Monday, October 29, 2007

The Main Reason Marriages Fail

I have been a full time marriage therapist in private practice for the past 27 years. I have worked with literally thousands of marriages and observed and analyzed marriage in more detail than the vast majority of people. I have seen all sides of marriage - the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you asked me why do some marriages self-destruct here is my answer. And although there is a danger of being simplistic, I believe there is one overriding reason why marriages fail.

Put simply, it is the unhappiness of one, projected upon the other. What do I mean? I am referring to the human tendency to blame others for your own inner feelings. We have a long history of blaming others for our difficulties. Our entire legal system is set up around this premise. If someone is wronged, they hire a lawyer who will fight for their rights in court to prove one right and the other wrong. Or, at least to show one ‘more’ right and the other ‘more’ wrong. Also, because we are a capitalistic economic system, the law assigns financial remuneration to the ‘victim’ and mandates that the ‘perpetrator’ financially compensate the ‘victim’ for the wrong done.

Of course lawyers who receive their income from fighting these legal battles believe this system to be the best way to make meaningful changes in our society. Lawyers are not paid if they do not win their case. So the incentive is to prove one right, and the other wrong. Lawyers might question this assessment, but I do not wish to debate this issue here, I merely wish to point out that we as a society have been programmed to believe that it is reasonable to assign one as victim and the other as perpetrator, or one as right and the other as wrong.

Once you accept this premise, it is easy to understand how inside marriage, whenever one party feels unhappy, they might assume that their partner is in some way responsible. Then, believing that all the negative feelings they have within themselves are their partner’s fault, the fighting begins. Eventually that fighting takes on a life of its own. It is fueled by our communal cultural belief system that one is right and the other is wrong, and obviously it is you who are right, and your partner is therefore wrong.

Once this process begins, the marriage is doomed to continual battles. If you believe your feelings are your partner’s responsibility, the marriage can never improve until your partner changes. Once you believe the problems you face in life are your partner’s fault, the marriage goes down the slippery slope into despair.

Is there an alternative to this system? Of course there is. But it requires you rethink the victim mentality concept. If you see yourself as a victim of your partner’s behavior, this establishes a classic power struggle that eats away the good will inside your marriage and destines the relationship to perpetual power struggles and conflict, unless your partner passively accepts all the blame for all the problems you face in your life. But once this occurs, you will lose all respect for your partner and become bored and disinterested in your relationship, and label your partner as passive aggressive. The victim / perpetrator model for human relationships guarantees the relationship will never attain the levels of human intimacy that are possible when both partners are individually strong and respectfully support each other to become the best they can be.

The solution is for everyone to take full responsibility for their own feelings, and not project their unhappiness upon their partner. Once you become aware you are internally dissatisfied, it becomes your responsibility to change yourself to fix the unhappiness. Not that you should not communicate where you feel wronged or that you cannot request your partner consider some changes if they are realistic. That is a perfectly acceptable communication, as long as it is delivered responsibly and in an adult fashion. Many couples lash out at each other when angry, just like a child might throw objects at another child when they feel overwhelmed. Marriage is for adults. Children of whatever age should avoid such a complex relationship as marriage.

To have a successful marriage both partners must accept personal responsibility for their own feelings and their own behaviors inside their marriage, and both partners must accept the consequences of their behaviors. Projecting your unhappiness onto your partner inevitably leads to fighting, perpetual struggle and eventually a massive meltdown inside your marriage.

So let me repeat after observing thousands of marriages, it is my conclusion that the most destructive quality for marriages is the childish need to hold your partner responsible for your internal unhappiness, with the resulting expectation that they need to change, so you can be fulfilled.