I was catching up on some magazines and ran across this article in the Atlantic Monthly. Basically, the article sums up what makes a happy lasting relationship and what causes contribute to other relationships falling apart.
"Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?"
A study done in the 1980's followed young couples, observing their interactions and their physiology. The investigators did a follow up six years later to see if the couples were still together. They found that contempt is the main factor that tears couples apart. Those who criticized or ignored their partner and injected negativity into interactions had failed or unhappy relationships. The partner who was criticized and ignored felt worthless and invisible as if they were not present or valued at all.
Kindness, on the other hand, was what kept couples together. Kindness made each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated--and loved.
I honestly don't know how we have stayed together all these years given the conflict that I used to feel. I know that there was kindness and love as well. But I also had a lot of distrust for the alcoholic promises where she would say "I love you" but her actions would be the opposite. And I would do the same--keeping her at arms length because I didn't trust her promises not to drink. The words said one thing but the actions were the opposite. Those were confusing and hurtful times for both of us.
I have shared here and at meetings that living with an alcoholic is lonely. It is very lonely because the other person is emotionally unavailable. And for those of us who love an alcoholic, we keep trying over and over to make the person available. And I did that for years until I gave up and was ready to walk away.
Some kind of miraculous epiphany happened since those desperate times. I knew that I didn't want my marriage to end, but I also knew that I had to change. I had to stop spending all my energy on wanting my wife to change. So I focused on what I wanted with my life. I looked beyond my work for peace of mind. I bought a boat, did gardening, became active in Al-Anon, and gradually took care of myself emotionally.
It took a while for the contempt to go away. I believe that when I did my fourth, fifth and sixth steps, I began to focus on what I was doing--what my part was in how the marriage was going. I didn't like who I had become. So as I became aware, I was able to see that without kindness and compassion, I was going to remain unhappy. I would think of my wife as a little girl who had a difficult childhood being sent off to private schools because her parents were fighting and angry. She grew up with no buffers from the turmoil, just as I did. From visualizing her as a little sad girl, I was filled with love and compassion for her.
What we have now is respect for each other. We appreciate each other. We can be genuine with each other. We support each other emotionally. We share responsibilities. We trust each other. And we want to spend time together.
We are still working on playing together, instead of being so task oriented. Our communication is much better. And we continue to grow in love.