Is Your Personal Baggage Stuffing Up Your Marriage?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Separation and divorce are at an all time high, and the divorce rate of second and subsequent marriages is of even more concern than those of first marriages. While these statistics are alarming, it is the human suffering that lies behind these figures that is the greatest tragedy.
Are our marriages really less happy than those of our grandparents, who if they lived long enough, went on to celebrate 50, even 60 years of marriage? If they had access to the easier divorce laws that we currently enjoy, would many of these older unions have broken down as well?
What is the real reason for the escalating rate of marital breakdown? Asking this question is similar to the famous question: “How long is a piece of string?” There are many factors involved in the breakdown of a marriage. Changes in divorce laws have definitely impacted on the number of divorces granted annually. But as human nature typically remains static over time, it is reasonable to suggest that more of our grandparents would have divorced had they had the legal and societal opportunities to do so.
In today’s blog, however, we will focus on just one aspect of why marriages fail. And that is, the amount of personal baggage both partners bring to the union. Personal baggage is all the things that aren’t right in your life. You have an issue with your father and haven’t spoken for years, you have a credit card problem, you felt unloved by your parents and are unconsciously looking for a partner who will give you what your parents didn’t. The list goes on. Your marriage partner may believe he is “not good enough” because that is what his father told him, he may have a tendency to drink heavily when problems arise, he despises his mother and unconsciously takes it out on all women.
You can see that when two people with pre-existing problems come together in marriage both the explosives and the detonator are in place. All that is needed is the friction of living together to set off an emotional minefield.
We all have baggage. So how can we combine our baggage with a happy and healthy marriage? The answer is: we can’t. The ideal situation would be that both partners sort out their own life difficulties before thinking of entering into a relationship. But as most of us live on planet Earth rather than in fairyland, we often have to work backwards. That is, we discover after the relationship is in full swing and past the “honeymoon” period that our partner is not going to be the substitute parent we wanted, that they are not going to take away the pain that makes us “spend, spend, spend”, and horror of horrors, that they are not going to change.
Your marriage partner is not responsible for making you happy, you are. Your marriage partner is also not responsible for making you unhappy. Again, you are. We are each of us responsible for our own happiness and if that sounds like a heavy burden, it is. It’s so much easier to blame another for our problems, yet the paradox is that only we can solve our problems. Only we can allow ourselves to be happy.
A happy marriage involves self-responsibility on both sides. And acceptance. If we work on our own baggage, we can better deal with our partner’s baggage, In fact, we may find that if we work on our own baggage, some of the difficulties we may have with our partners may disappear, as we are simply reacting to their behaviors in unhealthy ways that we learned from our birth families.
Being responsible for our own happiness is one of the best ways to improve our relationships, not only with our spouses but with all of our family and friends. It takes the burden off us to “fix” them and the responsibility off our partners to be our “everything.” No human can fulfill these roles. I’d love to hear from readers who have actually lived out this experience.