Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fire and Ice Marriage in Southern California

California wildfires remind us of many things not the least of which is how a dried out landscape can invite disaster. We look at marriage that way. Dry, humorless, cold and indifferent attitudes are or should be ‘red alerts’ for those who want healthy relationships.

What many people do is blame their partners. In nature lack of moisture is a pre – condition for the fire storms we read about. In marriage distance is precedent to ice.

When individuals give in to their lack of faith – ‘this love isn’t working;’ ‘maybe we made a mistake;’ ‘he’s not who I thought he was’ – they become their own theories and instead of looking within to find the source of the distance they begin to diagnose and speculate about their partners. This ‘drying out’ of the relationship environment leads to criticism and defensiveness – two of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his predictors of divorce.

Like the drought conditions in Southern California that are in some way tied to the subtle shifting of our climate which is in some way related to our self indulgent use of petroleum, distance within relationship is related to a lack of consciousness. It is an indicator of passing the buck.

Why do we do that? Most of us spent a lot of growing up time making up explanations for things we didn’t really understand. It might have been easy to blame the teacher for a poor grade instead of looking at one’s own learning competencies.

Our parents often misunderstood our intentions. Our friends sometimes misread us.
Learning to own one’s own happiness, goodness, and intentionality is a chore for a grown up. We might spend a lot of time in therapy ‘getting’ that the life we create is the life we’re living. In marriage if we don’t get this simple principle every day will look a lot like yesterday.
A woman I know told me this story. She lived with a high energy, somewhat manic business executive for 10 years or so. She complained frequently of his lack of time for her, of his many meetings, of his frequent phone calls when they were together. She told her friends that although he was a nice guy she couldn’t ‘stand’ being peripheral in his life. She asked him to go to therapy with her and he said he ‘rather not.’ He wasn’t hostile to her, didn’t have anything going with anybody else, and said he loved her. But she decided that it just wasn’t ‘what she wanted’ and filed for divorce.

When I met her several years after her divorce she was in another relationship with a high energy and successful businessman. She told me that she had deep remorse over divorcing her first husband. She had begun to look at her expectations. She said she was attracted to men with money and power and tended to idealize them.
Once together she expected that intimate relating would happen automatically since ‘they loved one another.’ She had few skills at building a relationship, little competency in communicating her love in an authoritative way, and virtually no ability to identify and talk about her own feelings.

To live the life you want to live you’ll have to claim it. Claiming may mean attaining new skill sets that you’ve neglected. It may mean getting some coaching or therapy to look more closely – not at what your partner is doing or not doing – but at your own ability to ask for what you need, to talk seriously about your own fears and shortcomings, and to claim a place in your partner’s life by creating an irresistible invitation to intimate relating.

If you don’t do this, every day will look a lot like yesterday.

Stephen W. Frueh, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker.