Marital Pain is All Good if you Learn From It
Written By: Mark Smith
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‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy’ Proverbs
Marriages can be brutally hurtful and emotionally bloody places to be. They have the ability to unearth our deepest pain – rage, abandonment, betrayal, depression, tears that won’t stop, hatred, reactivity, defensiveness, saying horrible things that you don’t really mean, feeling unheard, hopelessness and that awful crackling tension in the air. As a therapist I have been witness to a lot of ugly marital warfare – slamming of doors, calling of names, saying demeaning things, attacks, meanness and the like. If you are currently in such a marriage or if you were in one I want to help you to make some sense of it all.
The Purpose of Marriage – somewhere along the line someone put it in our heads that the purpose of marriage was to provide unconditional love, happiness, nurturing, safety and a little heaven on earth. That is absolutely, positively not even remotely the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage, get this, is in fact to hurt us! You read that right. As children we all sustained some emotional wounds along the way, some more than others. It might be a parent, who died early, or a divorce, or addictions, or an overly critical parent, or even something that happened outside the family. Fortunately we came equipped with the ability to protect, defend and bury those wounds so that we could cope, grow up and then get the heck out of Dodge. When we hit our late teens/early twenties we are idealistic and arrogant enough to believe that by physically leaving the premises we have raised ourselves above whatever particular dysfunction our families foisted upon us. I believe that it is God’s desire to heal those deep wounds in our hearts. However, as long as our defenses are covering them up no healing can take place. So, God came up with His ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy in reaching us – He places before us these wonderfully appealing, attractive and nearly perfect new love objects, we open up the walls of our emotional forts and then once safely inside, enemies of our worst nightmares emerge, crawl out of this vessel and start wreaking havoc. That is why marriage is so painful – it is a can opener that cuts through our protective shells only to reveal ancient weaknesses, vulnerability and pain.
I think that the term ‘wound’ can denote a sense of having been victimized in some way by the ‘wounder’. When couples come into my office at least one (and many times both of them) of them invariably feels victimized by the other person. They present the problem as there being a victim and a bad guy. However, I have learned that there is never, ever a victim in marriage and that there aren’t bad guys either. The terms I prefer to use for our marital protagonist are teacher, healer and best friend. When the marriage is seen in the light of the normal unconscious reenacting of unresolved childhood issues indirectly with the spouse standing in for the parents like an actor in a play, it all begins to make sense. They are whom I needed to pick to help me grow and heal. They aren’t doing me wrong – they’re just being the person that they always have been in their heart of hearts. They are doing me a favor. I should sincerely be thankful. The problem is not my spouse. The problem is my unresolved childhood pain. The marriage is just a symptom. When that light goes on for a couple it changes everything. They are no longer enemies lashing at each other – they become therapy buddies who support and encourage growth in the other person. Victimy pain is the worst kind of pain. If fate or some evil person just deliberately hurts you as an innocent victim there is powerlessness and an anger to it that is overwhelming. However, if we are ‘eating our own cooking’ then we can proactively grow and learn something about ourselves. It hurts, yes, but it is a positive because we are correcting something that we know that we have brought on ourselves – it is completely fair and it makes sense in the moral universe. Our marital misery is not about our spouse – it is all about our unresolved childhood issues. That is good news, because they is the one thing that we have the power to fix and control. Learn from your marital wounds. They are there to teach, instruct and heal you.
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