My main belief is that marriage is designed to grow us up. This is covered in great detail in my new book Naked Marriage: Uncovering Who You Are and Who You Can Become Together (Available November 14, 2016).
If you look at married life this way, you’ll see that growth comes from the pressure a relationship with a spouse creates.
Pressure to chart your own course in life and be your own person while at the same time pressure to connect with your spouse and enjoy the benefits marriage has to offer.
Many people fall victim to believing marriage is about happiness.
That you will meet your soul mate, fall madly in love, have a romantic wedding then be swept off into a rose petal covered existence together for the rest of your life.
This Hollywood version of marriage is everywhere … that’s reel-life, not real-life.
Marriage is not about happiness (although there are times of happiness within the relationship), it’s about growing up. And this all starts at the beginning of the relationship and the beliefs you bring into it.
There are two basic attitudes you could have going into a relationship:
- An attitude of entitlement, or
- An attitude of exposure.
Here’s the difference between the two.
An attitude of entitlement believes, “I choose you because you complete me, make me feel secure and good about myself and you make life better for me. I can expect you to meet my needs, take care of me, and make me feel better about myself than I do now. Being in relationship with you is the best thing for me because of what you provide for my life.”
An attitude of entitlement leads to an expectation of reciprocity, “I gave to you so now you owe me something in return.” Or, “I’ll tell you about me, but only if you tell me about you. If you don’t, I won’t either. But I want to, so you have to. I’ll go first and then you are obligated to disclose too: it is only fair. If I go first, you have to make me feel secure because I need to be able to trust you.”
There are many marriages that fall into this category. In these relationships, this attitude is actually a source of frustration, but they don’t realize that it’s this attitude that is causing the frustration. Instead, the spouse is blamed and seen as the cause of the marital issues.
An attitude of exposure says, “I choose you because my relationship with you is one that will expose my personality quirks, character defects and my immature ways of relating to others. This exposure is not the result of anything malicious by you, instead it’s the natural result of our committed relationship. And in this relationship I will have the opportunity to see myself in a light that I seldom do and/or have spent most of my life running from. But if I am willing to look at and address what our relationship exposes about me, I can grow up and mature into more love and passion than ever before.”
An attitude of exposure is not a natural response or view of relationships – BUT IT’S THE BEST WAY TO GROW UP!
Instead of seeing marriage as a place where you are completed, a person who is growing sees marriage as the one place that your incompletion is exposed.
The only other relationship that will expose your incompleteness to this degree is the one with your children.
So, what do you do with these two different attitudes?
First, you must own up to which attitude is yours. This takes some guts and some courage, but it’s worth it. Then second, you then confront life and marriage’s conflict in drastically different ways, depending on which attitude you choose.
If you’re driven by an attitude of entitlement, your main approach to conflict in marriage is: What is wrong with my spouse? And, What is it about my spouse that needs to change so I can experience relief and comfort? You can easily see how Nice Guys and Pleasers fall into this category.
On the other hand, if you go into a relationship with an attitude of exposure, you’ll approach issues and problems by asking: What is this situation exposing about me? And, In what ways do I need to change and grow in order to be able to more effectively love both my spouse AND myself?
Moving from one attitude to the other is a marker of growth. It is also the best way to begin to blow the roof off your marriage’s potential.