Most people who get married spend the early period of the marriage in a honeymoon state. They are riding a cloud towards a rainbow. The couple are deeply in love and are basking in the glow of each other’s adoration. While the beginning of the marriage can also prove rocky, as the couple have to adjust to living with each other, the jolting is usually cushioned by the underlying happiness of tying the knot.
The new couple may even go through certain crises – say, issues relating to each other’s families – but these too are rarely enough to diminish the joy that is typical of getting married. This state of heightened excitement does wane – with each person the pace is different – such that by the end of two years the couple would have established a plateau.
Waking Up in a Cold Sweat
Unfortunately, some people are stunned by the thought that they made a huge mistake in getting married to their spouse. He may meet am attractive girl at the gym and feel that he settled too much in the looks department. He cannot forgive himself for “rushing into this” without thinking it through more carefully. She has discovered that he has a serious mess problem, and finds her feelings ranging from rage to revulsion at how “big a slob he is.” He is finding her too controlling and wants his space back. She is finding that he is showing her a whole lot less attention now they are married. You get the picture.
Now that they are married, they feel somewhat trapped. This sensation of being imprisoned in the marriage (after all, marriage is meant to be for a lifetime) only heightens their panic and desire to run for the hills. The fact that they recently got married in such a public manner adds a large dose of shame to the mix. How are they going to face all those people and tell them “what a fool I’ve been?” There is also likely to be feelings of immense pressure, as they contemplate what others may think about their eloping the marriage so soon after entering into it. There are also a range of practical considerations, which are going to feel overwhelming.
Shame and Guilt
Most significantly, the person having doubts about his or her marriage is going to be plagued by two crippling emotions. First is regret. We feel a deep shame that we made the choice we did. We are enormously annoyed with ourselves and are consumed by thoughts of “what if?” We start to obsess about all the options that we should have considered, and wallow in continual self-contempt that we made the wrong choice. Every negative thing we experience with our spouse only adds fuel to this fire of self-loathing. If only we could turn back time.
The second emotion is guilt. There are few sensations more paralyzing that guilt: “How could I have been so stupid?” We beat ourselves up mercilessly, demanding an answer as to how we could have done this ourselves. We may even question our sanity: “How can I trust myself ever again after this?” We cannot let go of the blame for “allowing myself to be persuaded” to marry this person. When we are not feeling regret, we are admonishing ourselves over “how badly I messed up.”
Take Your Time to Think it Through
If this describes your situation, you are feeling pretty lousy right now. Instead of feeling elated, you are panicking. So, the first thing to say is: “Don’t panic!” Nothing will happen (in almost all cases) if you take your time gathering your thoughts. Reacting in impulse vastly increases the chances of your saying or doing the wrong thing. You are in pain and distress – I get that – but you need to steady your nerves. There is no fire burning, and you do not have to rush out of the flaming house in a hurry.
Keep calm, and understand that your options tomorrow or in a week will be the same as they are now, so take it easy. Obviously, avoid a pregnancy, as this will greatly complicate matters if you ultimately decide to end the marriage. Also, if a pregnancy results during this period, your feeling of regret and guilt will be astronomically magnified. This will make it a whole lot harder to think through the pros and cons in a calm and rational manner.
Tell yourself that this is not a decision that needs to be made in haste. First, because it is the truth. Second, because it will buy you time and allow the whole situation to be processed thoughtfully. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote a best seller called Thinking Fast and Slow. His main point is that complex and difficult decisions are best handled by the slow brain. Decisions made under pressure or duress are more likely to be bad ones. Choices we make when upset or distressed stand a high chance of being poor.
Welcome to the Club
Now that you are calm, here is the dirty secret. Almost everyone will go through a crisis during their entry into a lifelong relationship. The only question is when this happens. Most people go through this whilst dating, a smaller percentage go through this while they are engaged, and the remainder go through it during the first months of marriage. If you were spared this entirely, you are very fortunate; but most of us are not so lucky.
Let me explain how and why this happens. We all have dreams. Like the dreams we have in our sleep, our life dreams are often not conscious – but they are there with us all the time anyhow. Our dreams vary, of course, but they are highly idealistic. This means that in our “dreams” we hold idealized images and conceptions of the thing we dream about. Just like our nightly dreams, they evaporate when we wake up and meet reality. Like our slumber dreams we sometime remember what they were, even if they are tantalizingly beyond reach. The dreams gladden us, but also torment us.
Dream in Crisis
Your dream may be to fall deeply in love with someone. You want to be lost in the gaze of their eyes. You hope that every cliché about finding love with happen to you twice over. You hope to find someone you are so crazy about that you quite literally turn into a rocket ship and fly off to space. Now, you are actually dating and you are finding that there are many wonderful men you have much in common with and believe would make a great husband, but you do not feel that strongly about them. What are you to do? Well, what choice do you have – you have to pursue your dream. So, you break off with him. But this happens again and again (see our article called “Are You Not Falling in Love”). Your dream is now in crisis.
Your dream is to marry a beautiful woman. You want her to be gorgeous in every way. You hope to find the perfect lady that you will like everything about her. So, you start dating and find that the women you actually “click with” are not the ones you would have picked out of a magazine. The women you consider closer to your image of perfection did not work out for you. The ones you connected with and could see yourself marrying did not match your imagination. Your dream is now in crisis.
Replace the word beauty with another word; the point is the same. In certain circles, family origin is a big deal. She had always assumed that the guy she would fall for would come from an established family going back generations. Actual dating has put a big dent in that idea, as those guys are either not interested in dating her, or end up being totally unsuitable when she does meet them. Her dream is now in crisis.
Almost everyone will go through some point in their early relationship when reality hits. They are dating someone because there were features in that person that were sufficiently compelling. They married the person because they were drawn in by aspects of the person that touched them deeply. How about the dream? It had hit reality!
The harsh reality is this: If I really like this person and am not prepared to give up on being with them, then part of my dream will have to be allowed to drift into the clouds where it came from. Given a choice between this real person you have grown to like and the dream you hold in your fantasy, you probably compromised on your dream and choose the real person. But the dream has never gone away. We get startled to realize that the dream can come back to haunt us.
When Reality Hits Hard
It typically happens somewhere towards the end of the dating process when the reality dawns that you are now deep into the relationship. Then it hits you that there are significant gaps between your dream and the person you realize you like and may even love. It then lands like a sledgehammer. “How do I choose between my love and my dream?” An incredibly tough choice. If you got through this crisis, you probably got engaged and married.
Alternatively, you may have been swept up by the thrill of meeting someone and cannot believe how compatible she is to you. The chemistry is good and you are attracted to her, so you quickly find yourself planning marriage. Now that you are engaged, you start having gnawing thoughts about your decision. You are slightly calmer now that the intensity of the courtship is over, and you are able to reflect more clearly about your choice. You think that in all of the dating drama you have overlooked qualities you think could be important. Oh, that dream again coming back to bite.
Or you could find yourself in the scenario in this chapter. You got through the dating and the engagement “peacefully,” but now that you are married the crisis hits. It struck because it was eventually always going to strike. Unlucky for you, it hit now. So, it feels a whole lot worse, because you are now married. But it is the same crisis, and it needs to be approached in more or less the same way.
Dream or Nightmare?
It is possible that the darling you thought you married is really a monster – this is not unheard of. It may be that you really were duped about your spouse, and he or she falls significantly short of acceptable standards. If so, you need to weigh up your options. You should not stay married to someone for the sole reason that you are already married to them.
If you genuinely made a serious mistake and you now know things that are marriage disqualifiers, they do not become acceptable because you have a ring on your finger. If the issues are sufficiently serious, you need to be ready to take a good hard look at the situation. Because you are caught up in this situation, you need to consult with someone objective to evaluate whether the complaints you have rise to the level that call the very marriage into question.
However, often you are going through a crisis because your dream is haunting you. We struggle to accept that the person we married is imperfect. But they are and always were going to be. This unpleasant reality will come crashing on our heads at some point with the same inevitability that night will turn into day.
Relationships involve a degree of mourning; there will always be some dreams you harbored that will have to be let go. A degree of grief over this is normal and to be expected. Right now, you are feeling truly rotten and your head is probably spinning at dizzying speeds. In all likelihood, however, you are going through what we all do. Welcome to the club.