From Courtship to 'I do' and Ever After
Marriage is seen as an essential rites of passage for growth and the evolution of one's distinct self. The evolution is also constantly seen in relation to parents, peers and then another adult. However, only stable, enduring relationships allow individual growth to take place. There needs to be enough trust in a partner to be able to courageously deal with the hidden parts that surface.
Ideally, the journey begins with partners gliding through courtship, as newlyweds, through the early years of marriage and well into years of married life. Threats to the peace in marriage unfortunately begin with bickering and expectations compromise. Positive and negative feelings for each other change over time.
Inability to navigate the issues that inevitably crop up during the marriage, interpersonal issues, poor interpersonal skills, lack of respect for each other's ideas and a general hostility towards one another spell further demise of the relationship.
The most important theories of adult development and family systems suggest marriages evolve in many stages through intimacy and mutuality. Riding through these passages may or may not be very smooth as there are situations that constantly pose specific challenge to individual and couple development.
Nurturance: Emotional themes and interaction patterns define the first stage, where marital partners see each other as endowed with the most desirable traits. In this stage, a sense of belonging and trust in each other's commitment works to an evolving relationship.
Expectations put-off: As renewed career goals or signs of external interests emerge in the years that follow, the other partner may view it as betrayal and reel under the shock, as it were. Rather than feeling hurt, each partner should get used to the idea, accepting and appreciating signs of personal growth and space.
Remedy: A clear understanding may help the relationship grow.
Control freak: Over the next stages of married life, the partners' interests get full scope for individual development, but they may fall into the powerful grip of a power struggle which makes them snub efforts at accommodation. If that comes to that, they would still not let down their defenses for fear of being controlled by the other. The scary situation when they fail to relate to each other or lose connection with each other brings them to the depths of despair. If ignored, this may carry on for years as both play out patterns of behavior that are at cross-purposes.
Remedy: To avoid getting into this hopeless situation, one has to exercise the ability to recognize differences and finding new ways of negotiating them, using creative ways of expressing themselves sanely, without impinging on the other partner's private space and emotions.
Competition and combat: The craving for time and space and identity is the eternal lament of dissatisfied couples and may prompt them to set out on a mission to "figure out who I am and what I want" in a bid to find and complete their self. If in this process a partner starts looking for a distraction, it certainly defeats the purpose.
Remedy: It does take a take a strong will, a high emotional quotient and time to break through such entrenched patterns. Strategies that work include reconciliation cooperation, knowing what attitudes and behaviors to keep and using a humble tone while communicating and avoiding expressions of antagonism.
Finding the middle ground: The trick lies in resisting these proclivities and surviving the classic struggles for power and for self to finally partake of a shared vision, a full identity that both partners can relate to. Acceptance and collaboration wins.