Written By: Mark Smith
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OK, maybe the title of this article is a little bit dramatic sounding, but I really wanted to get the attention of those of you whose marriages are teetering on the brink of divorce or those of you who know couples in dire straits. Through my 15 years as a therapist, I have come across a profound truth which has saved literally hundreds of marriages. With every couple that I work with, my goal is the same: to get this truth deeply embedded into the heart, mind and soul of both the husband and the wife. As I introduce this topic during the initial feedback session with new couples, I frequently say that it is by far the most profound concept that I will ever have to offer them. I encourage you to come to this information with an open mind; frankly, it will probably sound like "psychobabble" at first, but I can assure that it is about as far from meaningless and powerless psychobabble as possible. The purpose of this article is to give hope where there currently is none. This article won't fix your marriage, but it can point you in the right direction. You will need a lot of help from a skilled and caring therapist in order to repair your marriage.
With all that fanfare, here goes. There are absolutely, positively no victims in marriage-ever. That is a shocking statement to the ears of the spouse who comes to therapy because they feel extremely victimized by their partner's infidelity, neglect, abuse, rage, abandonment, irresponsibilities, etc. Surely I'm not saying that spouses who have been cheated on or raged upon have not been victimized?! Actually that is exactly what I am saying; and what is more, if you have an open mind, I think that I can prove it to you. I will take it one step further; the most appropriate and proactive response from an individual who feels victimized by their spouse's behavior is actually to be sincerely thankful for the opportunities for deep, life-changing growth that the spouse has provided. Not quite there yet? Let me explain further. It will make a world of sense to you very soon. If you "get it," it very well could change everything; it could turn a negative, bitter, powerless, miserable situation into a positive, team-building, marriage-healing project that could ultimately yield the fruit of a happy and fulfilling marriage to the very person you have been seeing as such a stinker. Does that sound too good to be true? I have seen it happen many, many times with people who are probably no different than you are.
Here's the thing; there are no victims in marriage because you not only chose your spouse, you actually knew exactly who they were and what they were all about before you married them. We are all equipped with an unconscious and infallible radar system that causes us to be attracted to absolutely the perfect person in the entire world for us to marry. The reason we are attracted to them is that, unknown to us, they possess the combined worst attributes of our parents. They are qualified because they are uniquely wired psychologically to be able to hurt us the most deeply, the most effectively, and the most completely. In fact, that is their mission, to hurt and challenge us to our very cores. For those of you who haven't tossed the article yet, hang in there; I will piece this together soon.
Nature heals itself. When trees are damaged, the bark begins a natural healing process that saves the life of the tree. If you were to cut your finger, immediately red blood platelets arrive on the scene, begin to coagulate the blood, and the healing process begins. In several weeks the cut is gone. Doctors do not heal the body; the body heals itself. Doctors only help the body to best do its healing work. It is the same thing with our hearts, if our hearts get cut when we are children (and I believe that that happens to all of us to one degree or another). What was your childhood like? Were there any of the following: parents who were either overly critical, or controlling, or addictive, or oblivious, or workaholic, or full of rage, or not there for you for whatever reason? You are completely normal if that was your experience. A child whose heart is cut and hurting will naturally erect thick psychological walls as a coping mechanism. That cut cannot be healed until their psychological defense mechanisms come crumbling down. Many times this doesn't happen until about age 30 or later with the help of the pain of relationships. I believe that God has created a very wonderful and terrible system for reaching our walled off hearts; it is called marriage.
Basically, we are attracted to people who fit a certain psychological profile; they are the physical incarnation of our unresolved issues with our parents, people who are all about giving us the very same type and quality of love that we received as children. I like to give this picture . . . you are at the altar and the minister says, "I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Mike Jones" and as you gaze into your beloved's face, they pull off a mask like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and it is your father (or the parent who caused you the most pain) standing there. That is what we all do. The mating process is driven by an instinctive drive on our part to both connect with and heal our core childhood scars. You say that you don't have any childhood issues or scars? Yes you do, or your marriage would not be in shambles at this point.
Does my theory sound like a stretch? Remember I said that I would prove it to you? Here we go. Take a sheet of paper and write down the first ten or so descriptive words each that come to your mind about your father, your mother, any step-parent, any long-term serious dating relationship, previous spouses, and your current spouse. This will only work if you are able to be open and honest with yourself. Many times people tend to over idealize their parents out of a sense of loyalty. We certainly aren't into blaming parents, but it will be very important to name the truth about what your childhood experience was really like. Now, compare your lists. Isn't that a kicker? Most people are too close to their situations to ever see it before they see it in black and white. That controlling, critical, irresponsible, raging husband has actually just been standing in for your father of the very same qualities. It is almost as if you handed your husband a script and asked him to play the role; he could do it very easily because that was who he was anyway. If you didn't pick this spouse who hurt you in this way, you most certainly would have selected someone just like him or her. Be careful in discarding this spouse. If you don't fix your issues, you will pick the same person all over again; they'll just have a different name and a different face. They are actually neither here nor there in the equation.
If you had some pain in your childhood (like most people do), the last thing that you would consciously do is select someone who clearly had the very same qualities which were so hurtful to you as a child. However, when we first meet our spouses, we are intrigued with them and attracted to them in very powerful ways. They are very much like the Trojan horse left outside the fort. We let them in through the walls of our hearts not knowing that inside them are some very powerful destructive forces which are tailor-made to humble and break us down. Look at your list again. That is not a coincidence. That is an immutable law of nature at work, potentially for our own good and benefit. They might look like your enemy, but your "offending" spouse is actually your best friend. They are in your life to help you to grow and heal and mature. With help you can learn to embrace the healing and the lessons that your "teacher/spouse" has for you.
If people knew about this life-changing truth, the divorce rate would be drastically reduced immediately. Your spouse has not done a thing to you that you did not sign on for and cooperate with. Nobody made you select that individual and put him or her solely in charge of loving you. Of all the men or women on the planet, you picked them. That was your choice. It was the radar system in your heart. Nobody ever married the wrong person. That is a phrase used by irresponsible and unenlightened individuals looking to run away from messes that they themselves have made. We create and design our lives and our marriages. We are not duped. In our hearts we know exactly what we are bargaining for.
I am not suggesting that couples stay together just to grow older and more miserable with each other every year (as many of our parents did). If both you and your spouse can make the needed changes (with the help of a skilled therapist) there is no one on the planet with whom you will be happier than with your current spouse. You had chemistry with them, you have history with them, you have children with them, and they are not your problem; your problem is deep inside your heart where it has always been and where it will remain if you select the divorce route. It took the power of a real relationship in real life with your spouse to wake you up emotionally to the point that you are ready to do something drastic. Do something drastic then; visit a therapist instead of a lawyer. The lawyer or a new lover might seem like your friend because they can get you out of your painful circumstances, but they are actually your enemies masquerading as your friends who are unwittingly keeping you from having to face yourself and your issues.
This concept truly does destroy divorces. If you get this concept, and if your spouse is able and willing to work on the marriage as most people are, a divorce is no longer needed. It would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. I encourage you to look at your spouse in a different and a more redemptive manner. God gave them to you not to hurt you, but to heal you. I hope that you have the courage to embrace the lessons that your teacher/spouse and God have for you.
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