Why marriages can (seemingly) disappoint.

Couples often go to counseling because underneath all the arguing and tension, they are carrying with them the heavy weight of disappointment about how their marriage/partnership has tuned out. 

When couples come in for their initial consultation, I pay attention to a lot of small details that mean provide important clues: their body language, their breathing, if and when they take a pause before answering a question, etc. And a question I always ask is: "How did you know he/she was the one?"

So much comes to light in the ways in which people answer this question. Usually, as couples begin to respond, there is a noticeable shift from the hardened, angry, sad, or distant individuals who had initially walked into my office, to the versions of themselves from a time (long ago?) where they were full of hope, love, and naive certainty. 

In one of my favorite modern novels about love and relationships, Alain de Botton provides the most astute definition of marriage I have ever come across. He writes,

"Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble by two people who don't know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.

I want you to take a minute (or 10!) to let this definition sink in.... 

You see, most people in today's' committed relationships/marriages have spent years sifting through countless dates and transient relationships before deciding on who they wanted to spend the rest of their life with. And, with the best information at their disposal, took a gamble on this one person, making certain assumptions about themselves, the chosen partner, and the expected circumstances that would create the outline of their life together. There are so many unpredictable variables here, starting with EACH OF YOU. 

Think of yourself for a moment when you first started dating your partner/husband/wife. Are you the same person today as you were back then? What did you like more and less about your younger version? What do you miss? What changed? What do you like less and more about you today versus the younger version of you?

Now think about your partner: is he/she the same person as he/she was when you first got together? What did you like more and less about that younger version of your partner? What do you miss? What changed? What do you like less and more about your partner today than you did of his/her younger version? 

And lastly, there are the countless curveballs that life has thrown at you that neither of you could have ever foreseen your reactions to: kids, sleepless nights, new jobs, no jobs, money, not enough money, aging parents, demanding siblings or friends, deaths, loss... I could go on and on. 

We forget that we go into a marriage with very little information and a lot of expectations. Something is off with this balance, right?!

So cut yourself and your partner a little slack for where you are today. Neither of you went into this partnership with the intention of duping, deceiving or hurting each other. You took a hopeful, generous, and infinitely kind gamble on a life together.

This thing called marriage/commitment is hard work and it takes more than rolling the dice and hoping for the best. It starts with compassion (for yourself and your partner) for the different ways in which you each responded to life's circumstances the best ways you knew how. 


***I realize, there's a final part of de Botton's definition that I did not go into in this blog. I will in a future post about the conversations couples avoid having before saying "I do."


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