I read an outstanding interview in the LA Times this week (Saturday, July 30), where Patt Morrison was asking high profile divorce lawyer Laura Wasser about the whole divorce process. …
Our emotional, reactive, defensive selves are programmed into our brains to react to threat instantly. Our mature, conscious, socially intelligent selves are based in the prefrontal cortex behind our eyes, and it takes up to a second and a half for conscious attention to catch up to the rest of us in a critical situation. That second and a half is huge.
Happy couples are interested in having as few checks as possible on their partner’s “I’ve had it!” lists. They figure out how to compromise and help each other gradually shrink their lists and cut way down on annoying behaviors over time. If you ask them how their marriage is doing, they’ll give you a variation of what I think is the ideal answer: “We’re not perfect, but we love each other and we’re both working at getting better at loving each other.”
Several years ago, I was working with a stay-at-home Mom named Cynthia. She had three small children and a hardworking husband named Jim who often arrived home tired and irritable. He’d waltz in, announce his presence, collapse on the couch in front of TV while Cynthia cooked dinner, served it, and gave the kids baths, stories, and put them down. When she asked Jim to help, he usually refused. “I’ve been working all day while all you’ve had to do is play with the kids,” he’d complain. Or, on the rare occasions when he roused himself from the couch to actually pitch in with homework, housework, or to play with the children, he’d make a big show of what a hands-on dad he was and how lucky Cynthia was to have him around. Being a particularly clueless kind of guy at this point, Jim had no idea that such whining was guaranteed to neutralize any pleasure his wife might feel from him lending a hand.
Once Eric and Camille got the message about not treating each other like objects, it marked a real break-through in their marriage, because they’d finally become conscious of each other’s humanity when they were upset. They could be distressed yet simultaneously see the other person as a real human being with fears and hurts. Their love and compassion for each other deepened over the years, and I’m happy to say that the man who could so easily insult his wife and the woman who attacked my wall are now entering the fourth decade of a pretty darn good marriage.
Remember: Privacy is good. Many of the private thoughts and feelings you keep to yourself are part of what makes you unique. They can make you happy, and can certainly help you get along better with everyone you know—and your spouse in particular. Secrecy, on the other hand, is almost always destructive, especially in intimate relationships.
“All you need is love.” When the Beatles sang it, I believed it. Do you? One of the most potent things I’ve learned in my 37 years as a psychotherapist …