HOW can you tell if your marriage is on the rocks? You’re consistently unable to arrive at workable solutions to common problems. Once firm friends, who’ve promised and professed to protect and provide safety and shelter to each other, you now behave more like bitter adversaries.
You know the quality of your relationship has hit rock bottom when the quality of your communication is in the pits. Name calling, insulting, belittling putdowns and personal attacks aimed at embarrassing and hurting, has become an everyday affair.
Talking about affairs, one (or both of you) is cheating and doesn’t care if the other one knows. The relationship is now, “all about ME”. One partner is always right. The other... isn’t attractive enough, works too much, spends too much, talks too much etc. Both “should” all over each other.
It’s suffocating not being able to speak your mind, either for fear of unleashing an avalanche of anger, or causing your spouse to withdraw and withhold. You could go without speaking for weeks at a time. Sometimes you think, “Why bother? I don’t have a voice that’s heard and respected anyway.” Forget open conversations. It’s all, “doublespeak” and shadow puppetry.
Forget sex, you can barely look at your partner who makes you feel one inch tall. Marriage feels like a lonely planet. Who do you talk to without washing your dirty linen in public? The pain from betrayal and indifference is so great, that divorce usually comes as a relief. “How did we get to this place?” is the oft asked question. It has a really easy answer. Couples who enter into marriage with weak “frames” of understandings, values, principles, about what their union means... have a different outcome when compared to couples who operate from robust frames about marriage, for example, “We can do so much more together than alone or apart.”
In the Asian society it cuts both ways. One lifestyle is where the wife is subservient and willingly accepts her supporting role. The other philosophy is that men rule, in which men expect, impose, dictate and pretty much own their women, handling them in much the same way they treat their other property. Under these circumstances, the woman has little choice. Blame it on culture and tradition. “Off with her head”, to women who think! Err... think differently.
This may be a new concept for some but I propose that marriage is based on collaboration. Collaboration is when people work together to create something that no one can create or do, alone. This very special state-of-mind is far more than just complying. It’s more than just co-operating, passively going along with something that you agree with and believe in. It is, positively and actively wanting to act in unity with another — for a greater good. Yet “power over” ego’s drive for independence, control and separation is the usual way we choose. Sure, we grow up needing to be someone in our own right and interestingly it’s those who are confident enough to get ego out of the way, those who develop a secure sense of self (I am enough. I am complete) who are eventually able to let go (of control) and willingly share and bond.
Ego wants to have things its way. Ego has to have constant recognition, attention, admiration, etc. Ego thinks win-lose.
Marriage can also suffer because partners lack social skills. They don’t know how to show love and care, don’t know how to listen, support, validate and be “present” to their spouses. They don’t know how to “play well”. They come across bossy, self-centred, critical, demanding and unkind.
With all that history and background divorcees have probably experienced, you can imagine their state of mind. What ingredients do you think they’d be short on, if they were contemplating their best life? Self-esteem for one. (2) Enriching meanings and understandings about partnership. (3) Loving communication with children. (4) Effective communication with the opposite sex. (5) Self-forgiveness perhaps? (6) Dealing with pent up resentment, for sure.
Remember that a person is not his or her behaviour. Our behaviours are only expressions of our thinking and feeling, expressions of our mental, biological or emotional states at that given time and within a certain context. When our “frames” change, we change. We can live the life of our dreams. Believe it.
In the name of love
MY problem is my husband. I love him very much but I don’t think he can handle his parents. It would be too much to ask him to discipline them so I will tolerate them when I have to spend time with his family.
YOUR willingness to make sacrifices for your family is admirable. I wish you all the best. Although you may want to remember the initial reason for writing to me — you said you were unhappy at home. You told me you were often angry (because of your in-laws). Would you like the situation at home to be more pleasant?
Some people like to talk about their problems. Some people do something about their problems so they aren’t problems anymore. Sometimes all it takes is shifting the way we see things. Removing the expectation that it’s up to other people to change so that things become better for us. Accepting responsibility for the quality of our relationships and the quality of our life. When the spotlight shifts from “out there” to “in here”, what to do next often becomes much clearer.
If someone is critical, judgmental and unfair to you, can you stop them from behaving that way towards you? When something like this happens at home and you feel your choices for responding are limited because there are people you don’t want to hurt, what options are left open to you?
1. Accept and appreciate people for who they are (and suddenly there is nothing left to complain about).
2. Apply humour. Think of how funny this must look from the outside.
3. Forget about “winning”. Choose dignity. Exactly what you said — manage your state when you are with them.
Manage, not avoid a situation
ALL I said was, “we could have done better” and suddenly it was as if I had a war on my hands. People became defensive and started pointing fingers at each other, blaming others and outside factors, making excuses and offering reasons why they weren’t able to do what was expected. How can I avoid another situation like that?
IT’S about how people make meaning. It’s when people use their “filters” to sieve through what is happening and “process” or “represent” the information in the theatre of their mind in a format that best suits their culture, upbringing, values and understandings. As such, there is often no “common reality.” It’s all perception.
How to avoid situations like this? Perhaps not avoid, but reduce or manage them better. We do this by setting “frames”. Frames are contexts, backdrops, preludes, summaries of what things are, what to expect, how things work, etc.
For example, you could’ve said, “Given how we had set our markers for success, namely the leading indicators for our victory, don’t you agree we could have done better to ensure ___________, __________ and ________ were achieved?
We get miserable when we (1) personalise. It’s about the work, not about us. (2) Perceive all feedback to be criticism. Try on curiosity instead of defensiveness. “Really? How interesting! Let me try that next time. (3) React instead of respond. Stepping back into an observing or witnessing state facilitates objectivity. Give yourself space to breathe and consider the other person’s perspective.
In the end it’s all about building trust within the team. Openness and authenticity work well for this.