In my professional (as well as personal) experience, one of the major goals of being a married person is to grow as an INDIVIDUAL.
In my book, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First), I describe marriage as an Emotional Laboratory for individual growth.
An Emotional Laboratory- how romantic, right?
Glad you’re with me so far.
Gone are the terms we’re so used to using, such as “soulmate”, “true love”, “in love”, or the dreaded, “I love you but I’m not IN love with you anymore….”
Instead, the Emotional Laboratory says that your job as my spouse is to allow yourself to take emotional risks with me to further your emotional growth, and I will do the same with you.
Let me say this again:
Your job as my spouse is to allow yourself to take emotional risks with me to further your emotional growth, and I will do the same with you.
This way we EACH grow as INDIVIDUALS in the laboratory, while at the same time growing more intimate as a couple.
One of the biggest problems with the way marriage is generally done is that people believe that they are supposed to make each other whole, or somehow save each other from the pain of life.
The Emotional Laboratory says that marriage is supposed to be for the growth of each individual spouse, who uses the other one to learn to take emotional risks that they’ve been trained (sometimes from as early on as childhood) NEVER to take.
So, for example, if your tendency is to “ready, fire, aim”, then the Emotional Laboratory says that you must practice talking to your spouse about your feelings first, before you get mad, give up, yell, or complain. And they must do the same with you.
If your tendency is to keep difficult topics or emotions to yourself (in order to save your spouse the pain, or to prevent them from rejecting or shaming you, or from becoming angry with you), the Emotional Laboratory says to share them instead.
Some classic, albeit, particularly difficult examples of using marriage as an Emotional Laboratory would be when tempted to act out around cheating, spending, or scheduling your time.
Before you do any of these things, you must first go to your spouse and tell them that you are in trouble and that you are tempted to act out in these ways. Your spouse, by the way, has to vow never to summarily reject or shame you, or become angry or belligerent with you when you share things which are difficult for you to share, otherwise the Emotional Laboratory will not work.
The way it’s supposed to work is that one spouse takes an emotional risk by sharing something they would normally NEVER share with anyone else, and the other spouse Listens, Validates, Asks questions, and Comments last, if at all. (Sounds like the LVAC technique to you, right? Very good!)
Use your spouse as a safe haven for your deepest and most painful, as well as your most joyous and celebratory, “secrets”.
Train one another to receive these gifts from each other as a way of helping you each grow into the strong, emotionally competent adult individuals you were meant to be.
For most people, childhood and young adulthood influences what they allow themselves to say to other people or to even acknowledge within themselves.
The Emotional Laboratory of marriage is a perfect opportunity to “use” another human being to help repair the trust, the self-confidence, and self-love that many of us lose somewhere during the process of “growing up.” It is a chance to learn to share again, without fear or shame, and to also learn to truly Listen to another human being and to Validate their experiences.
And, remember from my earlier posts, one of the key goals in our marriages, as well as when raising our children, is to build Emotional Credibility (which equals trust + being liked by the other person enough for them to want us around.)
Use the Emotional Laboratory in your marriage and you will achieve plenty of Emotional Credibility with one another.
So remember, save the Comments for last (LVAC!) but don’t save the secrets from each other anymore!
Now go to your spouse and “experiment”!
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.