In this article, Imago Faculty members Francine Beauvoir and Bruce Crapuchettes respond to Alain de Boton's article on why we marry who we marry. They outline the conscious and unconscious factors that contribute to the marital selection process and how even the seemingly wrong person can evolve into the right person for us if marriage is approached with curiosity, humilty and a willingness to grow and learn.
JUNE 22, 2016
By Francine Beauvoir and Bruce Crapuchettes
We deeply fear that we will not find the right person, that we will stay lonely and unhappy because we are flawed and unlovable. Still, we believe that “Mr. Right” will fix everything.
Society proves us wrong: the divorce rate is about 50%. Our neighbors, close friends and colleagues in their more vulnerable moments share how miserable they are. So what gives? It may be that the only worthwhile question before any initial dinner date, is “How did I contribute to the ending of my last relationship?”
To alleviate our anxiety, we need others to see the world our way. When they, and especially our partner, don’t, we feel threatened and move into a reactive mode. We attack or withdraw much to our partner’s distress. We are deeply yearning to be seen and validated and terrified of being dismissed. We need our partner to agree with us and have the same tastes, opinions and feelings we have. We call this emotional symbiosis. One of the privileges of being on our own is that we don’t have to encounter a person who disagrees with us, however, the price we pay is loneliness and disconnection.
During the first stage of our relationship when we meet each other’s families and friends, we are on our best behavior and we are blind to reality. We did our homework as well as humanly possible, and discovered we were SO compatible. We like the same things, and whatever differences we may experience we know we’ll work it out, because we REALLY love each other. We are soul mates. We are meant for each other. So, getting married doesn’t feel like a gamble at all. What we didn’t know then is that we had blinders on.
Our heritage for thousands of years has been that of arranged marriages for business, religious and social reasons. These marriages were stable (no divorce) but loveless and lonely. Love was found outside of marriage through lovers and mistresses. These affairs gave some temporary reprieve but did not bring the happiness we were looking for at a deeper level. Unbeknownst to us, our psyches were yearning for a new level of consciousness, one we can only attain through a process of growth and healing. Social evolution developed the phenomenon of “romantic love” to pair us with exactly the right person, one that will give us the opportunity for personal development.
Reasons of the heart defy all logic. In the presence of the person we love, we feel at home, at peace. We feel fully alive, ready to conquer the world, and THAT trumps all religious, social or economic imperatives. Kings have given up the throne to follow their bliss: that is the new social order. It looks like we are turning our back on reason. But why? Because the purpose of the intimate relationship is not just to feel good, it is for growth and healing. Happiness will be a by-product of our personal evolution, and the acceptance that my partner is not me.
We do not pair up because we love each other, love is what will emerge after many years of living together and learning to respect and validate the “otherness of my partner ”. We fell in love with each other because we carry opposite energies. To survive our childhoods, we developed some characteristics, either expanding or constricting our energies. That left us feeling inadequate and imbalanced. Because some of our reactions and feelings were unacceptable to our parents, we blocked them out, a clever survival skill to be sure, but a landmine in our intimate relationships. Our psyche will invariably fall in love with an energy opposite from ours. Some will label that “Mr. Wrong”. We label it “Mr. Right”. Our psyches are driven to regain our wholeness and full aliveness. It is our birthright. It is through our intimate relationships, where we will recreate the dynamics of our childhoods, where we can grow up and transcend our brokenness.
As long as we are unconscious, our brokenness is what will drive us. Our neediness will seduce us into living our lives blindly. We will forget “reason”, and will be powerfully drawn to connecting, however illogical. This is not about logic, it is about healing our inner pain, and that means connection. It is only in a connected state that we feel at our best. Indeed, “No man is an island.”
The deepest connection is found in the intimate partnership. As long as we are unconscious “we marry to make nice feelings permanent.” The nice feelings we are trying to bottle is feeling safe with you, feeling that you accept me just as I am, feeling that with you I can spread my wings and become all that I was born to be. That is heaven on earth, the promise of marriage and commitment. It will be true only to the degree we are willing to grow up and learn a different “language of relationship”, the language of growth and healing. Only then will marriage live up to its promise.
As we grow into consciousness, we discover we bottled just the right person who will re-open all our wounds from childhood and give us the opportunity to respond now as a mature adult. To get there, we need to learn to accept the other “as is”, and see being triggered as an opportunity to grow tolerance and compassion and stretch into our higher self.
The good news is that the difficult person we married is precisely the right person. Rather than abandon that difficult person, we need to reevaluate our thinking. The “perfect person” of our romantic dreams will surely bring pain in our life, the pain of growth. Romantic love was just the door to connect with the right person.
It could be tempting to believe that we are with the wrong person, our partner being so different from us. But it is in the crucible of the intimate partnership that we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, an essential condition for our personal development. Personal growth hurts, but because we have fallen in love, we are willing to undertake the journey. The pain along the way is the price for peace and a deeply satisfying life, a life of contentment and gratitude.
This philosophy is exciting and energizing. Together we can learn from each other, expand our thinking and integrate a different world view. When we fell in love with each other, we fell in love with our partner’s complementary qualities to ours. The challenge is, are we willing to learn from our partners rather than change them? Are we willing to learn to negotiate our differences with grace?
The operative word here is “learning”. Most of us come from a home where authoritarian parenting was practiced. Opposing opinions were often criticized and squelched. That’s the relational language we learned. Marriage allows us to learn a totally different relational language, one of empathy and validation. This new language will put us in a zone of discomfort. If we are willing to embrace this discomfort, painful as it may be, we will be on our way to a conscious relationship.
The good news is that the natural selection of falling in love has put blinders on us. We fall in love with the RIGHT person, one that will challenge and expand us into all dimensions of our being. What is cruel is to promote the myth that because we fell in love with each other, we will experience a pain free life. Along with being sweet, true love suffers. Together we can learn to live the balance of pain and pleasure and walk toward a higher consciousness.