No Institution is Immune to Corruption, Including Marriage
What about marriage?Marriage is an institution of two. Where does corruption show up in marriage, and what can we do to reverse it? Modern marriage is challenging and incredibly vulnerable to deterioration. Indifference, chronic anger or depression, high anxiety, insufficient yummy intimacy, distracting attractions, life stressors, and adult responsibilities all erode marriages. We are further burdened with our genetic legacies. For example, primate males generally physically and emotionally dominate females and other males. In most human history since our hunter-gatherer forebears became agrarian farmers, men have owned and bullied women. This began to change with the technological revolution, and that change has accelerated through the information age. America is now one of the first societies with more or less equal power for men and women financially, sexually, and intimately. But our genes still speak to us—still influence us to create and enter states where we hurt each other, cheat on each other, and fail to sustain our love for each other. The old, primeval energies still seethe below the surface in marriages—currents that are best navigated away from violence and towards love. This is a big deal, because unresolved tensions and yearnings can corrupt marriage. OK. So corruption creeps in. How do we catch it and love better? Dave Logan’s Tribal Leadership mechanisms of regularly exploring shared values and noble cause is as applicable to marriages as it is to corporations. The shared values of love, fidelity, shared play/passion, supporting all family members’ happiness and satisfaction, and life-long development generate the noble cause of expanding love between mates, with immediate goals that address current needs and concerns. How can we operationalize this? There are a bazillion ways of cultivating shared values and expanding love. Here’s just one approach that focuses on three critical processes. If you and your partner can have regular, productive conversations about these three processes, your chances of satisfying intimacy skyrocket. First, we can know ourselves to be the sum total of many roles and states, and constantly work at integrating them harmoniously We never fully lose any self, and we wouldn’t want to. Each self has gifts to offer. We were all amoral, selfish toddlers at one point in our lives. Since development is include-and-transcend—meaning we always build on current capacities and never completely lose any previous capacities—under the right circumstances any of us can revert to selfish brat or cowering victim. We don’t like to face our ugly sides, but the sooner I catch myself as an immature, obnoxious child, the more likely I am to adjust to mature adult. This is better for everybody, and especially for my wife. Second, we can strive to choose love over violence. Fear, anger, shame, terror, and sadness urge us to hurt others and ourselves. Couples routinely blame one another, then punish and attack when stressed. In each impulse to attack or suffer there is a signpost to love if we can just accurately read it. If I feel like bitching about the house being dirty, I can instead offer to help clean up the living room. If a wife feels like complaining about lack of intimacy, she can instead offer the kinds of affection her husband finds most delicious. Couples who think this way tend to repair emotional injuries incredibly fast. An argument starts, someone self-observes his or her regression and struggles to love better (it’s especially effective if it’s the guy who adjusts, due to the evolutionary forces cited above), and love blossoms. Third, embrace effort and progress as standards in loving better. No one ever makes it to perfect. We can grow in so many cool ways—more loving, kinder, more nourishing to family, healthier, deeper, wiser, and more beautiful are some of my favorites. Why not try to be better in these ways? Why not effectively help our spouse do the same? What’s the downside? Just making efforts to do right is worlds better than doing wrong.
Catch your corruption and adjust to love, and you become beautiful!Corruption caught at the impulse level is beautiful. What if a guy friend told you, “I felt like screaming at her to leave, but realized it would just be striking out. Instead, I decided to help her feel better because I love her. I don’t want her to feel bad.” We’d be impressed with this guy, even though he is admitting an immature, bullying impulse. Corruption caught in the act is still pretty good. Say the guy above does yell, “Get the #%*! out of here!” He sees his wife’s hurt expression, feels remorse, and apologizes. “I’m sorry. I know I’m being mean. You have valid points. I want us to resolve the issue and love each other, and I really don’t want you to go.” We’d still be impressed, even though he started out with dismissive cruelty. It’s not a bad thing to be tempted and sometimes slip and fall. It’s a human thing. We always have internal and relational forces influencing us to regress, but we can use those forces to guide us to deeper love. Also, we don’t have to struggle alone–we can ask the people we love to tell us the truth as they see it and help us grow. In my opinion, these are some of the best ways to manage human corruption in our most important institution, marriage.
Image Credit: Josh Felise on Unsplash