Marriage is most open to crisis when it is rigid and inflexible. Whatever won’t bend will break, or push others away. Rigid people, who expect specific roles in relationships only create more crises at different relationship developmental points.
When the relationship demands that there be isolation from outside supports, such as family, the focus becomes one of control and fear. Problems can also develop when the relationship is seen as needing to be on the high of a romance.
Romance seduces people into expecting too much. Romance after courtship can fade fast. Some people have never learned the difference between love, romance, sex, and growing together as partners and friends. Being in-love is a form of temporary insanity. During this time we do not always analyze, or think, clearly. It is a necessary first step though in developing a relationship.
Many people want the magic of romance more than they want to be married. For some people it is difficult to work on the interpersonal relationship outside of an emotional high. Others have problems understanding a relationship outside of control, anger, mistrust, and rigid ideas of how they want it to be and how others must comply to them.
What follows are some of the crisis points in every marriage. Just because you experience one or more of these doesn’t mean that your relationship will be in trouble; it just means that it’s a critical juncture where things need to not be taken for granted.
Falling In Love
Couples talk to one another most on the third date and in the year before the divorce. Saying I love you can be terrifying–a fear of commitment and losing control. Not saying it though can also be terrifying. Some people fall apart fearing their need for love and dependency will never be met and they will always be alone, even when in a relationship. Some try to control the other to insure that they will be loved and not be vulnerable in any way.
If the relationship gets past the third date the courtship may move toward the idea of marriage. At some point one or both may stop the relationship to consider its implications in their lives. The cooling-off period is an effort to step back and see if he/she still owns themselves, their life, destiny. If the other mate reacts with panic this can increase the withdrawal even further. Increasingly it is women who are fearing marriage and the men who are eager for it.
Beginning of the Marriage
The spouses become aware that they are part of something bigger than a courtship. Though married they come to realize that this time that they are still part of their families of origin. They must put their marriage first without breaking off the relationship with their families of origins.
The couple has to sort out issues of values and styles. Those couples who have met through family, friends, church, or other social groups, have a better chance of making it because of shared interests, values, and support systems. Relationships with friends changes once the marriage happens. The couple must work on friendships that bolster the marriage.
Parenthood stabilizes a marriage but it also traps the parents. This transition moves the couple from the childhood generation to the adult generation. We can resent our children because we have to be responsible adults–and this can be scary, especially for men. Being a parent requires both couple working jointly together if child rearing is to be effective.
Mid-Life crisis points typically involve three general issues:
- The Empty Nest Syndrome where you need to reunite as a couple.
- The Facts of Life where you have an awareness of your own mortality.
- The Process of Growing Like One’s Parents.
All of these periods are ones of Growth vs Stagnation tasks of middle life. This is a time when people consider the things that they have avoided in life until now and consider whether this is the life they want for the rest of their lives. It is a time when we may be depressed because we have not achieved all we wanted: Success, happiness, comfort, and more. We need permission to fail, not to have to push more, to relax, to accept life as it is. We need to accept that we are imperfect, our spouse is imperfect, our children are imperfect, and we are not going to conquer the world.
Eventually everyone must grow old; the alternative is worse! Our society does not revere age. It is the task-time of Integrity vs Despair. Those who become isolated and distant at this stage have the most problems. We are becoming a society of older citizens and need to talk and plan for it. Because the average life expectancy is growing, we need to work on maintaining our health status early on so we can be healthy later.