For many couples their marriage is a source of strength and vitality. For others, their marriage looks a lot like the chaos and confusion going on in governments around the world. It’s hard to tell what the real agenda is. If you and your spouse are facing chaos in your marriage, keep reading.
I was a residence hall director living in a dormitory with over 300 men when my wife, at the time, decided to leave me and our children. It was a shocker! My boys were three and five and were just as confused as I was about what happened to mommy. She had just started her college semester when she just up and left. I was scratching my head. What had I done to this woman? In my mind I had done everything I could to love her. Whatever was going on in her mind was preventing her from receiving my love. Her emotional baggage drove her away. So I thought.
It has taken some time for me to recognize the part I played in her reckless decisions and the demise of our marriage. My problem was that I did not respond to her appropriately. Instead of confronting her, I comforted her. I made excuses for her when she hurt my feelings or rejected my love and affection. I didn’t treat her like she was normal. I pathologized her behavior and declared that she was sick. Because she was “sick” I didn’t hold her responsible for her behavior. I actually took responsibility for her ensuring that she got well so that we could live happily ever after. I became the martyr and our marriage ended anyway.
I learned from that experience that it is easy to deny reality and ignore the facts. I learned that compassion misplaced turns into enabling behavior. And I learned that abnormal must be challenged by normal. I should have expected her to be normal and reciprocate my love rather than going into fix it mode and taking responsibility for her. If she was unwilling to participate in the relationship my only recourse would have been to terminate the relationship – a move I was led to make prior to marriage but I chose to take on the project instead. I was such a caretaker there was nothing she could do to shake me. I was so abnormal that she had to leave me.
Most couples don’t get married to get divorced. Everybody expects happily ever after. Unfortunately, the expected marital bliss too often turns into absolute horror. Our emotional baggage easily leads to our making strange choices that sabotage a hopeful union. Confused and mystified by the unexplainable course of events, many couples stand by bewildered wondering what happened to what they had and what to do now.
These days more and more couples are finding themselves having this dilemma. Unresolved stuff and marriage just don’t go together. We are living in a world that thinks there are no boundaries. Old rules are being discarded. Kids are having things done to them that totally mess them up as adults. So many are totally unprepared for marriage. You can come from a dysfunctional family and have a happy marriage but some emotional healing must happen first. Marriage requires a respect for rules. You must respect the agreements you made. You must be able to manage your emotions. You can’t talk to each other any kind of way. You can’t always be ready to fight or disappear when things are disappointing. When you marry you are no longer free to do what you want, say what you want, and live any way you want. There are consequences to everything you do and say in marriage. If you haven’t learned how to follow rules and be disciplined you will not do well in marriage. A good marriage requires two emotionally healthy people.
Under emotional duress people make astounding decisions. In my private practice as a marriage & family therapist, I get to hear some of the most amazing stories of the rules broken in marriage – all in an effort to appease their disturbed emotions. One of the most basic rules in marriage that so frequently is disrespected is sexual fidelity. Many soon realize that the promise of getting their physical needs met in marriage is not so easy so they go outside the marriage get satisfied. Sex is an emotional endeavor. If one or both have emotional problems sex is going to be one of the first things to go. The temptation to get someone else to meet that need can become overwhelming. All kinds of excuses are given in an attempt to justify the action. Regardless of the excuse the ultimate purpose of extramarital relationships is to meet some need that the spouse supposedly is not meeting. Why would anybody attempt to justify pornography or doing a threesome as something good for their marriage? Certainly there are those who will brag how involvement with others is what keeps their love life alive. Yet in my experience, these extra marital experiences are simply a reflection of emotional instability and ultimately are the fruit of one’s poor emotional development prior to marriage.
Sex itself becomes the reason many couples fight. They can’t seem to “feel like it” at the same time. Many don’t realize that their sexuality and emotional well-being prior to marriage has a direct impact upon sexual fidelity in marriage. Sex is an emotional thing and as such has a direct impact upon our emotional well-being. Our emotional well-being has a direct impact on our sexual well-being. Negative emotions contribute to emotional instability. Without emotional stability sex becomes a big problem in marriage.
Being cavalier about sexual commitment in marriage is a result of emotional problems. And for many, unfortunately, this deterioration began long before they met their spouse. Many prematurely get involved in exploring their sexuality. Sex becomes a drug one is addicted to rather than an expression of love between a husband and a wife. Sex becomes a way one gets love without the deep emotional connection necessary to sustain a lifelong marriage.
Our sexual self is an extension of our emotional self. It is impossible to experience a healthy sexual life in marriage if you are unstable emotionally. It is due to emotional problems that we make those bad decisions in our marriage to connect in inappropriate ways with others or avoid our sexual responsibility in marriage. Get your unresolved emotional issues resolved and you will make better decisions in your marriage and your sex life will greatly improve.
In spite of the damage caused by the extra marital experiences and/or a broken down sexual relationship, I have witnessed many couples stay together and work through unfaithfulness and other crazy situations. It is actually a wonderful thing to witness a couple come back from an affair or some other outlandish experience to recommit to one another. That journey, though, begins with a commitment to oneself – to becoming emotionally healed and whole. That’s why I created a treatment program for couples that addresses their unresolved emotional issues. I have a woman’s group and a men’s group that grows adults emotionally. It is this emotional well-being that is essential to work through those messy situations and bring a couple in harmony with each other. Emotional wellness is essential for getting one’s physical needs met in marriage.
Joseph L. Follette, Jr. is a Licensed marriage & family therapist practicing in Huntsville, AL. He offers an eTherapy program to couples all over who are seeking emotional wholeness and a restored marriage. Learn more at SizzlingHotMarriage.com.