At times, marriage brings joy and fulfillment. At other times, it can be full of frustration, conflict or boredom. During these difficult times, you may wonder, “Did I marry the wrong person?” or “Why is this so hard?” These thoughts or feelings can be especially discouraging when you compare this to your early romance when things between you two felt wonderful. Rest assured – there IS more to marriage. In fact, through these conflicts and difficult times you can grow to experience a hidden reward of marriage: it can help you grow and develop yourself. That’s right; one reward of this unique partnership is that it can actually help you grow as an individual.
Let's look a a few examples:
A couple is having repeated arguments about their son's choice of clothes. The mother is okay with the son choosing what he wears, after all he looks fine and isn't in ripped or torn clothing and he's happy. The father insists their son wear clothes that are neat and coordinated. The son resists his father wanting him to wear collared shirts and pressed khaki shorts every day. He likes wearing his favorite tee-shirts and casual basketball shorts. If the parents get stuck in the difficulty, they'll be focused on their partner's behavior and say things like "Why can't you be more X about what he wears?" or "You're always so Y with our son!" When partners focus on how they want the other partner to change, they'll feel frustrated, angry and be in conflict. If the parents can each wonder to themselves "What is this challenge calling on me to grow in myself?" then the door to change gets cracked open. Perhaps the mother does need to take more care with helping her son to choose clothes appropriate for the setting or take him to buy new tee-shirts he likes. Perhaps the father needs to let go of rigidity and allow his son to have more autonomy in his choices (within limits). So this marriage is an opportunity for each parent to grow and develop part of him/herself. Conveniently, they have a partner who is encouraging this "growth" and modeling how to do it.
A wife is upset that her husband plays "so much golf". She'll say things like "I never see you on weekends" and "Why can't you spend more time with me instead of your golf buddies?" She can stay stuck for years asking, longing, begging or threatening him to change and they'll remain in conflict. Which, interestingly, will result in him spending more time away from her - the very thing she wants to avoid! If the wife begins to ask herself "What is this calling on me to develop in myself?" then she begins to move out of the stuck place. Perhaps she needs to develop a more well-rounded life for herself that includes fulfilling hobbies, sports, friendships, spiritual practices, philanthropy et cetera. Perhaps she needs time for unwinding and relaxation and being in nature. Conveniently, she has a partner who models how to do these things. I would be curious to see: as she develops these things for herself and feeling happier and more at peace, does her husband, in turn, want to spend more time with her?
A committed relationship provides you with a unique opportunity to grow into your whole self. Your partner is inviting you (unwittingly) to develop parts of yourself. First, your partner notices your shortcomings. He/she often presents it in a negative way and also he/she is a model for how you can develop this part of you. Although no one likes to have shortcomings pointed out to them, these situations are actually opportunities to grow into a more mature version of yourself.
You may notice that your partner has already helped you grow as an individual. You may also notice that some areas have been more challenging for you or are still hot buttons in your relationship. We are trained in helping individuals overcome obstacles, and grow into wholeness within partnership. Our therapists are skilled in assisting couples as they talk this out together in order to turn conflict into a growth opportunity. To schedule an appointment to learn more about how feeling gratitude for your partner can greatly improve your relationship, call 908-246-3074 or email GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com.