Walking the path alone: Self-responsible spouse
How going it alone brings couples together
Published on June 17, 2010
Going it alone is not what most brides and grooms envision on their wedding day. We picture a lifetime of togetherness. Expect to meet each other's needs. Hope never to feel lonely again.
Of course, opportunities for togetherness are chief among the benefits of love and marriage. If, however, we accept the conventional wisdom that spouses are supposed to fulfill each other's wants and needs, we are headed for frustration and disappointment. And, if we believe the old thinking that marriage is the antidote for loneliness, we are sure to blame our spouses when we feel lonely.
Based on the belief that marriage is the most important and special relationship of one's life, we hold spouses uniquely responsible to "be there for each other." If our needs go unmet or loneliness besets us, we conclude that our spouses are failing to shoulder their share of marital responsibilities. We easily justify this conclusion, because conventional wisdom condones pointing the finger at matrimonial slackers. (See previous post, Is your partner a matrimonial slacker?)
In order to get off the road to marital dissatisfaction, we must choose a singular new path - the path of self-responsibility. And each of us must walk this path alone. "But wait," you may ask, "don't couples have to work together to resolve marital issues?" Simply put, no.
When we say we have marital issues, we are expressing dissatisfaction with each other's behavior. Think about it. We, essentially, tell our partners, "My feelings of resentment/insecurity/loneliness will change, if you change your behavior." Of course, it's understandable to feel unhappy about perceived neglect and "grown-up" tantrums or to initially react by pointing a finger and saying, "He started it!" But we all know where that leads.
Exception: If you are being abused by your spouse, the self-responsible approach is to rescue yourself.
Unfortunately, most of us mistakenly believe that the act of making our dissatisfaction known - "speaking up for ourselves" - is being self-responsible. "Speaking up" about our concerns equals asking a spouse to take responsibility for our unhappiness. Self-responsible spouses accept that, regardless of the specifics, others are not to blame for our negative emotions. Self-responsible spouses understand that managing negative emotions is strictly do-it-yourself. (See previous post, How to Train Your Dragon.)
Choosing the self-responsible path means: 1) Stepping off the road that everyone else seems to be following; 2) Giving up the idea that marital satisfaction hinges on transforming our partners; 3) Asking and answering a few ego-confronting, self-transforming questions:
Do my expectations reflect reality?
Do my reactions show emotional maturity?
Am I constructively managing my negative emotions?
Am I focusing on my partner's strengths?
As for how walking alone on the path of self-responsibility brings couples together, imagine the profound attraction you might feel toward a spouse who stopped criticizing you and started transforming himself or herself.