Without meaning to, people quite deliberately—albeit slowly—chip away at, scar, and eventually undermine their relationships to the point that, without intervention, they will eventually topple.
Despite our ‘for better or for worse’ statements during our wedding services, most of us quietly and subtly shift our sense of things to the point where 90% of our exchanges are requests for things and only 10% are offers of assistance.
Of course, during the dating phase it was almost exactly the opposite—which is why it went so well. At that stage we’re upset when people do things for us, because we can’t do things for them fast enough. But then we all do what an unconscious brain does—and we start to take things we see regularly, for granted. We begin to behave as though those things will always happen when that is simply not true.
Within a few years, a tired husband comes home to a tired wife because of their tired jobs, and they have a tired two year old, and everyone wants. And that can work in a large enough group, because it’ll be rare everyone’s tired at the same time. We used to live in tribes. And we went slower, which meant we were more connected, and more of a part of each others lives.
In a tribe, we not only had help, but we also get a sense of value and connection. Mocking Apple’s language, advertisers want us to be egocentric ‘iNdividuals,’ so we start to buy things that humans used to share—including materials, tools, expertise, and time.
Technology coves us off in individual boxes called ‘houses,’ and instead of connecting with people that can help us, instead we hire companies. And then, without our friends and neighbours around, we try to ‘connect’ with celebrities through Twitter, or via some reality show. This is not enough for healthy humans. So people often aren’t failing when couples fight. For many, securing basic existence now consumes far more of our life time than it ever has.
Making matters worse, far from serving us as individuals, our institutions (governments, bureaucracies, companies etc.), deal with huge numbers of people, and so they are necessarily structured for efficiency. But that efficiency can undermine our mental health. Unconsciously, we often sacrifice the latter for the former. So, in any healthy relationship, we have to be very conscious about how we cope with these societal challenges.
If we’re not conscious, we can, like everyone else, get spinning on our work-home wheel without ever stopping to ask where we’re going? And the centrifugal force of its spinning nature creates impacts between people that aren’t really between the people—they’re generated by the tiredness and stresses created by the trajectories and momentum generated by the spinning.
In the middle of all of that ‘busyness’ is some couple with a screaming two year old, and there’s no getting around the fact that that is just really really hard. That’s why it’s important that we awaken to our nature, because our society is making mental health much harder to achieve than it needs to be.
Every parent knows that someone else being there means that—even if it’s just for a few minutes—they can get little things done that make a huge difference in a day. It’s why every culture, except Western European ones, will often have several generations living in one house. It makes people closer and it makes everyone’s life much easier, and better, by increasing everyone’s security.
Being secure leaves us more able to relax, and that makes it easier on any couple. So, if we don’t have family or a tribe yet, we have to build our own versions of those with some form of support group, even if it’s just an agreement between friends. Fortunately, formal groups already exist thanks to the parents or couples that have gone before us. There is help out there. But we have to ask for it.
A marriage can die a death of a thousand small cuts. Don’t start to develop resentments. Let’s not come home assuming our partners have extra energy with which to help us past our challenges. If we really want a better life, we’re better to assume they could benefit from our help, because for everyone that’s basically always true. And if we don’t have that energy either, then it’s time to turn to a tribe.
Just as we can destroy a relationship with a thousand cuts, we can also save a marriage with a thousand tiny strokes and rescues. Maybe that’s some patience we show, or some help we get to remove some pressure. Maybe that’s little moments of physicality, or when we put down our phone down when we talk to them. Maybe it’s just eye contact, and caring about what they care about. Because those things help us endure the very real challenges of modern life.
A good marriage can add a lot to a great life. But they will only happen if two people stay conscious, and that they choose to enact simple, generous acts of kindness, and then repeat them for decades.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.