Understanding how and why couples go through divorce, even while staying married, helps us navigate that challenging period when it occurs. As it turns out, divorce can be an important ingredient in deepening intimacy.
The Effect of Unconscious Dynamics On Our Relationships
Everybody marries their own mother regardless of the gender. This is not usually apparent initially. It has to do with the subliminal search for a familiar kind of intimacy. We learn about intimacy in a condition where one is big and I am small, so that the beginning of a marriage has the quality of a mother and a child reunion, with orgasm.
Marital choice is perfect and below the level of conscious awareness. We pick out people who have what we do not. There is an unconscious co-mingling of needs and strengths.
You can only marry the first time once. Marriage is forever. It represents an investment, and you can never get the whole investment back. The investment in the first marriage tend to be the greatest. You can only get married the first time once. In fact, a schizophrenic patient told us that, once in love, you cannot fall out. Loving is forever.
Marriage is a peer relationship. Peer relationships are highly unstable. The relationship can be stabilized by finding a common enemy, adding distance or most commonly, by introducing a generation gap (You be the Mommy, and I will be the little boy. Or, You be sick and I will be the doctor).
On the woman’s side the husband is converted into a better father: While sex before the marriage felt alive, afterwards, especially after the first baby, it becomes incestuous (Grimm’s fairly tale, “Allerleirauh”, is a spectacular story about shifting identities in complex relationships).
Divorce is part of marriage. Divorce is partially synonymous with individuation in the relational context. It begins as a move to reclaim oneself. At first it is about disappointment in the partner, trying to get something from the partner, or feeling as though something is being taken by the partner. Then, there is a decision to give up on the partner. Deciding in my head, “I can make it on my own. He will hurt when we split, but so be it. I am feeling too bitter, too much of the time.” Or, “She does not hear what I say any longer. Inside myself I am giving up.”
Divorce occurs in every marriage, but there may be remarriage to the same partner. These symbolic experiences may be deeply painful, but they also deepen, simultaneously, the marital intimacy and the feeling of being someone. Divorce begins as a symbolic process, renegotiating the unconscious rule system of “I” and “We”. It may result in a remarriage to the same partner. When lawyers become involved the process contracts.
With each one of these (Divorce-Remarriages), the contract is implicitly renegotiated; what to expect from the other and what is not available. The divorce and remarriage enhances the “We” and nourishes each “I”. My sense is that it expands the event-space we are calling intimacy.
Symptoms, both pathological and healthy, belong to or characterize the marital relationship, not just one of the partners, until proven otherwise. Symptoms appear in a person, but they belong to the relationship. If he is angry, her anger is equal, but hidden. The same personal quality or symptom will be overt in one and covert in the other. For example, he sounds to be an angry person, his anger is overt, on the outside. She seems quiet and suppressed by him. Her anger is equal but covert, expressed in her passivity and in emotionally withholding herself.
Another example is power. Her power shows up through her use of logic and assertive control of events. Her power is obvious. He is apparently powerless, intimidated by her. His power is covert, in his passivity, in his apparent niceness, but his power, his capacity to neutralize her is not so easily seen at the outset.
Enjoyment of tolerance for ambiguity
Capacity for intimacy
Sense of humor
While sexual affairs attract most attention, and tend to be the hallmark of infidelity, her emotional bond to her mother goes unvoiced, or his ‘affair’ with the checkbook is assumed to be necessary. Likewise affairs may occur with the children, tennis, any business, golf, the truck, an image.
Gender identity (reciprocal):
The macho man is married to the hyper feminine woman. The man who has access to the feminine side of himself is married to a woman who has access to her masculine side.
It is very difficult, if not impossible to see it in a relationship of which you are a member. But if you can keep it in mind, it may help you see around persistent marital struggles. He is as lonely as you are, he handles it differently. Her frustration with you matches your frustration with her. The symptoms belong to the relationship.