Sunday, February 17, 2019 | ePaper

Why marriages fail

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Harriet Lerner Ph.D. :
With marriage having a fifty percent no-go rate it's obvious that people don't follow their best thinking, just like people don't eat healthfully even when they know what's good for them. Paradoxically, it's in our most enduring and important relationships that we're least likely to be our most mature and thoughtful selves.
Real life is messy and complicated. When we share a living space with another person, tie our finances together, negotiate sexuality and the countless decisions that daily life demands-well, of course things can go badly. Then there's the baggage we bring from our first family, and all the unresolved issues of the past, to say nothing of all the stresses that pile up as we move along the life cycle.
If we make or adopt a baby (never mind adding stepchildren to the picture) it's more difficult still because nothing is harder on a marriage than the addition or subtraction of a family member. In fact, it amazes me that all marriages don't fly apart by the baby's first birthday.
One way to understand why marriages fail is to consider the fight or flight response. When anxiety spirals high enough, and lasts long enough, even the most mature relationship may begin to look like a dysfunctional one.
To paraphrase the novelist Mary Karr, a dysfunctional marriage is any marriage that has more than one person in it.
I always remind my readers that even the best marriages get stuck in too much distance, too much intensity, and too much pain. Our automatic tendency toward fight or flight is hardwired, and marriage is a lightning rod that absorbs anxiety and intensity from every source. In case you haven't noticed, stress will always be with us. Life is one thing after another, so it's normal for married folks to yo-yo back and forth between conflict (fight response) and distance (flight response). And just because the universe hands you one gigantic stress, it doesn't mean that it won't hit you with others while you're down. So your mother's health is deteriorating, your dog dies, your son drops out of drug treatment, and your husband is laid off--all in the same year.
Unless you are a saint or a highly-evolved Zen Buddhist, intimacy with your partner may be the first thing to go.
If you have good will and a genuine wish for a better relations here's a book that can help you. With marriage, as with learning a language or establishing an exercise routine, nothing is more important than motivation. Even if you think you've tried everything there is always something new to do.
(Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including the New York Times bestseller, The Dance of Anger, and Why Won't You Apologize: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts).

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