6. Empathy is hard.
By its very nature, empathy cannot happen simultaneously between two people. One partner must always go first, and there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. It takes risk. It’s a sacrifice. So most of us wait for our partner to go first. A lifelong empathy standoff. And when one partner actually does take the empathy plunge, it’s almost always a belly flop.
The truth is, the people we love are fallible human beings and they will never be the perfect mirror we desire.
Can we love them anyway, by taking the empathy plunge ourselves?
7. We care more about our children than about the one who helped us make them.
Our kids should never be more important than our marriage, and they should never be less important. If they’re more important, the little rascals will sense it and use it and drive wedges. If they’re less important, they’ll act out until they are given priority.
Family is about the constant, on-going work of finding the balance.
8. The hidden power struggle.
Most conflict in marriage is at least in part a negotiation around the level of interconnectedness between lovers. Men usually want less. Women usually want more. Sometimes, those roles are reversed.
Regardless, when you read between the lines of most fights, this is the question you find: Who gets to decide how much distance we keep between us? If we don’t ask that question explicitly, we’ll fight about it implicitly. Forever.
9. We don’t know how to maintain interest in one thing or one person anymore.
We live in a world pulling our attention in a million different directions. The practice of meditation—attending to one thing and then returning our attention to it when we become distracted, over and over and over again—is an essential art.
When we are constantly encouraged to attend to the shiny surface of things and to move on when we get a little bored, making our life a meditation upon the person we love is a revolutionary act. And it is absolutely essential if any marriage is to survive and thrive.
As a therapist, I can teach a couple how to communicate in an hour. It’s not complicated.
But dealing with the troublemakers who started the fight? Well, that takes a lifetime.
It’s a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness.
And that’s a lifetime worth fighting for.
Written by Kelly M. Flanagan
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Originally appeared in Dr. KellyFlanagan.com
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