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Mar 30, 2011

Putting the "Me" in Marriage: Part I

Marriage begins with "M" and ends with "E" - and so I posit that all relationships begin and end with oneself. I will therefore ask here what the "me" needs to be -for dating and marriage.

What must I cultivate in myself to be ready for dating, to find a person for marriage? And what do I need to continue to work on to ensure that "me" and "marriage" get along for the long-haul?

I've come across a fascinating revelation that we -as human beings -very much respond to ourselves more than anything else. Our own history, experience, beliefs and perceptions are the integral components that formulate how we behave, think, act and particularly react to others and what they say and do. Research has actually shown that we don't respond to others' questions, but to our own perceptions.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Say I ask Jim his weight. Jim’s used to be obese, but he’s been going to the gym and dieting and lost 80 lbs over the past six months; he’s worked out so hard he’s now featured on the front of Men’s Fitness magazine.

But I had no clue, because I just met Jim.

Jim isn't just going to answer with a number -his entire experience will factor into how he responds to that question. And his response to the question will play a key role into how he answers. He may get excited, because he’s worked hard on it (and reaped the benefits of health and confidence), and that experience is the filter through which he’ll internalize and respond to that question.
In fact, you’ll likely see his new-found confidence also in how he answers that question, his tone, the words he uses, and how he reflects on himself. But you were asking for a mere number, not Jim’s personal health and training. Jim’s answer still reveals something unique about his life experience, even if he only utters a short statement or two

Okay, so we get the point. What does that mean in marriage -or for that matter, dating?

Well, it means that interactions are largely based on my own interpretations and responses to things. So that if an argument breaks out, the first thing I need to consider is where "me" is. How did I interpret the question, statement or comment? How did I react to it? Why did I react this way? How did those reactions impact my response?

I can either start laying blame, pointing fingers, shirking my own responsibility and remaining ignorant of my own part in perpetuating pettiness, or I can cultivate the self-awareness and realize when I am responding very strongly to my own beliefs or history -instead of what is being asked or said to me. 

(That isn't to say that all arguments or issues are my fault or my problem -only that it is important to examine my own perceptions and reactions first, and then move forward in dealing with the issue.)

This becomes a twofold mission. One, to very carefully notice when a person reacts strongly, and to try and understand what's going on (because it's often not about the content of the issue). Secondly -and the point of this post -to be aware of my own reactions, and to work on how I interpret and respond -particularly when something really gets under my skin.

Everyone brings their life history into their relationships. But when they react inappropriately or badly because something their date or partner says/does, then they are dumping their issues on the other person and misdirecting their anger or frustration. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of that, and it will create rifts in a relationship that should be growing in intimacy, trust and closeness over time.

I'm going to call that Reason #1 why individuals and couples can benefit from therapy and/or pre-marital counseling.

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