A happy marriage or relationship is where both partners understand each other, love each other unconditionally, communicate effectively and love doing little nothings for each other- so we are told. Those marriages or couples that are not like this are not quite there!
However, we see in our own lives and in lives of those close to us, a number of relationships do not have these qualities. And yet, they last! Some for decades! Ever wondered how is it that without these so assumed ‘basic’ needs and several marriage problems, relationships still last?
The answer, I believe, is in all those things that we do NOT idealize. In my interactions with couples who come for therapy, I have searched for these unspoken factors that make a couple go through internal struggles, fight with each other, get terribly hurt and pained in the process but still strive to be together-to stick it out.
If one does a quick google search on why people stick it out together, one finds a number of reasons-mostly all fear-ridden and sad. Here are some reasons that appear repeatedly: fear of being lonely, having nowhere to go, social disgrace (especially in a country like India), financial dependence, loss of a sense of identity or role as a married person. The whole range of reasons makes such a sad case for couples, relationships and marriages. It appears that partners who do not get along brilliantly are motivated to stay together and fight for their relationships only because they are afraid of functioning in any other way!
There is probably some truth in that. Our social conditioning teaches us to value relationships and later marriage as a space that is secure. We feel unloved, unimportant and insignificant, if we are not attached. We suddenly feel pushed out of this whole “happily married, close family, loving and being loved” situation and get into a “lonely, not really belonging anywhere” kind of space.
However I am not convinced that is all there is to the story. I feel there is much, much more. This much more is not seen because it’s either between the lines or we have focused so strongly on what we are conditioned to see and understand, that we have tuned out of the subtler aspects of our relationships.
Here I have tried to briefly cover some of the “happier” reasons why people stick together despite pain and struggle in their relationships:
There is nothing to hide
Close, intimate relationships are perhaps the only place where we are completely exposed. We are both, detested and loved for what we are, and above all we are lived with for what we are. The anger and rage, the affection and goodness, the virtues and the vices are all there out in the open. We are criticized and judged and evaluated and complained against but still we are tolerated and are lived with. Isn’t that the biggest boost? If you read between the lines, it is one partner telling another “no matter what you are, and no matter what I say about you, you are good enough for me to still be with you”. Wow!!! That felt good, didn’t it? I felt good just writing it…
We repeatedly feel important
We are thinking (at a not very conscious level of course), “My partner is fighting with me in order to make me understand him or her better. That tells me I am important! However angrily I am reminded of the fact that I am terribly daft and the most non-understanding human that ever walked this earth, I am still being told, between the lines, that I am important enough to be fought with. My viewpoints and opinions are important enough to be turned around, to be fought about for hours and days”. That feels nice again! doesn’t it?
Conflicts help us to grow
Perhaps angrily and grudgingly, somewhere in the back of our minds we know that coping with the conflicts will strengthen us. We know there is more to life than a happily ever after. Although we chase the happily ever after, we do not really believe in it. We seek to grow, naturally. Yes we could do with a lot more support and we could do with some more rest, but internally we know as we face these conflicts that they help us to broaden our view of life and identify more with life.
Love is attractive
Not only in the sense that we need to receive it but also in the sense that we need to give it. It gives us a positive sense of purpose. We are needed to give love and are wanted for whatever we are.
Disclaimer: I am not talking of relationships here that are characterized by ‘abuse’. Abuse doesn’t do any of the above. Abuse tires us, violates us and makes us feel like very small versions of ourselves.
P.S.: Now be fair and don’t categorize your conflicts into emotional abuse. Abusive relationships do not come about from just a difference of perspectives.
Wishing you a lot of reading between the lines and loads of love and goodness in your relationships.
Suggested Reading: Ten Relationship Myths
Image credit: Kumon