Marriage: Immensely Painful Challenges and Growth

Recently I wrote that marriage is the world’s best self development program, hands down. Marriage creates this opportunity by generously providing each partner with immensely painful challenges that must be worked out in order to live well in the marriage and in the world. This combination of deep commitment and tremendous challenge gives us the motivation to grow.

What are the requirements of this post-grad level, sometimes lifelong, growth course?

A crucial factor is to know what you want and what you don’t want. Let’s ask it like this:

  • What do I want in my marriage?
  • What am I willing to live with? You don’t get everything you want, so what’s enough?
  • What am I not willing to live with, no matter what? This may be the hardest part for some.
  • And lastly, what am I not willing to live with in the long run? But I helped create it, so let’s work on myself and we’ll see what happens.

It Ain’t Me, Babe.

But, you may be saying, it’s not me! Changing myself won’t do anything to improve this marriage. It’s him. It’s her.

This could be true. Whatever is making you miserable may result one hundred percent from your spouse’s behaviour. Certainly in an abusive situation this is true. Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour, in life and in marriage. If a person has the emotional intelligence of a flea and the tenderness of a spanish fighting bull, then that one person is enough to make a marriage hellish.

But. If something is making you unhappy and you’ve been living with it for years, you have a part in maintaining it. You certainly have a part in continuing to live with it. Maybe you chose it. Maybe you had no idea. But if it’s still happening and you hate it, you are part of this situation.

For example, let’s say you’re a woman has lived for years with a man who doesn’t do x. It drives you crazy that he doesn’t do x*. We could be talking about not picking up his dirty clothes from the floor where he drops them every night. Or we could be talking about not respecting your work time or not listening to you when you speak.

You are the only one who has decided to keep living in this situation.

I’m not talking primarily about the decision to divorce – although this is an important option. Deciding what you are and are not willing to put up with can lead in many different directions. To do the work we need a deep connection to ourselves.

*Go ahead and change the pronouns – the words he/him/his and she/her/hers are entirely interchangeable $ .

Marriage is the world’s best inner growth program. No matter what kind of marriage we have and what our satisfaction level is, if we choose to, we can use the supremely challenging experience of marriage to grow deeply. In the process we may well improve our marriages and we will certainly improve our lives.



About the Author
Margo Helman, MSW, clinical social worker and therapist. Margo works with individuals, couples and families, adults and children, coping with depression, anxiety, relationship and developmental issues. She works in private practice and is clinical director of Gisha Lachaim (Tishkofet), a non profit that works to increase the focus on quality of life when living with or treating serious illness and loss. Formerly a midwife, Margo likes to remember that pain can sometimes be a precursor to joy.
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