In a CNN interview a couple of weeks ago, I was asked what the next steps should be for estranged reality TV couple Kate and Jon Gosselin, who are engaged in a contentious divorce. Although the Gosselins are unique in that they are the parents of 8 children, their bitter divorce is not unusual. Nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, many of which are as acrimonious as the Gosselins’. My recent interview below addresses why many marriages fall apart, and how to stop the destructive patterns that turn relationships into battlefields.
What causes a relationship to deteriorate to the point of a separation or divorce? The things that draw people together in a relationship are the same ones that drive them apart. People typically fall in love with partners who have the qualities they lack in themselves—their opposite—in an unconscious quest to feel complete. While they’re initially enamored by those differences, over time, they often become points of conflict and disdain. And since most people lack good communication and conflict management skills, the real issues never get addressed. Over time, resentment builds, trust is eroded, and the relationship becomes a constant battlefield.
It’s one thing not to get along, but in many relationships, things become downright ugly. What causes such intense anger and bitterness? Intimate relationships tend to invoke our deepest wounds. We’re all the product of our life conditioning. And since most people come from families with some level of dysfunction, most of us carry emotional pain and dysfunctional patterns into our relationships. Many of these patterns are like viruses, infecting our self-esteem, our lives, and our relationships. Those closest to us know exactly how to invoke our deepest wounds, which is why people react so badly in the midst of divorce. They think it’s the other person who’s causing their pain, when, in fact, they’re both replicating the dysfunctional patterns learned in childhood in their own marriage.
How can people stop the cycle of anger and destructive behavior in the midst of a separation or divorce? When a relationship deteriorates to the point where the partners become what I call “intimate enemies”, the best approach is to find a professional who can help them cut through the symptoms of their issues—which are often disguised as anger, resentment, jealousy, or infidelity—and address the root causes of their problems. This is especially important when there are children involved, because they still have to interact as parents. Regardless of whether the couple stays together or divorces, the only way they can co-parent in an amicable and constructive manner is for them to become aware of the dysfunctional patterns they each brought into the relationship. Once they’ve identified what they are, they need to do the personal-development work needed to change them. If the destructive behavior continues, it will inevitably cause deep emotional and psychological damage to their children, and the legacy of dysfunction will pass on to the next generation.
© 2009 Lauren Mackler
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© 2009 Lauren Mackler
Lauren Mackler is a coach, psychotherapist, and host of the Life Keys radio show on hayhouseradio.com. She’s the author of the international bestseller, Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. Sign up for her Live Boldly newsletter at www.laurenmackler.com.This article also appeared on the following web sites.