Many people exchange the legal and possible religious vows and binding paperwork that make them what they, and others, call married. However, the level of relationship between a couple varies considerably. Some people have so little to do with each other that a twenty year relationship may be so infrequent in contact and so light in depth that they may have less knowledge of, and less sharing of perceptions, need, interpersonal sensitivity, and affection for each other than some other couples may experience in a year. If a distant relationship suits both the partners then we must say that they have a right to have it as they wish to have it.
Rarely, however, are both partners sufficiently satisfied with a distant lightly involved relationship. Often both may be suffering, but only one of them may be aware of their dissatisfaction. Some people have a basic unconscious need for a relationship through which they can hide from themselves and possible from the world of their society. Their society may not know how to expect any more from marriage than a kind of business arrangement. Such a relationship may sometime be seen as the "Mr. and Mrs.----corporation." It does not take a lot of emotional maturity to manage such a light relationship and it could last all of their lives without either being aware of what they possibly could have had with each other.
Usually people replicate the depth of relationship that pervaded their parental environment. Growing up in a distant cold household may, for some, be taken as instruction that forbids them from even knowing that there is possibly something else that can be expected between people. People whose parents were not truly emotionally close may not be able to believe that closeness is possible. Sometimes ideas such as seeing the parents always holding hands may really mean that they were both afraid of their world. They may not know themselves, each other, or their children. They may not be able to care. They may be too afraid to care.
Not being able to care is a far more frequent emotional problem than is often talked about. Even if each partner is aware that they do not care about themselves, the other, or anything much, they may feel like so profound a failure that they cannot accept that this lack is a problem that some can solve if they seek a psychotherapy that tries to help them come to grips with the inner conflicts that preclude their having close relationships. Someone who inwardly thinks that they are terrible is rarely likely to share that feeling even with their own conscious mind and certainly not their partner. A person's perception that their partner may reject them if they know them well may, or more often, may not be true. Often each partner in such a relationship may be feeling they are unlovable. For some being in therapy may mean that they can voice this sadness with some expectation that they may be able to, with some luck, find that they and their partner now can slowly feel enough concern for themselves and each other to be able to work past the negatives within them.
Some people may have had parents who viewed each other as a life raft with little ability to feel much for the children who they unconsciously may view as unable to give them anything. Some adults mistakenly believe that children can only take - and they may even avoid having any. One criterion for a truly loving relationship between one's parents is measured by how much they could know their children and others. True love makes for a marriage of mind and heart that makes one more able to share respectful love with others.
The maturity to truly love each other comes only with the respect for life that makes it impossible to want only hurt each other or their children. No one who can attain an adult level of marriage can possible accept causing other people distress. The capacity to feel deeply develops in an atmosphere of warm mutuality, safety with each other, and a desire for intimate knowledge of others, as well as of oneself.
Insightful therapy may with hard work by both patient and therapist help one to learn how to give oneself and others the gentle warm regard that is part of love.
Some who are reading this article may be saying: "Oh yes, it is clear that they are quite right. I am incapable of a truly adult marriage." However, all that most likely means for you is that you are afraid to have one; and uncovering why you have that feeling, among many other fears, may help you to give yourself the warmth, kindness, and respect that exists in a good marriage.
by Dr. Lehrer