Where your Marriage Began, Where all the Work Begins
Working on your marriage is important. Really important. Why? Because a “supportive relationship is the #1 predictive factor in having the most positive outcomes in life” (Foundation for Psychocultural Research/UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development). It is the healthiest thing you can do.
There are two major reasons why being married is so challenging and why so few people end up doing the necessary work on their relationship: 1) the work is on self, not your partner, and 2) our emotion-based response patterns to of our partner’s behavior were formed during our childhood, long before we got married.
Software of Feelings Installed in the Space in Between
It feels like the current uncomfortable and disquieting emotions we experience in our marriage are new. It seems like our wife or husband is making us angry, frustrated, and vulnerable. The reality is, the foundation of all our uncomfortable sensations predate our marriage.
So much of our current response patterns to everything in our life, especially how we react to our partner, were created by what we saw, felt, and unconsciously absorbed and inherited from our family environment the first 8-10 years of our life. It is like installed software in our midbrain, generated during our early years at home, when we lived within the space in between the lives of our parents and relatives.
Friction of Marriage Silently Stirs Old Emotions
Consequently, the normal friction and agitation from the interactions and debates with your partner are simply waking up these old feelings. Our “early emotional experiences knit long lasting patterns into the very fabric of our brains’ neural networks” (Thomas, Lewis, A General Theory of Love). The sensations of vulnerability, caring, loving, anguishing, etc. within the discourse of marriage stretch our emotions. We care about what happens in our relationship, therefore it pains us more deeply than in all other areas of our life. This caring and aching in turn stir up old, dormant, and forgotten feelings that have been stored within us for decades. It pulls our old emotions up to the surface.
In other words, there are imbedded, emotion-response formations resting inside. Maybe your mom browbeat your dad, for instance, while growing up, while you ate your Cheerios before school. Witnessing this behavior when you were 9 years old might not seem material or important to you today. That cereal bowl is long gone. But silently, unconsciously, there was a cascade of subtle feeling experiences forming electromagnetic eddies within your heart and midbrain.
Like the weather sculpting old mountain cliffs and the incessant winds carving and permanently twisting those trees at the top of the mountain, the events of our childhood shape patterns in our body’s neural systems.
“It is the experiences of early childhood that create the foundational organization of neural systems that will be used for a lifetime” (Dr. Bruce Perry).
If your dad was bossy and domineering, picking away at everyone’s foibles, there is likely now a dynamic yet unconscious imprint and residue that has you more sensitive and defensive about all overbearing behavior. Fast forward, when you crossed the marital threshold you had an “allergy” towards browbeating buried inside your body’s neurons, a sensitivity and reaction pattern to this behavior resting below the surface. You were not conscious of it, but your partner’s behavior triggers these sleeping patterns and forgotten memories. The sensibilities of the boy or girl inside are awoken by the surly and seemed bossy behavior of your spouse.
Your Marriage Started in Middle School
The fact is, scientifically, your relationship with our spouse actually started when we were 8 years old, since that is when the roots of all our reactions were born. “The child is far from being buried in the man, as Nietzsche says. On the contrary, it rules him absolutely” (J.Campbell, Primitive Mythology).
In the moments when our spouse is debating and confronting us, there is a bio-physiological reaction in our body’s emotional network, which includes our heart, stomach, and limbic midbrain. Within seconds of the debate beginning, and due to the zeal and electricity of emotions flaring in you, a current of old memories and reaction patterns erupts from that midbrain center.
It is a literal wave of memory imbued, electromagnetic radiation pulling data from that organization of neural systems inside, formed in the ‘70’s or whenever we were young. This wall of radiating, sensory information bypasses our brain’s analytical centers because the latent frequency of electrons from the midbrain are too strong. “Truth is no match for emotions” (Yogananda).
We then spit our reactions like an 8-year-old, giving voice to our youngest, rawest, and least understood parts of ourselves. Right here is the starting point of the work on our marriage. This is the place to start paying attention to what we release, not what our partner is doing or saying. We cannot control the other. It is about our response, not our partner’s behavior.
Eventually, our partner’s actions and feelings can and will be addressed, but it is our feelings and reactions that are ruling the course of your marriage. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves” (Carl Jung).
Childhood Animated by Electrons
Turning our emotional attention back to the world of our childhood home, that elemental space in between the lives of our parents, begins the exercise of emotional maturation. This is the work of marriage. This space in between was much more than just a physical location with messy kitchen tables, TV reruns, and old photos on the mantle. This space in between was animated, radiating with the electricity of your parent’s and relative’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. It is where all the key moments and events that formed our patterns of reactions.
Bell’s Theorem confirms this, stating “once connected, objects affect one another forever no matter where they are”. Our connection to our parents, to this space of our origin, impacts us for the rest of our lives. It was the place, the field through which the current of our parents’ and ancestors’ lives coursed through the hallways and were transferred into us. Their loves, longings, joys, and losses became ours too via the silent, simple, and yet explosive, universal presence of electrons.