I was invited recently to a wedding. My handsome young nephew, the groom, 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, and it was all good. The problem was, like all young kids on their glorious wedding days, my man didn't really know 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 don't know his beautiful new bride and my comments are in no way a slight on her character. I'm sure she's a fine young woman who loves her new husband with a pure and sincere heart. But I know who she is: She represents the worst personal characteristics of my nephew's parents miraculously and cleverly disguised in an appealing and lovely package.
I sat with the rest of the family and friends and watched as a lethal buzz saw headed down the aisle for a meeting with my handsome nephew, and he could not have been more cluelessly happy to embrace it. He had no fear or awareness of the danger he was in.
My friends, this is what marriage is—for all of us.
Marriage, by its very essence, is pain! Not a very romantic notion, I know. The truth is that we all have experienced some childhood wounding. This world of ours is an extremely flawed place and we all get our share of emotional bumps and bruises when we are tiny, unprotected, and vulnerable. Thankfully, complex, hurting, little human beings then have fortresses of powerful psychological defenses that 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? To get us out of childhood in one functioning piece with the misguided impression that we're all grown up now and we're free to live our lives without any significant impact from Dad, Mom, and the rest of that bunch.
I wish that were true.
The truth is that our particular family dysfunction conspires to form and twist us into who we uniquely are—both good and bad. It even determines who you're attracted to. Whatever wounding you repress from childhood develops and morphs into your love life type.
Part of that is that God desires for each of us to heal our deepest emotional wounds. So to do that, we're pretty much stuck liking who we like. We're intensely attracted only to lovers who are hidden versions of Dad's and Mom's worst and most hurtful traits. We all have 100 percent unfailing radar systems that draw us to the people who are so wrong for us that they're right for us. It's nature's way. It's the true meaning of love. It's why the bad boys get the hot girls.
Eyes Wide Open
I was being facetious when I said that my nephew would slip out the back of the church if he knew the true meaning of the love that drew him to his bride. Like the rest of us, once he got a dose of the magic and energy of genuine early love, nothing could keep him away from his special girl. Love and marriage are worth the pain and the tremendous risks. Marriage is all about opportunities for healing, growth, depth, insight, forgiveness, maturity, and recovery.
Sadly, if you don't understand that the pain of love and marriage is all about you and your childhood and not about your beloved, then you'll probably miss out on the incredible opportunities for growth, lessons, and healing that love offers. No matter how your spouse hurts you, it's ultimately about you and it's 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. It's normal to have a really dysfunctional family and to ultimately have extremely serious marital problems. It's all about embracing the work, embracing the pain, and finding out what's laying deep in your gut when you embrace the cutting of the buzz saw.
The hundreds of couples I've worked with over counselor over the past 22 years who have gotten this concept have proactively healed, thrived, and blossomed into healthier and happier people. The vast majority of marriages were not only salvaged, they were rebuilt from the ground up into something truly solid and wonderfully special. But for the couples I worked with who didn't get the mind blowing secret purpose of marriage—their divorce rates were astronomical. What's 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 isn't a small truth. It isn't psychobabble. It isn't something that only applies to some people. This is about you. It applies to you if you're headed to the altar for the first time as a 24 year old; it applies to you if you're in your early 40s and are desperately lonely and unhappy in your marriage; it applies to you if you're still looking for the good stuff in love in your 60s. It's God's way of healing us.
Marriage and relationships truly 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, is director of Family Tree Counseling (familytreecounseling.com) and has been a therapist for more than 22 years. His specialties include affair recovery, marital therapy, sexual addiction,mid-life issues, abandonment issues, shame, and codependency.
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