Couple after couple come in and sit on the couch and ask, “where did we go wrong?” They look back at their wedding day full of bliss, excitement, and hope and cannot imagine why they are now sitting in a counselor’s office trying to decide if they want to stay married. They were so in love, they were so different than all of those other couples. They were never going to be here. This was not going to be them, and before they even know it they are here. They are “that” couple. They are that husband and wife who have not had sex in 3 months, have sky high resentment, or an affair has occurred. The fairy tale is over, the realness of marriage has reared its ugly head and here they are.
I think some couples may take one of my initial questions as me being a smart aleck, but it is in no way intended that way. One of the first questions I love to ask couples when I am giving them their feedback is, “where did you learn to be married?” Seems simple enough, but as you start to think and dig deeper it is such a loaded question. The simple easy answer generally is “our parents.” Ding, ding, ding. Correct. You must remember though, this is not a simple answer but a loaded one.
We do learn to be married from our parents. They are our main role models and examples in this area. Even if one or both of them are not in the picture much or at all, they still leaving a lasting influence on us. Our parents are the two people that are supposed to love us more than anyone in the entire world. They have extreme influence over us. When we are kids we look at them as though they know everything because we believe that they do. Our parents are human, they are imperfect as all humans are. Their marriages are imperfect, again because we are flawed as humans. We learn this behavior! Humans model behavior that was modeled for us. All parents do the best they can, but remember they learned from watching others as well.
If someone is raised in a house where one parent is an addict, and the other parent is a codependent and enabler, that is how the child thinks marriage should work. Of course much of this is deep rooted almost subconscious thinking. The conscious says, no way I will marry an addict. No way will I be an enabler. But the next thing you know they are sitting in my office trying to find out where their marriage went wrong. You dig deeper and their spouse is an addict and they have recreated the same pattern. It is what they know! What we know is comfortable.
On one hand in saying this, there is lots of work to do. It is hard to change old patterns and paradigms. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done, but it takes time. On the other hand, it can give a little relief. Insight and understanding are half of the therapy battle. If we get why our marriage is the way it is, and understand there is a reason we have gotten ourselves into this place, then there is just as much power and control to get out of those patterns. Sometimes we spend so much time beating ourselves or our partners up about our marriage not working, that we don’t think why we may act the way we do. Change starts today.