The article, 3 Myths About Happy Marriages on PsychCentral introduced myths that are based on the work of John Gottman, Ph.D and his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I think these myths, although possessing some truth, are a bit of a slippery slope.
Myth 1: Better Communication Will Not Save Your Marriage
If the marriage is on rocky footing, talking will not bring in the rescue copters. And, as the article states, it is difficult to remain calm and rational in the midst of a perceived attack (I know those “I” statements well, after growing up with a counselor for a mom, and even I can’t maintain that poise in a heated discussion). My concern comes from the implication that communication is not important; that a marriage can exist in the spaces between withheld information. I cannot work well with a coworker when there is not adequate communication; I’m not sure how a marriage is supposed to thrive.
Myth 2: Avoiding Conflict Will Kill Your Marraige
Not every need can be expected to be met, and sometimes conflict is just because of a grouchy mood,but there is a danger to not addressing legitimate concerns. In retrospect, I realize that my marriage was conflict-avoidant; I tended to shy away from problems due to anxiety and my ex-husband refrained from conflict in order to not trigger my anxiety. As a result, the problems grew too large for anyone to face.
Myth 3: Reciprocity Underlies Happy Marriages
I once knew a couple who kept a scorecard on the fridge to keep track of the “he dids” and “she dids.” I don’t think they were very happy! However, I do think reciprocity is essential in a marriage in terms of mutual respect, and that this respect takes the form of acts of service or kindness for the other person. Tallies shouldn’t have to be drawn, but each person should be operating with the other in mind.
All marriages are different (my current relationship is quite unlike my marriage in many ways), but I think that each of these myths has a place in a healthy relationship.
The end of a marriage reminds me of a winter landscape. All is laid bare. The adornments and filigree are gone, leaving the structure exposed to the biting wind. Its beauty is found in perspective. In appreciating the rough nature of the bark, showing its scars and wear. In gazing at the complexity of the interconnected branches in wonder. In seeing the potential in every limb, every bud. In imagining the new growth, just barely hidden below the surface, that will be revealed by the touch of the warm sun.
The winter of a marriage is also a time for viewing the underneath, what is left when all the distractions are stripped away. It is a time to see yourself, your marriage, as it is, not as it may appear. It is also a time to daydream about what can be and what can grow.
I spent most of the winters of my married days analyzing my garden (actually a barely-tamed almost acre plot) and pouring over flower catalogs, dreaming of the beauty I could create the following spring. I spent the winter of my marriage examining the structure of my relationship and imagining the life I wanted when the sun began to shine again. Too bad they don’t make life catalogs where you can peruse and select the elements you want!
My own divorce story began in 2009 when I received a surprise text after 10 years of marriage that my husband was leaving. That text was the last contact I ever had from him. Over the next few weeks and months, I struggled to make sense of what happened. It turned out that the reality was even stranger and more horrific than I could have ever imagined. I found evidence of years of lies and deception, found empty bank accounts and overfilled unknown credit cards, and I saw evidence of another woman. Further sleuthing uncovered the shocking revelation that he married this other woman 6 days after he left me, thus committing felony bigamy. I found myself catapulted into a world of police, lawyers, psychiatrists, and media, trying to find my bearings. One of the worst aspects of those early days was the feeling that he had stolen my voice my refusing to communicate with me. I will be silent no more.
My marriage began with vows, vows to love and cherish him. My marriage also ended with vows, vows made to myself. I promised to thrive despite the pain, I committed to working to find balance in my life, I vowed to move beyond anger and revenge, and I pledged to use my voice to help others find wellness after trauma.
I have learned many lessons from the end of my marriage, and I am still learning.