How is that for promising the goods? In this short blog I’m promising to deliver life changing realization of the very essence, meaning and purpose of the massively vital topic of romantic love. That’s some serious trash talk! I saw a poster once about the most important ten things you need to build a successful life – #1 was marrying well. Promising that epiphany is like Joe Namath promising to win the Super Bowl before the game. It’s like Babe Ruth pointing to the fence with his bat just before hitting the ball exactly over the very place he pointed to. While not as epic, heroic or athletic as those events, my message is much more important to your life in the here and now (unless perhaps you are an old-school Jets fan).
Without any further fanfare, here it is, the true meaning of love…We are intensely attracted ONLY to lovers who are actually hidden versions of our dad and mom’s worst and most hurtful traits! We all have 100% unfailing radar systems that draw us the people who are so wrong for us that they are right for us. It is nature’s way. Your particular family dysfunction conspires to form and twist you until it determines for you who you are attracted to. Whatever wounding you are repressing from childhood develops and morphs into your love life type. Those four sentences are pure gold! I have built a huge, thriving marriage counseling practice on this single concept. This is pure, profound, electrifying truth. Your marriage isn’t the problem – it is the cure. If everyone knew, fully understood and applied this truth the divorce rate would be under 10%. Did you get it?
Let me make my case. I was invited to another wonderful wedding last summer. My very handsome young nephew had a smile that could have lit up the universe as his gorgeous blond bride made her way down the aisle to join him in the bonds of matrimony. He was marrying the woman of his dreams. The problem was, like all naive love-stoned kids on their wedding days, my man didn’t have a clue who he was marrying. If he did, he would have quietly slipped out the back of the church before he uttered those fateful words “I do”. I did not know his beautiful new bride but my comments are in no way a slight on her character. I am sure she is a wonderful young woman who loves her new husband with a pure and sincere heart. But I know who she is…she actually represents the worst personal characteristics of my nephew’s parents cleverly disguised in a very appealing and lovely package – I guarantee you this. It was as if a lethal buzz saw was headed down the aisle for a meeting with my handsome nephew and he could not have been more clueless or more thrilled to embrace it. There was no fear or awareness of the danger he was in. My friends – this is what marriage is – for ALL of us.
The purpose of marriage is PAIN and lots of it! If you have been married very long you know what I’m talking about. The truth is that we all have experienced some childhood wounding. We all get our fair share of emotional bumps and bruises in childhood when we are tiny, unprotected and vulnerable. If you do not know this about yourself then you really do not know who you are or where you came from. Thankfully, complex hurting little human beings then have fortresses of powerful psychological defenses rise up to provide integrity, protection and safety. We learn to rationalize, cope, act out, devalue, intellectualize, idealize, deny, undo, disassociate, minimize, displace, project, repress, regress and otherwise numb all the bad stuff out. The purpose of our psychological defenses – get us the heck out of childhood in one functioning piece with the misguided impression that we are all grown up now and we’re free to go live our lives without any significant impact from dad, mom, and the rest of that crazy bunch. Marriage is the big truth teller about who we really are. In the form of love and marriage, nature hunts us down and forces us to work on healing our deepest emotional wounds. We are stuck liking who we like and the ones we like the most are the most dangerous.
Once my nephew got a dose of the magic and energy of genuine, addictive early love, nothing could keep him away from his special girl. Love and marriage are worth the pain and they are worth the tremendous risks. Marriage is all about opportunities for healing, growth, depth, insight, forgiveness, maturity, and recovery. Sadly, if you do not understand that the pain of love and marriage is all about YOU and your childhood and not about your beloved then you probably will miss out on the incredible opportunities for growth, lessons and healing that love offers. No matter how your spouse hurts you it is ultimately about you and it is all good. There never has been nor there ever be a victim in love and marriage.
My prayer for my nephew and his bride is a life-long fulfilling relationship that enriches everyone their lives touch. There will be ruthlessly tough times though. I hope that there will be a great deal of time spent on a therapist’s couch someday – they will absolutely need it. You will need it as well. It is normal to have a really dysfunctional family and to ultimately have extremely serious marital problems. It is all about embracing the work, embracing the pain and finding out what is laying deep in your gut when you embrace the cutting of the buzz saw. The hundreds of couples that I have worked with over the past 23+ years who have gotten this concept have proactively healed, thrived and blossomed into healthier and happier people. Not all of their marriages could be salvaged but the vast majority of them were not only salvaged, they were rebuilt from the ground up into something truly solid and wonderfully special. The divorce rate for those who didn’t get the mind blowing secret purpose of marriage is astronomical. What is worse, they left their marriages bitter, clueless, jaded and full of anger to take out on the next hidden version of their unresolved issues that their unerring radars drew into their lives. This is not a small truth, it is not psychobabble, and it is not something that only applies to some people. This is about you. It applies to you if you are headed to the alter for the first time as a 24 year old, it applies to you if you are in your early 40’s and you are desperately lonely and unhappy in your marriage and it applies to you if you are still looking for the good stuff in love in your 60’s. It is Nature’s way of healing us. Marriage and relationships are all good. I encourage squeezing every ounce of insight, healing and growth out of the pain and difficulties that the gift of your particular dysfunctional relationship graces you with.
Mark E. Smith, LCSW