“When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they don’t understand one other, but a sign that they have, at last, begun to.”
I love this quote, especially in contrast to quotes that paint divorcees as quitters or failures who just didn’t try. Gold diggers aside, no one stands up at the altar and tells themselves, “A few years of this and I’m outta here”. In the very most of cases, marriages occur because two people love each other enough to want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is true even if there was some ignorance, naivety and fear afoot. That said, unforeseen issues can crop up and begin to plague a marriage.
Seismic personality changes
That’s right, understanding. How many couples truly understand each other? I did a lot of research on the interwebs and found no viable data around this question. That said, I’ve been a relationship coach for 11 years and I’ll give you my experienced guess: Only 25% of couples have an in-depth understanding of each other.
This is not about favorite movies or even what makes the other person tick. No, what I’m talking about are the things that we can only truly know about someone when we put our head, heart and soul into the relationship. Often times, we have surface attractions to someone based on limited experiences with them. Or, we consciously or unconsciously tune out various aspects of our partner because we’d rather focus wholly on the good things.
Here are elements of people and relationships that I have found we tend to misunderstand:
1) Empathy: By it’s definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. “I was surprised to learn just how little Mike cared about the plight of others. It really came through when our neighbor had a kitchen fire and she had to spend a lot of money staying in a hotel for a couple of weeks. I wanted her to stay with us and Mike wasn’t having it. He showed complete indifference and it really changed my view of him, and us.”
Too often, we associate kindness and generosity towards us with a broader empathetic spirit.
2) Solitude: “We did a lot together at the beginning, like two chains inextricably linked. Friends considered us inseparable, it was cute and I liked feeling wanted, even needed. A couple of months after we were married, I realized something. I didn’t know who Amanda was when she was not with me. I assumed that she had her own life and her own interests but I was dead wrong. She could not be alone and when we were apart (working, short shopping trips), she was annoyed and I heard about it. The texts didn’t stop and neither did the pushes for us to do even more together. Keep in mind, I was rarely, if ever, spending time with friends anymore. It got to be too much.”
When we are dating, how much quality alone time do we give ourselves on either side of the relationship? How much attention are we really paying to our partner and their need for- and comfort with- solitude? There is a powerful quote by Barbara DeAngelis that reads “women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.” I could not agree more and, in Amanda’s case, while her husband pushed for the divorce, she was the victor in the area of self-reflection and increased personal strength.
3) Intimacy: When someone tells me that their sex life is great, an immediate question enters my mind. What about the intellectual and emotional intimacy? Ah, very often two side of relationships we do not explore until we realize that they are sorely lacking. Megan and Tim were oozing with chemistry, a passionate ball of wax that melted over each of them nearly every night. Eventually they were married and the honeymoon phase subsided. This isn’t to say that they stopped having sex but to Megan, something was missing. The more she thought about it, the ‘something’ never truly existed in their relationship.
Their intimacy began and ended with sex and nothing else. There was no emotional foreplay and they rarely had intellectual discussions that incited any fire or passion. They would go to the bedroom, do the deed, orgasm, get dressed, and go about their day. What’s more, Tim didn’t see this as an issue. Megan needed more. She needed to feel a passion that went beyond their bedroom antics and she needed to be with someone who wanted this too. Tim just wasn’t the guy and they were no more.
I could easily explore other areas that are vital to understanding our partners. Their esteem. Their patience. Their spirituality. We very often conflate love and marriage as if one so naturally leads to the other. The fact is, we can be in love with someone without fully knowing who they are. For that matter, we can love a lot of different things about someone but find, upon further exploration, that there are other aspects of them that make a long term relationship untenable.
Understanding is key and it doesn’t always bring two people closer.