Spring sunlight was filtering through the lace curtains of the old house that was our first home, when I came to the horrible conclusion that I had married the wrong man. I was about eight months pregnant, and as I stood in the early morning light, looking at the pile of clothes on the floor by his side of the bed, I was amazed that I had not noticed his incredibly low I. Q. You see, the clothes hamper was no more than six to eight inches from the pile of clothes. How could he possibly manage to miss the opening?
The same man who had been so perfect just a few short years prior was now a continuing source of irritation to me. How had I managed to choose this man, and what was I going to do about it now? I’ll tell you.
Like most couples, Bob and I were initially attracted to each other because of the characteristics we had in common. We are both middle class, with the same basic spiritual beliefs. We both grew up in families where the dad was self-employed and the mom was a professional who did all the homemaking. It felt familiar for us to start our marriage in this manner.
I admired Bob’s lighthearted, fun loving sense of humor, a quality I didn’t know in myself. And he claims he married a math teacher so he wouldn’t have to balance the check book, because he doesn’t see himself as very organized Well, it doesn’t take long for the “organized math teacher” to turn into a “nagging bitch”, or the “impetuous carefree man” to become an “irresponsible slob.”
Like I said in my article “The Chemistry of Love”, after the chemistry of the initial infatuation wears off, the real work of creating a mature marriage begins. Like any other person in this stage of marriage I had several choices.
1. Quit the marriage and search for another romantic relationship.
2. Ignore the spouse as much as possible. Good ways to do this are to work all the time, develop an addiction to something like food or alcohol, become overly involved with children, a hobby, an affair, religion, school, volunteer work. You get the idea, anything that keeps contact with the spouse to a minimum.
3. Try to change the partner. (This is the one I chose.) I wanted him to be funny enough to have a good time, but anal enough to pick up his clothes, so I started my campaign of pleading, coercing, manipulating and yelling to try to get my way. I thought the solution would be simple. I bought a bright new clothesbasket and put it in the closet proudly. Then I said to him, “look honey, all you have to do is put your clothes in this basket, and I will wash them for you.” But he couldn’t do it. The hamper was always empty, and the clothes were always on the floor. Not to be deterred, I moved the clothes hamper to the exact spot where the clothes had been landing. You would have to be a simpleton to miss it now, but he did. The clothes were on the floor, and the basket was empty.
4. Look at the relationship as a medium for personal growth. I am attracted to this man for a reason. There are disowned parts of myself that I admire in him; there are disowned parts of myself that I hate in him.
There are things he asks of me that are at my growing edge, and when I choose to give him these parts of myself it is not because I have been overpowered, or manipulated, but because I know it will be a rewarding growth experience for me. And when he chooses to give me the same gift of self-sacrifice, I know he does it by choice, not because I won a battle.
I find it invigorating to help couples explore the skills necessary for a mature relationship. It involves,
Appropriate Expression of Emotions
Examining Family of Origin Issues (but only when needed)
To help you find your own path let me recommend any book by David Schnarch, Harville Hendrix, or Maggie Scarf.
I don’t mean to leave you with the impression that Bob and I have nothing better to fight over than clothes on the floor. Like most couples we fight over core issues like abandonment, support and safety, as well as everyday conflicts like money, childrearing and who gets to hold the remote control.
It is with a great deal of joy however, that I tell you, right now, even as I type, there is a small pile of my clothes on my side of the bed, as well as Bob’s. Sometimes there are no clothes on the floor, sometimes piles that last for days. This may not seem like a big accomplishment, but trust me; it is a representative example of the changes we have both made. Like Denis De Rougemont said
“A life allied with mine, for the rest of our lives…
that is the miracle of marriage.”