Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows what it feels like when the relationship is not going well. The indicating symptoms can be as unique as the people involved, but too often both parties will focus more on the symptoms than they will on the figurative diseases that can infiltrate and destroy otherwise solid relationships.
Chronic headaches and nose bleeds may be symptomatic of high blood pressure, and this condition is known as “the silent killer,” because so many sufferers do not know they have it. Likewise, combativeness at home may be the result of a “silent killer,” a condition or circumstance that neither party in a relationship has acknowledged. The real source of strife in a relationship can easily be masked when couples focus on the behavioral complexion of their strife and not on its source.
He can’t stand her constant criticism. She can’t stand his inattentiveness to her. When resentment-fueled quick-fix directives like, “Just stop criticizing me,” or “Hello, I’m in the room,” fail to achieve their objectives, each party resorts to general character assassination, and before long, the relationship is seemingly unsalvageable. Though it is certainly true that many relationships are meant to collapse, simply because they are essentially wrong for the people involved, too many essentially-sound relationships die because they seemed to have nose and head problems, when they really had high blood pressure — if I may exhaust the analogy.
A brief study of the connection between demographics and divorce rates reveals a “silent killer:” money.
Data reveals that divorce rates are highest among lower-socioeconomic couples despite the fact that these couples typically arrive at their marriages with deep spiritual and intellectual respect for the institution. In fact, wealthier couples are not superior in their reverence for marriage but do enjoy significantly lower divorce rates. Given the increasing worldwide wealth gap, more and more couples have and will continue to encounter the same financial stresses as lower-socioeconomic couples. By now, it is hopefully no mystery to anyone that the lower and middle classes are circumstantially merging into one disenfranchised source of labor and revenue for the economic elite. As the same stresses that have plagued traditionally poor couples increasingly impact traditionally wealthier couples, what can they do to ensure that circumstances beyond their control — like our world’s financial pyramid scheme — do not rob them of their relationships and their money?
In response to this question, please endure my further indulgence in the high-blood-pressure analogy. If I earlier implied that the symptoms of high blood pressure are not as important as the disease’s source, I must now give the symptoms their due credit. Were it not for headaches and nose bleeds, many people would never visit a doctor and receive their potentially life-saving diagnosis. It’s important to note that these people evade the worst outcomes of the disease, precisely because they correctly respond to the symptoms. These people do not ignore symptoms nor emotionally rail against them nor link them to incorrect and irrational causes.
Financial instability causes stress, and stress classically causes poor behavior and self-destructive coping methods. It should come as no surprise that substance abuse is more common in lower socioeconomic classes. It should also come as no surprise that self-destructive behavior destroys relationships. If a relationship involves two people sharing their existence, how could either party engage in existence-threatening behavior and sustain and nurture a relationship? Stress and its manifestations — anxiety, fear, resentment and depression — is symptomatic of financial struggle.
The human mind is designed to seek connections between any phenomena and its source or cause. When painful emotions occur, it is natural to want to identify their causes. It’s logical to conclude that in order to alleviate pain, one must treat its source. The true source of this struggle is often something that has absolutely nothing to do with one’s partner. Unfortunately, desperation often gets the best of people, and they will lazily select convenient solutions to their problems. Insofar as the term, “convenience,” implies easy accessibility, it is no wonder that partners in a relationship will often blame and attack each other when life isn’t going well for reasons that neither person is guilty of creating. Yes, one may be riddled with fear and depression when he or she loses a job or unanticipated bills pile up, or the financial system, which is designed to benefit a small percentage of the human population, places its burdens on the individual. Though these circumstances are painful, one must not place undeserved blame for them on his or her spouse or anyone else. Punishing a person for a crime he or she didn’t commit is unjust and abusive, and relationships do not survive abusive behavior.
So, how does a couple of any socioeconomic or educational status keep itself intact and spiritually prosperous?
1.Be Less Reactive: The couple must cease knee-jerk reactions to its upsetting behaviors and recognize that these are symptoms not diseases. If one partner is behaving poorly, the other should try to not immediately react to the poor behavior, so long as this behavior isn’t extremely threatening and/or overtly violent. Rather, partners should respond by taking the first step in any analytical process: ask questions. What’s bothering you? How can I help? What can we do to get through this together?
2. In order to identify the disease: The couple must communicate its feelings about matters inside and outside the home and must consider those feelings objectively. In other words, the couple needs to face the facts and not create reasons for its problems in life. She may discover that she does not actually dislike him, because he leaves his tools around when he’s finished using them. Rather, she may have lost control of her financial circumstances and may be seeking control and order in her life by addressing this habit of his instead of addressing her credit card debt or the mortgage or rent that the couple can no longer realistically afford.
3. Effective Communication: Once the couple has learned to communicate objectively, it must determine which life circumstances are within its control and which are not within its control in order to avoid placing blame where it isn’t deserved. It is interesting to note that marriage vows include several life circumstances that may be unavoidable despite either spouse’s best efforts and intentions. Each partner vows to nurture and support the other through sickness and health and wealth or poverty. The contract demands that the couple remain married despite life’s stresses.
4. Find Common Ground: The couple must work together to improve circumstances that are within its control. If partners take the time to discuss and accurately identify the true sources of their stress and poor behavior toward one another, they may find that they share common worries and burdens; they may have common enemies. Next, they can work together to deal with those enemies in a manner that is not self-destructive. In fact, working together on a common goal strengthens a relationship.
All of us need to keep in mind that conflict is part of nature and part of the human experience. We are constantly dealing with oppositional forces in our lives. We want freedom, but we want security. We want predictability, yet we want adventure and exhilaration. A couple’s relationship is sparked by passion but requires sobriety and objectivity in order to survive. Striking this balance between emotion and reason is not easy, but a good relationship is more than worth the effort.
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.