As a marriage counselor, I very often think of myself as a teacher on intimacy. People typically don’t have trouble getting intimacy going. Making connections when things are new and different is fun and easy. However, maintaining closeness with another person over long periods of time is difficult. Popular culture usually is not helpful in setting us up for success here. In the fairy tales we tell our children the prince and the princess always get married and “live happily ever after”, just before the words “The End”. Most romantic movies end when main characters get together and are experiencing a state of bliss. Further our main way of handling a relationship or anything else that is not working is to move on or get a new one. So if you don’t want to get divorced around year 7 when the newness dies and tension has had sufficient time to build up, what do you do?
Marriage counselors (most famously Dr. David Schnarch) have compared marriage to a crucible. A crucible is a container in which substances are melted together at very high temperatures. A marriage acts in much the same manner. Putting two people together for long periods of time eventually heats things up and forces us to face our weakness and work out our differences together. The process, like anything that occurs at very high temperatures, is painful and can be dangerous. However, the result is something new that did not exist before. This new thing is the bond between two people, a we-ness or us-ness, that is one of the most beautiful and deeply satisfying parts of the human experience.
So there is good news and bad news. The bad news being you must stay in and experience the pain of the purifying heat if you want to experience lasting intimacy. The good news is, it is usually worth it. Of course there are times when divorce is necessary, and no judgement should be made towards those who make this choice. Everyone should be left to make their own path. Also, keep in mind that it is definitely possible to stay married and still avoid every last bit of the pain and challenging work it takes to form lasting intimacy. However, today I would like to honor the courage of those who stay in and face the heat.
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