Did it ever occur to you that we can learn a lot about having a better marriage by thinking about fish? You’re probably thinking that I’ve lost my rocker. But bear with me for a moment.
It’s been said fish don’t know that they live in water. How could it be otherwise? Water is their universe and the only environment they’ll ever live in. Their world view is dictated by the limits of their perceptions.
And except for that rare and insightful fish that may occasionally stick his head above the surface of the water and wonder about the world above, the vast majority of fish naively swim around their entire lives, blindly accepting the water as the only reality there is.
We humans also tend to blindly accept our perceptions as the only reality there is. This is important to understand if you’re concerned about having a harmonious marriage. Why, you ask? Because “control issues” often drive a couple apart and toward divorce.
In these cases, one partner may be passionately opinionated that his (or her) perceptions constitute the only reality there is. This person may believe so strongly his viewpoint equals “The Truth” or “Reality,” he can’t imagine that anyone having a different opinion can be right.
Furthermore, this dominant spouse is uncomfortable with any differing opinion, often due to a subconscious insecurity and fear that a challenge will diminish his worth in some way. And when the dominant spouse refuses to look at the partner’s point of view, it’s a source of conflict—whether acknowledged or not by either spouse.
When the more assertive mate imposes his will over and over, and the submissive partner gives in repeatedly, the sad result is an unhealthy dynamic in which both partners share responsibility for the marriage going downhill due to these control issues in the relationship.
A little-known fact is that both spouses behave the way they do basically out of fear of facing change and growth.
For the controlling spouse, the mode of command and control is viewed as a path to security. He may feel this way because confronting differences in opinion may seem frightening to him and he feels more secure if the spouse is in agreement. If confronted, he may use anger to cover up his fear of change.
For the submissive partner, giving in is seen as the path of least resistance because it avoids the frightening discomfort of facing the spouse’s anger. This is especially true when the submissive partner never learned to appropriately deal with anger growing up. Being submissive is often habit learned as a child and is carried into the marriage.
Both of these viewpoints don’t see the bigger picture. The truth is, both spouses have set up the control situation—one by dominating, the other by agreeing to be dominated. And in the short term, the marriage may seem stable and relatively happy. But long term, the control issues can be a recipe for marital disaster.
Instead, what can help is when one or both spouses have a revelation—an “ah ha” moment of realization in which they realize:
- The status quo is leading to an unsatisfactory partnership. The likelihood of divorce is increased if nothing changes the trajectory of the marriage.
- There is a much better way for two people to coexist within a marriage. True love, passion, mutual respect, and fun are not only possible, but they are readily attainable, as difficult as that seems, to many distressed spouses.
- That positive change is possible even if only one spouse is willing to take small steps. This can be true because changing one partner almost always forces the other mate to adapt in some way. And if the change is positive, then the adaptation is likely to also be positive.
So how can one or both proactive partners initiate positive change in a marriage? A few of the things you can do are:
- Be willing to grow, to change, to learn. This requires courage, because it means looking at yourself and being honest with what you see. And it requires getting out of your comfort zone to proactively try new behavior.
- Maintain respect for each other. This includes adherence to fair fighting rules—no name calling or put downs. This becomes easier if you actively and intentionally focus on the qualities in your mate worthy of respect.
- Be willing to embrace authenticity. This means sharing your real feelings. It implies being honest with yourself and with your spouse. It requires getting past facades and exposing the real you to your partner.
- Admit when you are wrong. Have the humility to accept that to err is human and to admit that we all make mistakes. This implies being open minded to other points of view or opinions.
For the most part we define our individual world view based on the way we’ve been programmed by our past—the unique and personal history that each of us take into a relationship.
And as you work on opening up your perceptions and awareness, you will open the portal of your heart to improving your marriage. You now hold in your grasp the boundless possibility of starting today. (Borrowed from Lee Hefner)