I often wonder if we are doomed to repeat our parents. I mean, yes, we literally repeat them sometimes when we say things like, “Because I said so,” but when it comes to our marriages, is there any way to do it differently than what we saw done as kids?
Both my husband and I have divorced parents. Worse than that, is that both our parents stayed married for far too long. We both lived in very dysfunctional homes and both our parents split up in very volatile ways when we were young adults. Both of us wound up being supports for our wounded parents during this time. Perhaps this is what drew us to one another.
When our relationship started it could not have been any more different than what we witnessed from our parents growing up, but as time flew by we were pushed into more traditional roles and I can sometimes see us slipping right into those old faulty patterns I had hoped to never see again. At these times I do not recognize us at all. It’s almost surreal, like an LSD trip. My husband will say something and I literally have no idea who he is. Worse, sometimes I have no idea who I am or how I got here. I think, “Is this really me? Is this really my house? Is this really my life? How in the world did this happen?” Because all I see is a re-run. We are just doing a play of our parents when they were at this stage in their lives.
Sometimes I think about this in terms of a journey. My parents walked this path and their parents before them. So many generations walked this same path that it has become very smooth and very deep. So many couples have cried on this path that it has become muddy. Now instead of walking we easily just slide right on down.
For a while my husband and I stayed off this road entirely but we had no choice but to stay close by because we didn’t know anything else. We used all of our focus in the beginning to watch every step we took so that we did not accidentally step on that road. But then life got busy and it got hard and one or the other of us tripped and fell and landed on that mud slide and dragged the other one right down with us.
It takes no effort whatsoever to slide down into this pit, but it takes every ounce of concentration we have to try and stop ourselves and pull ourselves out. To make it even more complicated, it also takes cooperation. We either both get out or nobody does so we have to work together. We have to find some twig or rock to grab onto and use all the energy we have to go against this current and climb up and out of this very deep mud slide. Then we have to have our machetes ready to cut our own path into the unknown and hopefully this new one will be a better path for our kids to take someday and their kids. Then maybe the mudslide will dry out, fill up, and allow growth again.
Marriage is difficult even if you have every advantage going in. It takes work, even when you feel like the work should be over. After all, when you have jobs, kids, and house projects, who wants to have to add another thing to their to-do list? But, if you don’t work on the marriage and make time for it you’ll shift into automatic pilot mode and if you come from a dysfunctional home your auto pilot is not pretty. If you come from a great family, your autopilot will be lackluster, disingenuous, and boring and that’s the best you can hope for with autopilot.
I have devised some ways over the years to stop mudsliding and get out of the pit. One is to remember that if my spouse or I do or say something hurtful it is only because we are hurting. If someone were to wave a magic wand to show us the truth of what is happening we’d see each other as children and in pain. We are simply reenacting something that hurt and confused us long ago in an attempt to finally heal, or to have the power we never had as children but desperately needed. Another way is through prayer or meditation. Removing myself from what I see as something false and full of errors and connecting instead to something true and unchanging can literally become that branch I need to pull myself up. I do NOT talk to people who will “validate” me by telling me that I am right and my spouse is wrong. It might make me feel better in the short term but it only makes me slide faster down the slope. I also try to steer clear from trying to be right. Trying to be right means you are making someone else wrong and all this is is an argument. An argument means there is no cooperation and no cooperation means you’re not getting out of this pit. The same goes for getting revenge, being passive aggressive, or trying to smother one another in guilt. All these things do is make the path that much deeper.
Marriage is not easy, but it is a commitment for better or for worse. I truly believe that when you stick with it and give it your all that it can be a teacher and a healer for you. I see my husband and my children as my gurus. I think we are here together to teach one another lessons and those lessons do not always come easily or even without pain. However, the love we have for one another is enough to get us through these times and the love we have is what gives me the faith to know that even if my husband and I slip into old childhood patterns we’ll make it out again, together.