Marriage crisis offers path to deeper happiness

By Lauren DelGandio and Seth Eisenberg

“This life is a test, it is only a test. If it were a real life, you would have received instructions.”

This is Not The Story You Think It Is

This is Not the Story You Think it Is captures the journey of a Montana woman who chooses to wait out her husband’s midlife crisis that threatened their marriage.

“Out of the blue, Montana writer Laura Munson’s husband told her he wanted to leave, that he didn’t love her. She calmly replied that she didn’t buy it, sat back and let him figure it out. Four months later, following all the signs of a midlife crisis, he changed his mind and returned home.” (“How to Save Your Marriage by Not Doing Anything,” TIME Magazine, 4/8/10)

At the end of the story, her marriage is rescued, her book is published, and, at least for the moment, the couple basks happily within the glow of another sunset.

“Marriage is about ebb and flow, and it felt important to practice some patience at that time,” Munson said in the interview, claiming her decision was “not a strategy to stay married,” but a “philosophy to preserve my well-being.”

Munson is not alone. A recent study of more than 350 South Florida couples revealed as many as seven in ten consider separation or divorce.

Eighty years ago, Walter Cannon first illustrated the “fight, flight or freeze” response to crisis. A half century later, Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel — known for his effective treatment of drug, alcohol, and other addictions — referred to Cannon’s theory to explain emotional suffering.

Today, the perceived threats that lead us to fight, flight or freeze more often emerge from a spouse who says they don’t love you anymore or a manager who threatens your career than the ferocious lion that menaced our ancient ancestors.

While many respond to marital crisis by freezing, the emotional and physical consequences may be far-reaching. Prolonged stress responses may result in chronic suppression of the immune system, increasing the likelihood of infections and illness while also often leading to bottled up emotions that eventually either implode (isolation, sadness, depression) or explode (anger, rage, violence).

For many couples, crisis can be the opening to much deeper experiences of love, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment within their relationships.

In the South Florida study, after a brief (nine to 12 hours) dose of marriage education, the percentage of couples considering divorce dropped by nearly fifty percent. Facing a crisis by learning skills to deepen empathy, emotional understanding and expression, strategies for nurturing feelings of love, and healthy conflict resolution not only helps couples survive, it offers the potential to truly thrive.

With countless examples that urge us to embrace the gift of each day, encouraging couples to competently fight for their relationships and the dreams they most cherish offers a road map much more likely to lead to lasting love and happiness.