Sometimes a marriage can resemble an amicable divorce. That's the important takeaway in the insightful article in this week's Modern Love section of the NY Times.
The author describes a marriage without passion or conflict, where the routines of domestic life that kept the marriage together were no longer enough. The couple never fought or raised their voices. They were never angry at each other. They went through the motions of marriage, never asking each other for anything that really mattered. When they divorced, their neighbors were surprised. Nothing had changed. Their passion-less marriage looked similar to their amicable divorce.
Marriage is a complicated and dynamic system. While some couples are always angry and fight endlessly until their connection is lost, others never fight at all. We often think a marriage without conflict is better, but it's not so. Many couples are afraid to stand up for what they need because they cannot imagine a relationship where connection and individual needs can co-exist. They see closeness and separateness as incompatible. Their idea of a good relationship is to never ask for anything or express independent needs. But these needs don't disappear. They usually create havoc in the relationship after they've been repressed for too long.
Healthy conflict is the beginning of a healthier relationship. When one person expresses their emotions openly and honestly, and asks to be heard, a new relationship is created that has greater staying power. From the recognition of separate needs comes an appreciation of the impact partners have on each other and demonstrates the importance of their connection. Communication is an opportunity for both partners to be seen for their strengths and weaknesses, and to connect deeply and more intimately than before.
But some couples have real difficulty speaking their truth. If early childhood experiences made separating from parents difficult, couples will enter marriage with an expectation that similar failures and disappointments will be repeated. But, a marriage based on fear and the avoidance of conflict, also loses its passion, vitality and intimacy even if it is based on good intentions.
Married couples are in a unique position. If they ignore conflict, they remain stuck in old patterns and limited by their past experiences and expectations. By embracing conflict and expressing themselves honestly, they have an opportunity to grow beyond their childhood disappointments and to create a mature and intimate relationship. A relationship based on encouragement and support of each person's individual needs is a relationship that can embrace life's journey head on.