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The Marital Crisis

May 9, 2009 | by Dr. Michael Tobin

Time does not heal all wounds.

Time may anesthetize and conceal, but it doesn't uproot pain nor bury loss. It doesn't repair hurt and neglect.

Healing is not passive.

It doesn't work on us like the process of aging, sneaking up on us through the cumulative seconds and minutes of our lives. As we "slip slide" through life, a mysterious, merciful force does not eradicate our suffering nor does it persuade us to forgive. A marital crisis doesn't suddenly happen, nor does it miraculously disappear. You can't escape from its pain without suffering greater consequences, trivialize its impact without strenghthening its negative affect nor define it as a temporary glitch without causing it to become a chronic problem.

The power to heal is a gift and an obligation.

The gift of healing is the power to transform the darkest moments in our lives into a source of light and wisdom. All of nature is imprinted with a code that determines its development. Only the human species is granted consciousness and choice -- an integrated psychological and spiritual force that enables us to transcend the weight of circumstance, to view the myriad happenings of our lives with compassion and perspective and to choose a new direction that is more closely aligned with our deepest wishes and desires.

The obligation to heal is the commitment to full personal responsibility. It is the statement that I am not at the mercy of circumstance.

The obligation to heal is the commitment to full personal responsibility. It is the statement that I am not at the mercy of circumstance. Events don't determine my inner or outer reactions. Life may throw me some major curve balls, yet the choice of how I deal with those difficulties are mine and mine alone. I can view myself as a victim of circumstance or as a student of life, in which every condition and situation, be it good or bad, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Any fool can blame others for his behavior. Integrity means standing up and acknowledging responsibility and having the courage to act according to one's deepest values and principles.

I never know for sure whether a husband and wife are prepared to dig into the heart and soul of their relationship in order to pass through the hurt and anger to a place of forgiveness and renewal. I'm not certain if they will make the commitment to restore trust and confidence in each other. Nor do I know for sure that they are ready to rebuild their relationship on a foundation of truth and honesty.

Nevertheless, I know that if they'll hang in there through this very difficult period, they will grow both individually and as a couple. If you are experiencing a crisis in your marriage, I would advise you to fight for your marriage because if you do, then you'll have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

Fight for your marriage because if you do, then you'll have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

The following is from a letter I wrote to a couple in crisis. (Their names and details have been changed to insure anonymity.)

Kate had developed a correspondence with a man named Eric whom she had met on the Internet at a time when her relationship with her husband Dan was at a very low point. The newly found relationship did not bode well for Kate's marriage.

"Kate, I admire your courage and integrity. Yes, integrity. You chose to end the relationship with Eric without any guarantees from Dan that he would be willing to work on the marriage. To me, this takes courage and integrity.

"Living according to your principles and values is more essential to you than fulfilling your personal needs. With your relationship with Eric, you rejected your personal integrity because you were hungry for emotional closeness. Yet, you've learned a great lesson: There is no true happiness without self-respect and honor.

I don't know if you would put it in these words but I think you learned something about time and relationships. You know many of us in America live in a culture that has no past. Everything is now and new and things move at warp speed. There's no tradition, no memory and no sense that this too shall pass. We live to experience the pleasure of the moment. The reckonings of our lives and the evaluation of our relationships are based on a simple calculation: Does the sum pleasure that I experience now exceed the pain and discomfort?

"I believe you rediscovered your past. You learned that a marriage is more than a simple commitment to one person. It's a complex web of relationships, shared memories and experiences. It's about more than just meeting your needs. It's about creating family; it's about doing those small, daily acts of kindness for your partner that say, 'I love you' in action, as well as words.

"You came back from this crisis ready to work. No matter how difficult your problems may be, if Dan will take the risk to join you, then I am confident that your marriage will succeed -- despite the odds."

"Let me offer you one last piece of advice: Be understanding and patient with Dan. You've hurt him deeply and he will probably test you for some time before he'll be willing to open up. Try not to react negatively. The irony for both of you is that he will view you as the source of his pain while at the same time he'll be wanting you to be understanding and supportive."

To Dan I would say the following:

"Dan, I understand how deeply hurt and angry you are. It would be easier for you if you didn't love Kate, if you could convince yourself that you don't care. But that's not the case. Perhaps your pride is telling you, 'Leave her! Let her understand that she can't get away with this.' Maybe you think that your fear of being alone stops you from ending the marriage. If so, then I guess you'd be angry with yourself for being weak and indecisive.

"Dan, the hardest part for you is acknowledging that you still love Kate. It's like pouring salt on a wound. Yet, you wrote to her and said, 'See, Kate, what makes it so painful for me is that I still love you and I still carry around memories of us in love.' Anger is your protection against further pain. It's also a barrier to healing. You found the courage to be vulnerable, the strength to be you.

"This key may open the door to a new relationship with Kate.

"You have a great challenge: For you and Kate to grow through and beyond this ordeal you must learn to forgive. Forgiveness is not denial, nor is it a form of mental gymnastics in which you make so many excuses for Kate's behavior that emotional infidelity becomes no more significant than a conflict over a failure to record a check entry.

"To forgive you must embrace the truth. Kate's relationship is not commendable. However, your failure to recognize her needs and your unwillingness to be there for her contributed to your marital problems. It was her choice to have this relationship. It was your choice to neglect the marriage. Are they equivalent 'sins'? No, but you must understand that her dishonesty occurred within a context of marital discord and you must take responsibility for your part.

"The Kate who stands before you today is not the same person who had the relationship. It took the shame of being disloyal for her to rediscover what she really wants, to prioritize the values in her life. She chose to be with you. I would strongly encourage you to focus on who Kate is today, not on who she was. Let your trust in her build. Give yourself permission to see her as she is now. Don't let your imagination dwell on her lack of faithfulness.

"Letting go is not easy. There will be days when you'll want to hurt her, to make her suffer for her transgressions, and then there will be periods when you will be able to love again, when you'll feel that it's all behind you, when you might even think that perhaps this crisis was exactly what you needed in order to find each other.

"Dan, you can get through this. You can learn to be a loving husband and you can learn to forgive. It's all a choice and it's within you to make that choice."

To both Dan and Kate I would say:

"You may need help through this process. It's possible that you may become stuck in your hurt and anger and lose your way. Try not to despair or lose hope. I would suggest that you decide now that if that happens, you will go into marital therapy. A mutual decision to seek counseling is a positive statement about your commitment to one another and recognition of the difficult challenge you have before you.

"A couple can heal a marriage broken by neglect and deceit. Through determination and will you can overcome the anger, the distance and the mistrust.

"Thirteen years ago, you were married. Today, you can begin to create a marriage."

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