Are you in a good marriage? You may have super powers!
Janice Clarke (February 2018)
Have you heard that marriage is the new “super” relationship? Despite there being many modern alternatives to getting married those who are deeply in love and fully committed to making a long-term life with another are still retro-opting for a traditional marriage. A recent poll by Abacus Data for the Huffington Post Canada found that over 63% of millennials hope to one day be married and have children. Sue Johnson’s ground breaking work on adult attachment explains the value of our most intimate relationships for keeping humans well, both in body and mind. Good marriages can provide what might be called super strengths, resilience, and resources for coping with inevitable life challenges.
Perhaps you were married young and did not fully realize the value of the commitment you made. Maybe you have never tapped into marriage’s super powers. Can you be in a marriage but obliviously miss out on the benefits, sit outside the warmth of belonging, and never draw on the super advantages it can provide to your overall life and well-being? Of course, you can. Perhaps you have viewed your marital bond like a ball and chain. Maybe you resist intimacy and behave in ways that devalue your commitment creating a hornet’s nest of insecurity for both you and your partner. It does not have to be that way. You can have a good marriage and realize your untapped super powers.
The first super power of a good marriage is the connection and sense of belonging it provides unlike any other kind of adult relationship. The big deal about marriage is that when you ask someone to marry you, you are literally inviting that person to become a member of your family. Family membership, reserved for those born into or legally adopted to a family, is also granted through marriage. Even when families dissolve, due to divorce, the title “ex-spouse” still signifies a position once held in a family. When children are involved, ex-spouses never become ex-fathers or ex-mothers. They forever remain a part of the family tree.
Marriage can also be a source of super-strength and 360 vision. When I stand alone I can see forward and to the side but I will always have blind spots. When someone has my back, and we stand back to back, we have no blind side, we can see in every direction, 360 degrees. Sue Johnson says, despite being in a world that promotes independence as strength, it is perfectly ok and healthy to depend on our intimate loved ones.
Recently I heard a friend say, “I think I just need to step back from my partner a bit”. Many of us respond to relationship challenges by creating distance and moving away from our partners. Sue Johnson reminds us that relationship magic occurs only when we reach toward our partner not away. She says even therapists miss the boat when trying to help clients solely focus on understanding internal power struggles or fixing negative communication patterns when in fact most likely the problem is emotional disconnection. Sadly, in troubled marriages neither member of the couple feel safe with one another. In a world where we become more and more socially isolated marriage can be the solace where someone really does have your back.
Humans are literally hard wired to be emotionally connected to others. It’s part of our survival instinct. Being both physically and emotionally close insures survival. Our final super power of a good marriage is health and long life. Generally married people live longer than single people. Why is this? Sue Johnson suggests that without intimate connection humans can literally starve emotionally and that this starvation has consequences to how healthy we are and how long we live. We know that babies who receive no physical touch despite being fed and clothed will die. The same goes for adults.
Healthy dependency is back in fashion and vital to a vibrant marriage. It is also essential to well-being, a healthy life, and our literal survival. So, when someone asks you, “How are you enjoying married life?” surprise them by saying “Honestly, it’s my super power!”.