There’s a popular belief that once a person gets married, everything will be smooth sailing.
Romance will naturally occur, your spouse will be your best friend, and there will be plenty of “Hallmark” moments between you.
If you’ve been married any length of time you know this simply isn’t true.
One of the main problems many couples face in marriage is they create a marriage that’s too close. They strive to capture the illusion of what they thought it would be like in the beginning by getting closer to each other.
This creates a fused relationship.
In a fused relationship system, your options for getting your needs met are limited to the people within the system, or to the ways people in the system approve of (read that sentence again).
When couples co-create a co-dependent relationship in which they strive to complete each other, they kill any chance of having any kind of evolving, passionate, fulfilling relationship.
The more couples become fused, the more they resent each other, try to change each other, push each other away, lose interest in each other, lose sexual passion, blame each other, and fantasize about escaping.
I believe that a majority of problems people experience in their marriage are the result of fusion.
In a fused system there is no “I”, only “we”.
There is an expectation that everyone should think alike, behave the same, have the same opinions, and want the same things. It is assumed that each member of the system will be there to meet the needs of every other member.
When this happens, the neediest and/or most anxious members of the system usually dictate how much pressure there is to conform and sacrifice self in a “Borg-like” manner.
Shortly after I begin working with a couple I ask them, “Do you believe that the source of the problems you’re experiencing currently are the result of you both being too far apart (living separate lives or drifting apart) or too close together (fused)?”
Without fail, the couple will reply – too far apart.
I then propose that it’s the opposite. That actually they’re too close together and that is what is creating all the problems.
If the couple will accept this view and begin to explore it more in detail as it plays out their marriage, they will begin to see dramatic improvement in their lives.
Fused systems fear change of any kind.
They also exist in a state of constant anxiety.
These rigid systems don’t like individuality, space, passion, integrity, or members having close friends outside of the system. They are characterized by guilt, covert contracts, emotional eruptions, passive-aggressiveness, isolation, secrets, hidden behaviors, and rebellion.
Also, unrealistic expectations are rampant in fused systems. Like these:
- Because you are my son, you should always be there to listen to my problems whenever I am sad or lonely.
- Because you are my boyfriend, you should always answer the phone when I call you.
- Because you are my girlfriend, you should never talk to other men.
- Because you are my husband, you should want to be around me as much as I want to be around you.
- Because you are my wife, you should want to have sex as often as I want to have it with you.
- Because a clean house is important to me, it should be just as important to you.
- Because I sacrifice so much for you, you should always appreciate me and never get mad at me.
- Because I work so hard to provide for our family you shouldn’t count on me to help out around the house.
Members of the system have to “push-back” to have space and hold on to themselves in any significant way. This often leads to acting out and self-destructive behavior (the reason most couples seek out therapy).
For example, one spouse in a fused system might want the other to lose weight. Even if it would be in the best interest for that person to drop a few pounds, they will have to push back (this is called “disengagement”). This is an unconscious attempt to avoid losing self to their partner’s control (they have probably been doing this since childhood), and to prevent their partner from “winning”.
Scoreboarding is actually rampant in marriages.
It’s the idea that since I did something for you and our marriage, you should return the favor to me. It’s the classic exchange based principles.
The simple truth – marriage (and life) is not fair. If you go into a relationship expecting your generosity, gifts, strengths, love, passion, etc. to be reciprocated in kind, you’re going to wind up severely disappointed or angry.
Plus, if you enter into a discussion or issue with the idea that you should win, then what does that make your spouse? A loser. And who wants to be married to a loser?
A mature adult is someone who takes responsibility for getting their needs met.
Let’s build upon this idea. Mature, growing people co-create a number of cooperative systems to help them do this. An intimate relationship is just one of these cooperative systems.
Great marriages are the result of two mature, grown up people – both of whom have full, satisfying lives – cooperating with each other to get their needs met. In this kind of differentiated relationship, each partner compliments the other, but doesn’t complete them.
It is this kind of commitment to living a full life that helps maintain the growth in a relationship that is so important for attraction, passion, energy and great sex.
Corey is the editor of Simple Marriage as well as a licensed marriage & family therapist. While he has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy, he only occasionally likes to be called doctor.
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