Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

The Duet of Love

Harmony in marriage

“Harmony” is an appealing combination of elements in a whole. In music, it's an arrangement of sounds pleasing to the ear. Marriage harmony is more about emotional tone and atmosphere than expressions of love or specific behaviors. It’s about both partners thriving and growing into the best musicians they can be. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The very love that brings us together in beautiful harmony can so easily tear us apart in awful cacophony.

Most people ride into married life on powerful waves of affection and intimacy, i.e., they marry for love. That’s the easy part. Unfortunately, love is more effective at bringing us together than keeping us together. You may have heard the saying, "Love is easy; relationships are hard." The truth is, relationships are hard because love is easy.

The ease with which love comes upon us creates an illusion of certainty, which determines what the brain processes and what it ignores. Love makes us project our best perceptions onto loved ones. We focus on what we like, while pretty much ignoring what we don’t like. Until the bonding hormones that bring us together begin to wane.

After Marriage, My Partner Changed into Someone I Like Less

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

When the intensity of love wanes, we stop projecting and begin to see things in our lovers we don't like. The inevitable disillusionment is what couples fight about in the second year of marriage, when most of the arguments suffer the following subtext:

"Why can't you be what I want?"

"You made me feel that I was what you wanted. So you have to be what I want now!"

If your partner changed into someone you like less after marriage, so did you. Falling in love made each of you a better person. You became more appreciative, caring, loving, compassionate, and tolerant. Your partner didn't make you a better person, your appreciation, care, tolerance, and compassion made you a more loving person.

When the intensity of love wears off, caring, appreciation, tolerance, and compassion tend to fade with it. As a result, we feel less lovable and - if we can face the truth - inadequate as attachment figures. Instead of a cue to become more appreciative, tolerant, and compassionate, we tend to blame the decline of those wonderful emotions on our partners. Blame locks us into a permanent state powerless resentment.

The Hidden Monster: Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is discomfort or pain caused by the clash of your beliefs about yourself with the reality of your behavior. In marriage, cognitive dissonance is caused by the clash of your beliefs about yourself as a person and partner with the reality of your behavior toward your spouse. For example, “I’m a compassionate and caring partner, yet I’m resentful and unable to feel compassion or caring for you.”

Cognitive dissonance is inevitable in marriage. We’re frail creatures and cannot always be true to our deeper values or be the partners we would like to be. It’s how we resolve cognitive dissonance that makes all the difference. Unfortunately, this is how a great many couples handle it:

“I’m a compassionate and loving partner, yet I’m resentful and unable to feel compassion for you. Therefore, you must be defective in some way. You have to change, so that I can be true to my loving and compassionate nature.”

While there may be some short-term respite of self-righteousness in such a stand, it totally alienates you from your most authentic self, resulting in anxiety, resentment, bitterness, and eventual depression.

For personal wellbeing, your focus must move from trying to control your partner’s behavior to resolving cognitive dissonance, i.e., being the person and partner you most want to be.

Crucial Questions to ask Yourself

If you ask yourself:

"How do I feel?"

"What do I want?"

"What are my 'needs'?”

Your answer will likely be (at least by implication), how you want your partner to change. This will render you powerless over your cognitive dissonance.

If you ask yourself:

“Who am I?”

“What kind of person and partner do I want to be?”

You’re more likely to change your own behavior and resolve your cognitive dissonance, which happens to be your only chance of achieving relationship harmony.

The Duet of Love

In a musical duet, both musicians can make beautiful music on their own. But together they can do something greater than either of them can do alone – make harmony.

Think of a violin and cello duet. The violin doesn’t change its tonality to suit the cello, and the cello doesn’t sell out its cellohood for the sake of the violin. The harmony of the duet comes from the differently pitched instruments resonating together, while retaining the beauty of their individuality.

You stop making harmony in your relationship when you try to criticize or stonewall the violin into becoming the cello, and vice versa. Most relationship criticism and stonewalling take the form of, “You must be more like me!”

Harmony rises from partners attuned to their deepest values, which, if they love each other, will include compassion and kindness for one another. The foundation of relationship harmony is frequent notes of compassion and kindness, focused on the long term best interests of both partners.

Worry less about who is right or wrong or on what you don’t like or don’t have. Instead, focus on compassion and kindness, and you are likely to achieve relationship harmony.

Webinar on relationship harmony

 

 

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

more...

Subscribe to Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?