“What is the number one issue you see as really messing up marriages?” A friend asked me this question recently. I confess I really dislike questions like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t but I think what they provoke is the idea that there is something, if properly understood and applied, would lead to an easy-to-follow path toward harmony and happiness - you know, a kind of technological approach to life and relationships. I wish this were the case. But maybe the necessarily murkier path is better in that it requires much more from us than simply following a script. A path toward a deeper understanding of our truest selves, no matter how dark, requiring a kind of faith we know little of.
How would you answer this question that my friend asked? So many marriages, probably all, are marred by some level of discontent, deadness, disappointment, even violence and hatred. Some would say what is needed is more time together, better communication, less selfishness, better conflict resolution. There are myriad ways to think about what blocks development of the kind of intimacy and comfort that marriage promises.
All the above solutions seem to be the kind which direct themselves toward an if/then way of thinking. For example, if our problem is selfishness, then it would follow that we need to be less selfish and try to think more often of the other. Don’t get me wrong. We should be less selfish and attempt to do all we can to foster more loving relationships. But I am wondering, what are the kinds of things which are brewing underneath the surface of our best efforts which makes change so hard?
I want to attempt a response to the question that opens a door rather than closes one, a response which may raise more questions than it answers. So, here is my thought. We are people who, at the core of our being, are terrified and furious. What I am talking about is not simply emotions, that is, the sense that one would feel afraid or angry. Rather, I wonder if we don’t live, deeply underneath our skin, in a state of fear or anger. A state is something that we may feel or not, but is nonetheless part of our thinking, interactions and behavior.
I would much rather think of myself as selfish or frustrated than afraid or angry. Thinking about the reality of fear and anger in my soul leads to the harder questions of what my fear and anger are about and what will others might do with this part of me. If what I am suggesting is closer to what is really happening inside of us than that which is repaired by simply living differently, then perhaps a richer understanding of our fear and anger has the power to bring to the surface our deepest and most fragile self, the self which knows that we need a more profound healing than to simply live differently.
What are you afraid of? What are you angry about? What do your answers reveal about yourself?