A Marriage Rebellion by Kelly Flanagan PhD
Excerpt from The Marriage Manifesto
In marriage, losing is letting go of the need to fix everything for your partner, listening to their darkest parts with a heartache rather than a solution.
It’s being even more present in the painful moments than in the good times.
It’s finding ways to be humble and open, even when everything in you says that you’re right and they are wrong.
It’s doing what is right and good for your spouse, even when big things need to be sacrificed, like a job, or a relationship, or an ego.
It is forgiveness, quickly and voluntarily.
It is eliminating anything from your life—even the things you love—if they are keeping you from attending, caring, and serving.
It is seeking peace by accepting the healthy but crazy-making things about your partner because, you remember, those were the things you fell in love with in the first place.
It is knowing that your spouse will never fully understand you, will never truly love you unconditionally—because they are a broken creature, too—and loving them to the end anyway.
The Rebellion: From Competition to Sacrifice
“You can be right, or you can be married; take your pick.”
I can’t remember who told me that, but I do remember they were only half-joking. The other half, the serious half, is exceedingly important.
Marital therapy is complicated and messy. Couples usually come to therapy because they are in pain and they are angry. Trying to wade into that can feel completely out of control. In the worst-case scenario, the therapist has front row seats to a regularly scheduled prizefight. As a psychologist, I keep my bearing amidst the chaos by fixing one simple principle in mind: if marriage is going to work, it needs to become a contest to see which spouse is going to lose the most, and it needs to be a race that goes down to the wire.
Three Kinds of Marriage
When it comes to winning and losing, I think there are three kinds of marriages. In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced and amicable parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some.
The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse.
These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all.
But there is a third kind of marriage.
The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.
And they are revolutionary, in the purest sense of the word.