And our divorce rate reflects this collision between high expectations and the battle of the sexes. According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages will end in divorce. Ouch.
From Venus and Mars and all the way home, is this really the way things have to be? Is this a reality that cannot be altered? Is it just that the differences between men and women are insurmountable, or are the expectations of the culture too grandiose, or is something else going on here? Joseph Barth writes, “marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.” That strikes me as being on the right course. So maybe we just need to redefine “marriage.” I will offer mine. “Marriage is the last great mystery school.” The only place where things matter enough that we are willing to at least try and grow and change and compromise and forgive. But take away the emphasis on “mystery” in my definition and place it upon “school.” For there is no other place where greater growth will occur than in our marriages, our most intimate relationships. By focusing on “happily ever after,” we miss the point.
This is only the half of it. Our most intimate partners are merely mirrors of our true selves, for it is only with them that we dare show our true nature. In no other relationship are we so candid, so vulnerable, so open, so naked. And so angry. At ourselves. And therein lays the mystery. If our partners are a reflection of our true selves, we waste a lifetime on blame and victimhood. We should instead learn to ask, “what about my mates reaction is really about me and my issues,” my stuff, unconscious, below the surface, and yet so beautifully and delicately served up by my partner for me to acknowledge. If one has the courage. Or, perhaps, if one has the knowledge.
Freud was the first to capture this intellectually when he coined the phrase “psychological projection.” This is where we subconsciously project our worst traits, thoughts, feelings onto another, rather than deal with them directly, which would be far too painful. And who better than our mate! No one else would put up with this. So not only do we have a useful defense mechanism to shift blame and fault onto another, but it also allows us to engage in denial. Oh, how the ego delights in projection and denial! Love and sacrifice become the medium, the Petri dish, for this lovely confluence of self-deception and blame. And it all becomes quite self-defeating as we run even further and faster from ourselves, only to wake up next to it (us) in the morning. We all have a shadow side, a nature and set of qualities that we do not like, may even abhor. First conceptualized by Jung, Debbie Ford is a popular, current writer who has captured its essence. And the problem is the less we acknowledge our shadow side, the more it becomes reflected back to us - and there is no better reflector than our mate.
Dr. David Schnarch in Passionate Marriage takes up this banner and offers some real insight for the couple wishing to grow together. Indeed, Dr. Schnarch suggests that if you have a lot of conflict in your marriage it means things are working! Once we tune out our mate and that blissful stage of peaceful co-existence arrives, we are no longer really hearing each other, no longer interacting, no longer growing. Ironically, this is the state most of us are striving for!
Oh, but lest we get depressed, look at the bright side. Armed with this awareness, begin to grow. Take responsibility for your own feelings. Turn marriage away from the farcical notion it has become, and immerse yourself instead in school. In no other relationship will you have this opportunity for constructive and purposeful change, especially with someone who loves you. As your shadow is revealed, there will be no further reason for your subconscious to bring it to your awareness, painfully, through life’s struggles. Once acknowledged, the shadow dies with barely a whimper for it has no purpose other than your growth.
In my work, I often perform what is termed a “Relationship Balance.” This is a Psych-K® technique, with both parties facing each other, designed to identify and balance any subconscious barriers that block healthy growth in that relationship. You can think of these barriers in the context of the “shadow” that we discussed earlier. And the beauty of this technique is that in a very short time these issues can be resolved, absent the conflict.
Blaise Pascal once remarked “the heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.” View your mate as the greatest and most honest reflection of your true self. And thank them.
Michael Davis is CEO of Energy Medicine Foundation and the creator of Vibrational Realignment, a unique approach to spiritual healing. He is a Certified Bodytalk and Advanced Psych-K practitioner, and has integrated Andean shamanic practices into his work. Michael is a frequent writer and lecturer on energy healing topics and has offices in Prescott and Phoeniz, Arizona. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-254-0775 or