their relationship so that neither person’s well-being is threatened by the other.
Glitches in Separation Efforts
A recent study revealed four reasons why some unhappy couples remain together, despite their misery: Security, Practical, Civility, and Unresolved Romantic Desires. Unresolved romantic desires were associated with more negative feelings, but, as one of the study’s authors noted, “’paradoxically’ longer friendships. In other words, even though you’re not reaping any benefits from the friendship, you tend to stay in [it] longer.” The study also cited that “Broadly speaking, two of the reasons that a person may stay friends with an ex are related to emotional needs (security and unresolved romantic desires) and two of the reasons are not (practical reasons and civility)… It’s the non-emotional reasons that are ultimately linked to a more successful friendship.” The findings were published in the journal Personal Relationships this past June.
Therapy Can Save Some Relationships
There are endless numbers of ways for marriages to go wrong. Salvaging one requires focused commitment to righting wrongs, and maintaining that functional behavior ever after. Relationship therapy is in order so that both halves of the couple can better understand the subtleties of the problems before them, how best to repair them, how to cope with future problems and how best to prevent new ones. But, while in the beginning one of the members of the couple is capable of seeking help, one person can’t do the work of two forever. Both individuals will need to actively participate in therapy. If such is the case that one of the individuals refuses therapy, leaving the marriage is advisable.
Normal people err from time to time, but if the errors are consistent and unyielding, then the relationship is irreparably damaged and not fixable. The only hope for a more satisfying life is to run from a spouse willing to hurt you.