When Sarah first met Jonah, they fell in love easily and quickly. They were married within a year, and both felt very lucky and happy. They were together as much as possible, often neglecting other friendships and family. About a year into the relationship, they started to argue increasingly. Both felt confused and upset by their arguments. Wasn't this relationship supposed to be "the one", and if so, did fighting mean that they were somehow not meant for each-other, that they had been deluding themselves?
My answer to that is no. They were not deluding themselves, but there were some important things happening that needed to be addressed and integrated into their marriage.
First of all - no marriage is perfect. Many couples disagree, argue, and even fight regularly. Other couples are conflict averse, and become withdrawn when they are upset rather than argue. Then there are couples where one wants to work it out and process the disagreement, where the other prefers to run in the other direction. This usually triggers the first person to pursue, which activates the other to withdraw more because disagreement can feel threatening.
In all relationships, as in children, there are developmental stages. When you first come together, there is an intense bonding and sense of love and attachment, a deep sense of merging. The next developmental stage is the search for separation and differentiation that the relationship can contain and withstand. In many couples, this particular stage can cause problems both because it is simply a new stage, and because it can be scary. What often happens is that partners try to hang onto the merging that is a natural stage early in the relationship but cannot be sustained. The need to become more separate can feel threatening, so some couples, though they resist it, end up creating differentiation through conflict. Paradoxically, the tendency to hang onto a sense of merging makes true intimacy difficult because each partner has trouble seeing the other in a real, three-dimensional way.
The task at this stage in the relationship is to work on separateness in a healthy way. Accepting and celebrating your partner's differences. When you begin to recognize your partner's individuality and realize a sense of safety and space, the intimacy between you will increase. I'm not talking about the kind of separateness where you are withdrawing from each-other due to past hurt and resentment. I'm referring to an internal and healthy differentiation. A feeling that recognizes your partner as someone with completely different thoughts and motivations. The increase in intimacy comes from a more realistic view of your partner, a stronger sense of yourself within the relationship, and a feeling of safety within that.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT