Successful marriages are relationships that have moved to WE. In over 5 years of seeing couples, I have yet to see a failed relationship that moved to WE. In fact, the central trait of failed marriages is the failure to escape the You/Me Trap. And the key to a successful marriage is to escape that trap
The You/Me Trap can be subtle, but is highly destructive. When couples are caught in the trap, each is concerned about what he/she is getting out of the relationship.
Whatever is the situation of your marriage? In this post we will discuss some powerful points that are key to a successful marriage.
#1. Marriage is not a ledger or balance sheet.
Have you heard the phrase balance sheet – In a balance sheet or ledger—you have to do both sides equal Zero?
If not, the losing one is upset. Successful businesses are built on a balance sheet. Ledgers maintain them. Business survives by these accounting principles.
Successful and healthy marriages or relationships are never based on a ledger. An old adage says marriage is not 50/50, but 100/100. This is reflected here.
Sometimes one gives more and sometimes the other gives more. In the end, it is not a meeting in the middle. It is a matter of going beyond.
The ledger idea is destructive in marriage because it denies the reality of a WE and destroys the main purpose of your marriage which is long-lasting love.
While it may even have a place in friendships, rarely can a marriage survive keeping such a ledger, long-term.
WE is destroyed by keeping track. Marriage is never “tit-for-tat.” And it will push your marriage to fall apart
One of the dynamics that keeps us away from WE is getting caught in a common marital trap: Controlled/ Controlling.
This is the game: one tries to control the other, and the other lets him/herself be controlled.
In other words we forget our roles and responsibilities.
Let me share with you an example.
“Sharon” and “Bert”. They had enjoyed a loving relationship, but several patterns were beginning to erode their feelings.
Sharon and Bert worked together in a business Bert created. The business gave Bert a great deal of satisfaction, but weighed heavily on Sharon.
Sharon functioned as support staff, and Bert was the heart of the business. Bert functioned as “boss” at work, and had a hard time turning the switch off at home.
In fact, it was partly a matter of personality. He liked to be in charge. More accurately, he needed to be in control.
The stereotypic engineer, Bert had a great disdain for the messiness of life. He much preferred the manageable and controllable.
And so, the control issues popped up in the relationship.
The start was with the pregnancy of their first child. Bert was already thinking 18 years down the road, and stared straight at the college tuition.
He panicked and dug into work and in the process forgot that he also needs to work on his marriage. Sharon tried to keep up, but the work was not her love. Soon, she began to feel the resentment.
That brewed for years, through the births of two more children. It finally erupted, and Sharon would push against any suggestions or requests from Bert.
At times, Bert expressed his concern for Sharon. Sharon missed the concern and only felt the control. In fact, their relationship quickly bogged down in a fight for control.
For example, while going to a meeting, Sharon found Bert offering to drive her.
He was concerned that she might drink alcohol and put herself (and the business) at risk. He offered to drive her, and Sharon immediately found herself angered at his attempt to “control” her.
Bert managed to express his concern; it was heard as control. Problem was, Bert did like to have things under control.
He never figured out that “under control” did not equal “controlling another.” Sharon’s response was to rebel—she ended up drinking and driving that night, just to make a point.
A related, yet separate dynamic is the pattern of under functioning and over functioning.
That is, one over functions in certain areas, allowing the other to under function.
One under functions, forcing the other to over function. The areas differ by couple, but may center around the emotions of the couple or the duties of the family.
Let me again share an example of a couple I read on save the marriage system
“Jack” and “Kay” were locked in this under/over functioning pattern. Kay was constantly trying to attend to Jack’s emotional needs.
She tried to make him happy, to cheer him up, and to get him to “open up” to her.
Jack had no emotions. He refused to admit to any feelings (other than annoyance at her questions about how he was feeling).
Kay, on the other hand, carried an inordinate amount of anger. She also attempted to force herself into always being upbeat.
In the end, she only managed to be angry and exhausted.
Jack’s responses to “how are you feeling” were always met with “I don’t know.” And he didn’t. He didn’t have to.
Kay felt the feelings for both of them. Her anger was more than sufficient for both.
She kept trying to get to Jack’s feelings—which managed to relieve him of that responsibility.
For his part, Jack refused to look at the normal emotions of life. Instead, he forced Kay to do that for him. That is the key.
These dynamics easily become destructive for your marriage; while each blames the other, both participate in the dynamic. Indeed, it does take two to tango.
The under/over functioning can take place around family duties. For example, one may find him- or herself with the majority of responsibility in taking care of the children, the home or the finances.
And this creates problems in marriage which is not good.
The key to a successful marriage is to share the responsibilities and minimize the chances of under function and over function for building a strong marriage foundation.
#4 Power Struggles
Couples often find themselves locked in power struggles. Instead of giving up control, both are attempting to wrestle control from the other.
Power struggles are the number one symptom that WE is missing from the relationship.
In other trust is missing in your marriage. Power struggles are one’s attempts to maintain autonomy, to keep out of the WE.
Unfortunately, life gives a couple ample opportunities to let power struggles get the best of them.
Points of struggle often center on those areas that are particularly personal and symbolic: sex, money, children, and careers.
When a couple locks horns, they find themselves paralyzed to move forward.
Winning is usually hollow, since it is very costly. Losing is painful for the same reason. And “giving in” feels invasive in such personal areas.
Power struggles are always a symptom of lacking WE, because a WE does not need for one to recover power.
It sees that power was never the issue. Instead, the couple comes to understand that power is what keeps one away from WE.
The struggle is often a result of feeling out of power or overwhelmed.
My experience shows that when a couple is caught in a power struggle, both feel overpowered, and therefore, both are trying to regain their power.
In actuality, neither has lost power, because power is not the issue. Loss of control is the concern. Part of this is the strong sense of individuality we have in the West.
We have been raised to protect ourselves, to maintain our autonomy. But what makes a successful marriage is giving up the power, ego and unwanted conflicts.
#5 The Physics of Relating
Here’s a metaphor that might help. Imagine a sailboat. On board the boat (your relationship), there are two people attempting to maintain a balance.
Likely, the balance always feels precarious on the boat. Whenever the weight shifts on one side, the other side must mirror it, or the boat feels like it will tip When both are upright, the boat feels pretty secure.
The relationship is in balance, and both can feel secure in their existence. Neither is likely to tire.
However, if one makes a shift backward, the boat no longer feels secure.
In fact, unless there is some shift, it will feel like the boat is in great danger.
The key here is that it will feel this way. In reality, this is not the case. But the feeling of danger creates the actions that are attempts at stabilizing the relationship.
#6 Kill that feeling of Anxiety in your marriage – Key to a successful marriage.
Anxiety is a feeling that comes up in every relationship. Anxiety pulls us out of natural balance.
It is also anxiety that molds our relationship into the painful dynamics noted here.
When our anxiety comes up, we are likely to make a mirror shift with the other person to stop the feeling of danger.
A mirror shift is a shift in the relationship that is equal but opposite of the action of the other.
Once we have made that shift, we have pulled the relationship back into a balance, albeit unsustainable.
Both partners will tire of their position. In fact, both will quickly become exhausted; yet both hold on for dear life!
The stability evaporates from the relationship because all are uncomfortable, but they are also stuck in an attempt to maintain the balance of the relationship.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the same effect can work in the opposite direction.
In other words, if someone who is “hanging over” decides to move to an upright position, the other has no option than to shift positions.
The shift toward an upright position can happen whenever one realizes it is anxiety that keeps people in that position. In all truth, any good sailboat will not tip from a shift in weight.
A good keel and a decently designed boat shape will keep the sailboat upright.
The crew might shift weight to “trim” the boat—to make it more efficient. Those shifts are temporary and based on good seamanship, not anxiety.
What this metaphor points toward is the “physics” of a relationship. There is an interplay between the two people, not a vacuum.
Thus, as you remember from physics, “any action creates an equal and opposite reaction.” One makes a shift, and the other must make a shift. It’s the way we naturally respond.
To do otherwise, to consciously change, means to shift to what may feel like an “unnatural” response. In fact, it can mean feeling a great deal of anxiety.
Over time, however, habits change. And at least in a relationship, you are free to violate laws of physics.
Focus on the ways you can intentionally begin to shift the balance of the relationship.
Remember, when both of you are hanging over the edge of the boat, it is no time to simply stand up. Movements must be balanced to some degree.
It took some time to lose the balance in a relationship. It will take some time to reestablish the balance and strengthen your marriage again.
#6 Final thoughts
As we wrap up this article, consider these points and act on them:
What places have you and your spouse continually moved apart?
What examples from your own life came to mind as you read the material, particularly the two examples?
What are 5 things you can shift that would slowly begin to move toward balance?
(Be sure these are a) do-able, and b) incremental enough not to completely destroy the balancing act.)
Remind yourself that you and your partner did not get to this point overnight, and it will take some time and effort to restore a natural balance.
Remember all the above points are the keys to making of a successful marriage.
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