Having been steeped in existentially oriented therapy, I tend to think much of what how we live our lives is determined by an awareness of and an anxiety about death. Much of our energy is spent fighting for recognition and fighting against annihilation. So, for example, I can't allow myself to lose the argument I'm having with my wife because to allow it would be to symbolically accept my own death. That sounds a little crazy, I know. But, I can't tell you how many times I've listened to people express their astonishment at how hard a partner fought over such a "little" issue. The fact is that in some way that "little" issue wasn't little at all. The argument was, in fact, something of a "life and death" struggle.
I have come to believe that every couple that stays together for an appreciable amount of time eventually gets to the place where they say to themselves, "If I stay with him/her another day/week/month/year it will be the death of me." It's not uncommon for couples to think and occasionally say things like, "This is killing me." or "You're killing me." And, in a symbolic way, it's often true.
The question that should arise when we experience the "lethal" quality of our marriage is not, "How can I arm myself better so that I can survive or better yet, do him/her in?" The question should be just the opposite. The relationship would be better served by asking, "What in me needs to die so that something new and better can be born?" Or, "What kind of surrender do I need to embrace in order for a better thing to come into our relationship?" Paradoxically, the willingness to lose often precedes a meaningful gain.
It takes a lot of courage to do this kind of "unnatural" thing. If you'd like some help coming to terms with your relationship, click here.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 35 years.