Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Marriage - Vicious and Delicious Circles

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Marriage - Vicious and Delicious Circles

Article excerpt

Marriages are said to be made in Heaven, which may be why they don't work here on Earth.

Thomas Szasz, The Untamed Tongue

Like many married couples, Carol and Steve agreed "perfectly on what was wrong with their marriage - the other person's reprehensible behavior.

As they entered my office for the first time, I immediately noticed their physical resemblance - they could have passed for brother and sister. They were both lean, darkhaired, and smartly dressed.

I introduced myself and offered a friendly handshake. They both responded mechanically and without warmth. Both answered my questions sullenly and refused to be drawn into free-flowing conversation.

In their answers, they accused each other of various relationship crimes. Carol, 32, was trying to balance a new career with raising a young child. She complained bitterly that Steve rarely talked to her, was over-involved in his work, and spent too many evenings away from home. She sounded distant, as though she had already given up the relationship.

Steve, a year older than Carol, was a family practice physician. He lamented that Carol no longer responded to his amorous advances, never took his child-rearing advice seriously, and was under the thumb of her mother. He sounded hurt and betrayed.

Something Only You Can Do

I plunged in and gave them their first lesson in healthy relating and emoting, just as it was explained by the Roman philosopher Epictetus over 2,000 years ago: Only you can upset yourself about events. The events themselves, no matter how obnoxious, can never upset you.

"But when my wife rejects my sexual advances night after night, month after month, that's very, very disappointing," Steve interrupted, sitting on his anger.

"Yes, it is," I said supportively.

"In fact it's infuriating," Steve added, getting more visibly upset.

"You choose to infuriate yourself about it," I corrected, holding my ground. Now he began to get angry with me.

"I choose to infuriate myself about it? Carol's the one who chooses which TV channel to watch all night," Steve replied sarcastically.

"Yes, but you choose your reaction to that. Suppose a hundred husbands like you all had wives like Carol, who rejected their sexual advances every night. Would all one hundred of them be equally upset?"

"Well maybe not equally. Even I'm in a forgiving mood at times," Steve said thoughtfully, his anger diminishing.

"Right. Some would be even angrier than you. Others would feel about equally as angry. Some would feel only mildly angry. And one or two would just feel keenly disappointed, without becoming angry at all."

"I think I see what you mean."

"And you can choose to feel keenly disappointed without becoming furious."

Like most people, Steve wasn't immediately convinced of this, but he was intrigued enough to give the idea a chance.

Taking the "Must" Out of Your Marriage

Suppose that you, like Carol and Steve, and most human beings on the surface of this planet, believe that your partner is upsetting you. What can you do? You can tackle the problem in three stages:

1. Take responsibility for your upset;

2. Identify your "musts";

3. Dispute your "musts."

1. Take responsibility for your upset. Face the fact that no one else can ever upset you. Only you can upset yourself. No one can get into your gut and churn it up. Only you can do that, by the way you think.

2. Identify your "musts." Once you have fully acknowledged that only you can upset your own emotions, identify precisely what you're telling yourself. The culprit can usually be found in one of three basic "musts": a demand on oneself, a demand on other people, or a demand on "The Universe." In marital frictions, these "musts" take the following forms:

* "Must" #1 (a demand on oneself): "I MUST do well by my mate and get her approval, or I'm no good. …

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