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Marriage: A Good Deal or an Ordeal?

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There are lots of expectations about what marriage will provide that motivate people to choose it over the single life.


Regular sex
Meaningful emotional connection
Mutual support
Financial and emotional security
Material comfort
A permanent playmate
Committed partnership

To name a few.

Some readers, at this point are chuckling about how quickly they have found that such hopes can be shattered when their dreams encounter the reality of the challenge of co-creating a shared life together.

While it's not inevitable that all marriages encounter illusion-busting experiences that challenge one or both partners to reassess the sanity of their marital decision, it's pretty safe to say that the vast majority of couples encounter more challenges in marriage than they had anticipated prior to tying the knot. A fairly large number of the couples that we have worked with over the years have told us that they were unprepared for the difficulties that they encountered through the course of their relationship, some of which began as early as the first night of their honeymoon.

Some people have told us that if they had known in advance what they were in for, they might not have made the decision that they did. Some blamed their partner for not being the person that they were led to believe they were. Some blamed themselves for not being the person they believed that they "should" be. Some decided that the institution of marriage itself was just a bad and "unnatural" idea. And a small number saw their difficulties as an opportunity to learn more about how to settle differences respectively and to become a more loving person.

Which group do you think fared better in the long run?

If you guessed the last one, you'd be right. But perhaps a better question might be, "Why is it that some people choose to see the ordeals that are often experienced by married couples as opportunities to develop inner qualities, strengths, and skills and others see them through very different eyes?"

The simple but very legitimate answer is that whether we see ourselves as victims (of poor parenting, fate, bad luck, an unloving partner, etc.) or active and responsible agents in the determination of our fate, depends upon the perspective that we decide to bring not only to our relationship but to our life in general. Certain experiences are likely, if not inevitable depending upon the orientation that we have been living from and reinforcing throughout the course of our lives.

Those of us who have chosen the perspective of the victim will be more inclined to experience a greater tendency to see the world through darker lenses, to feel ineffectual, hopeless, helpless, resentful, and pessimistic and to behave accordingly. Doing so creates results that reaffirm their worldview (a self-fulfilling prophecy), and provides "evidence" that justifies the belief that it's futile and naïve to attempt to influence what may seem to be an inevitable outcome. So why bother even trying? The "benefit" of taking a victim stance in life is that it provides a perfect justification to avoid vulnerability and responsibility. The downside of this stance is that it promotes a deeply imbedded sense of powerlessness in one's life.

The alternative to this position has to do with the willingness to view life as a series of learning opportunities, each of which provides the means through which to become a better, more conscious and loving human being. While it comes down to the simple matter of making a choice, simple doesn't necessarily equate with easy. Thinking patterns that have been imbedded and reinforced in our consciousness for years, if not decades, are not easily given to change, even when our conscious mind sees it as advantageous or desirable to do so. They can, however, with support, effort, practice, and intentionality, over time, give way to radically different ways of viewing what we consider to be "reality," and when they do, we find ourselves living in a different world.

Relationships provide us with an unending series of opportunities to recognize and begin to detach from unskillful beliefs and practices that may be contributing to, rather than alleviating some of the suffering in our lives. The breakdowns that inevitably show up in all relationships illuminate the places where we can grow into our full potential as loving human beings. Bringing an intention to be curious and to learn from our experiences enables us to be open to identifying the practices that will cultivate the strengths and skills that will support this process.

In making this choice, it becomes immediately obvious that the focus of our attention is on ourselves and what we are challenged to be or bring into each moment, rather than on what the other person is doing wrong. It's not about coercion or control, but rather on understanding and emotional honesty. It's about revealing, not concealing. Connecting rather than protecting. Accepting rather than rejecting.

These guidelines are simple, but again, not necessarily easy. Each choice point provides us with the opportunity to detach from old patterns which lose their grip on us as we gradually become increasingly liberated from their control.

While marriage can be a means through which we can become free of old , no longer functional defensive patterns it is also much more than that. Our DNA knows that we are essentially social creatures who are innately interdependent and meant to live in relationship with others. We know that our lives are enhanced and enriched when we are living in accordance with our basic nature. Paradoxically, however, we are also individuals with our own unique preferences, predispositions, and inclinations. In case you've ever wondered why marriage can sometimes be so trying, it's because it challenges us to honor the needs of our partner, without losing or neglecting ourselves in the process. To do so effectively requires not only intentionality and responsibility, but courage as well. The path of committed partnership is fraught with peril and the stakes are high. Two of our most cherished desires are on the line and losing or not gaining either one will have profound effects on the quality of our lives.

It is also the most compelling game in town. But it's not for the faint of heart. If you're up for it and have found a partner who is a player (in the best sense of the word), consider yourself most fortunate. The challenge is great but the rewards are greater. And once you set foot on this path, there's no turning back. Not because you're not allowed to, but because you're hooked. But don't take our word for it. Find out for yourself. If you dare.

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