Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Just Listen

What causes divorce? And how to prevent it

A marriage like a computer comes preinstalled with loveware

Posted Nov 29, 2010

Marriages end not because you stop loving each other,
but because you can’t stop hating each other

Dr. Mark Goulston appearing on Oprah
to discuss “Recoupling Therapy
on a show about divorced couples that reconciled

When you buy a computer it comes preinstalled with software.  And when you get it out of the box, plug it in, you hear those wonderful chimes on a Mac or on PC Windows that signal you’re good to go.

Then your honeymoon starts and you are zooming through the Internet and using all your productivity software.  But then you hit a glitch.  A screen freezes, documents go unsaved, time to reboot.  Over time the glitches get worse.  Sometimes you have to reinstall the software and sometimes you even have to reinstall the operating system.  I’ve actually reinstalled software, but when it’s a matter of operating systems or even motherboards, I get a little sick to my stomach as I quickly feel in over my head.

When that happens you can rapidly begin to feel vulnerable and exposed (especially if you fear you have lost non-backed up information forever) and that vulnerability can cause you to hate the technology that just months ago you loved taking out of that box when you got home from Best Buy or the Apple Store.

When you fall in love, that comes preinstalled with “loveware” and an operating system called love.  I have used the mnemonic CREATE (as in CREATE love) to make each program easier to remember.

  • C = Chemistry is about sex, romance, passion and excitement
  • R = Respect and is about both feeling it towards and from each other and proud and lucky to have this other person as your spouse
  • E = Enjoyment a.k.a. “fun” is pretty straightforward… you know that’s where you each put a smile on each other’s face
  • A = Acceptance where you unconditionally accept and feel accepted for each other’s essence, based on who you each are, not what you each do (but feeling so loved causes you to want to do all sorts of loving thing to show your gratitude)
  • T = Trust where you can not only rely on their doing what they say they’ll do, but you can entrust your fears and even your deep doubts about yourself regarding your competence, worthiness or even how good a human being you are.  It’s baring your neck and expecting them to respond emotionally with the reassuring touch of their hand instead of sticking a knife in it.
  • E = Empathy where you understand and feel understood by each other.  This goes far beyond feeling figured out.  It’s walking in the other’s shoes and if when you’re there you see they need comfort or reassurance, giving it to them. At its best you feel “felt” and unalone in a world that seems to conspire daily to make you feel alone.

Yep.  When you fall in love, all of these feel present.  In fact it is the felt presence of all of these that often gives us the courage to finally break the ties of dependence or over dependence on our parents.  When we feel all of this loveware is in tact, we feel an emotional safety net that will catch us if we start to fall through the cracks when we finally making that break from our families of origin.  And feeling exuberant and safe is our honeymoon.

But alas.  Just as with our computers, each and sometimes all of the different loveware programs develop glitches.

He or she starts to relax their best behavior that they may have shown during the courtship and starts to burp or even fart, thinking it’s endearing (yougottabekidding).  Loving touch crosses over to groping.  Can’t wait to get into bed becomes, “I’ve got a headache.”  And voila.  Say goodbye to Chemistry.

He or she starts to interrupt, be curt, shut down or nit picky and poof, say so long to Respect.

And when Chemistry or Respect are on the way out, it becomes increasingly difficult to give or get a smile and so bye bye Enjoyment.

Pretty soon Accepting and giving each other the benefit of the doubt turns into being judgmental, offering advice when neither wants to hear it.  And when Acceptance feels most gone, a woman can often feel repulsive to her husband while her husband feels as if everything he does is wrong to his wife.

By now each spouse has probably started to act out passive aggressively so it becomes difficult to Trust them to do what they say they’ll do or if they do, to do it without resentment.  More insidiously is that the ability to bare your neck to the other goes away where each is afraid that if they did, they will be met with a cold, “What do you want me to do? You’re the one who messed up.”

As for Empathy and walking in each other shoes.  You can’t walk in their shoes if all you do is step on their toes.  And neither person has much of a chance of feeling felt when mostly what each feels is contempt.

The challenge is that when these inevitable glitches develop, couples do not have a way to reinstall their loveware.  And when the operating system falls apart and they not only stop loving each other, they barely tolerate each other and neither knows what to do to make it better.

The joke about where sex takes place in a marriage becomes all too true: anywhere when you first fall in love, in the bedroom after you’ve been married a few years (and certainly after children) and finally in the hall when you say, “F**k You! to each other” (and if not in reality, certainly in you mind) when you pass each other.

Sadly very often couples don’t repair those rifts early on before they become too entrenched, not because they lack the will.  It’s because they lack the way as the opening quote said: “to stop hating each other.”

Hatred is the result of hurt and disappointment not being addressed early enough to prevent it from turning into frustration, anger, hostility and in the end, bitterness.

I will address the steps to reinstalling the loveware program and love operating system in your relationship is subsequent blogs.  If you’re anxious to get started, check out The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall Back in Love … and Stay There (Perigee, $15.95). As it says on the back cover, “If you ever lain in bed beyond arm’s length of your partner and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ or lain in bed by yourself, beyond the reach of anyone, and asked, ‘Will I always be alone?’ this is the book for you.”

And until you and I have a chance to visit again in subsequent blogs, try to be nice to each other.

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