Linda: Those with great relationships have an exceptional ability to learn from life’s challenges. Some people come into relationship with a high level of resilience; others don’t. Most long term couples claim that they have become more capable of handling stress than they were prior to their marriage. They attribute their enhanced resilience to a willingness to wrestle with life’s challenges. Resting into the security of their mutual commitment to support each other, it becomes easier to transform the breakdowns that inevitably occur in marriage into powerful learning experiences. As one of the participants stated, “Each time we hit a major problem, we came through it with more understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always a direct path, but looking back, it’s obvious that the outcome was beneficial to both of us.”
Strognly bonded couples are not afraid of failure. They have learned how to learn form their experiences. They view what some people would call failure as learning experiences to effectively respond to life’s challenges. When a serious betrayal takes place, and disillusionment and despair fill the mind, there is a high risk that the relationship will die. For many couples, this is a point that they go their separate ways.
Seeking relief from the extreme discomfort, leaving can seem like the only way out of the pain. Like those contemplating suicide, they see no other way out. There is an alternative, but so many couples don’t see it. The option is to stay to work with the terrible pain, the destructive patterns, the unconscious conditioning that runs both partners, and to communicate about what rebuilding the relationship into a form that serves both partners, would look like.
For many, when they look at the wreck that their relationship has become, they can hardly image rebuilding. For others, there is an inkling of what might manifest in time, but the work appears so overwhelming that they prefer to cut their losses, and begin fresh with a new partner. For those who leave, life after divorce is rarely the imagined picture. There is often terrible grief, loneliness, and often unresolved anger that turns into bitterness and long term distrust.
Although no one tells us that sometimes a relationship has to die in the form that it is in, to be born into a brand new form, many coouples figure this one out. They hold the idea that the terrible breakdown in trust is a death of the old relationship. It’s as if there had been a devastating fire that burned the whole structure down to the ground. Now there is a chance to build from the ground up, with a chance to search through the rubble to find anything worth saving. Rarely is the relationship completely destroyed. Often there are pieces that are salvageable that become parts of the new structure.
Many long term couples report that the relationship they enjoy now barely resembles the one they started with. There have been numerous remodels, and a number of rebuilds. They tell us that rebuilding took place after the most destructive periods, where the relationship in its old form died. The rebirth of the relationship was not an easy process, and yet they are exceedingly grateful that they did not bury the relationship permanently, and that they were willing to do the work of starting over.
One woman told us, “I can vividly remember wondering in the midst of the chaos, if the anger that made me want to gnash my teeth, and chew nails would ever go away. I wondered if the trust would ever return to feel ease with each other again. Then, in only a matter of a few months, we found ourselves enjoying levels of relating that we had never known. I am grateful that my husband and I didn’t bail out when the going got tough.”
What can seem like impossible, with dogged determination, and the right help, can transform a relationship. Many couples stated that they were strengthened as a result of the challenges they went through. They have wisdom to see the choice when a serious loss occurs like the loss of money, power, health, trust, or control. When they take a big hit, they are humbled, and rather than stay angry in the position of the victim and stewing in self-pity, they choose to learn from the trauma.
Many couples have learned how to use their life crises as growth opportunities. They are committed to avoiding the trap of blame, empowered to examine their own responsibility to learn the lessons that are inherent in their life challenges. They are not defeated by hardships, but grow from them. Their thinking tends to be non-dualistic, not either/or in their response to circumstances, and are skilled at discovering creative alternatives to even the most difficult situations. They demonstrate an optimistic view of the future. As one husband summed up a profound learning that took from his marital challenge, “There’s always another way beyond just the obvious one. You just have to look hard enough to find it.”