If your marriage is in frequent turmoil you have another indication that the union is in danger of coming apart. What's not as easy to see is why this may be happening; why some days your time together is joyous, and why on many other days you're at each other's throats. “We are as sick as our secrets” psychologist Carl Jung famously stated. Until it erupts, most couples do not see the approaching danger signs of serious emotional conflict, because they don't spend enough time learning about the inner self, and its unconscious motivations.
One of the places to look for clues to what is happening below the surface is the often-long list of expectations each of you brought into marriage and whether those expectations are reasonable. Women, now that you've seen the way he spends many an evening sitting mutely in front of the TV and leaves the bathroom a disaster area after bathing, do you fear he is no longer the romantic, attentive prince you married? Men, now that she nags you regularly about not doing household chores you'd agreed were in your column but not done, is she no longer the adoring goddess you fell in love with? These may sound like exaggerations, but unfortunately they accurately describe the sort of let down that many newly married men and women experience and the disparity between the expectations and reality of marriage for those who haven't looked closely at the differences between romance and love. What do unrealistic expectations have to do with those subterranean feelings that are now sabotaging your marriage?
Donna is a thirty-three-year-old, married, stay-at-home mother to Jodie, a two-year-old handful. Per their marital agreement, Donna's husband Christopher works long hours so that Donna has the ability to stay home with Jodie. They also agreed on a plan to have a second child before Donna returns to her career as a nurse. The problem for this couple is that their time spent with each other has been reduced to the two extremes of bickering or silence. Donna is frustrated and misses having adult conversations. She feels Christopher could try harder to listen and support her.
Christopher is often exhausted at the end of the day and feels nagged and unappreciated when Donna complains about the poor quality of their conversation. To him it sounds like a demand. While all these issues are real and would benefit from improved communication between Donna and Christopher, there is a deeper problem. Donna grew up as an only child of divorced parents. One of her unspoken and partly unconscious reasons for marriage was so that “she'd never feel lonely again.”
Before Donna and Christopher can do the kind of straightforward problem solving that would help alleviate their end-of-day tensions — perhaps set a specific time each week when a babysitter is secured — Donna needs to own her deeper feelings and share them with her husband. Not only will this act of self disclosure help her clear her old hurt, it will draw the two of them together in a deeper emotional bond based on Christopher's intimate knowledge of his wife's dreams and fears.
Both men and women are susceptible to disappointment when the initial romance of marriage wears thin, or when their original expectations fail to materialize. Both sexes express marital disaffection similarly — by blaming the other partner and withdrawing emotionally from the relationship. These patterns are what create the violent mood swings in a dying relationship just when the opposite behaviors are needed to save it. As previously discussed, these positive behaviors include being honest with each other, increasing the level and quality of your communication, negotiating your differences, and not taking your partner's words and actions personally.