The New “Mixed Marriage”

Linda: Years ago, the term mixed marriage referred to a couple that came from different races or religions. These days, the term is used to refer to those who are from the same race or religion, but one of the pair is devoted to their personal growth or spiritual orientation, and their partner is not interested in that endeavor. Fear usually comes up that with only one so enthusiastic about self-actualization, that the chasm between them will become so great that they will not be able to stay together. Consider the situation of this couple:

Carolyn and Keith came into therapy after eleven years of marriage complaining  (mostly Carolyn) of having “grown apart” largely as a result of what Carolyn referred to as “a difference in spiritual beliefs and values”. “I knew that we weren’t exactly on the same page spiritually when we got married, but I thought that we were close enough so that it wouldn’t be a problem and that things would change for the better over time. Well they haven’t; in fact they’ve gotten worse and I think that this difference of ours could become a deal breaker.”

Keith sat quietly in the session while Carolyn continued to describe her perception of what she referred to “the problem”.

“The problem as I see it”, said Keith, is that she sees me as “the problem” and she’s always threatening to end the marriage or complaining that I just don’t understand. I end up feel blamed and shamed all the time for not being “spiritual” enough and not buying into the philosophy of the new age church that Carolyn goes to. If this is what your church tells you is what spirituality is about, you can have it!”

“You see what I mean?” Carolyn said to me. Then turning to Keith said, “You’re always so closed and shut down that I feel like you’re never willing to be open to anything that I’m saying! I don’t understand why you have to be so defensive about everything particularly when I’m speaking from my heart about some things are very important to me.” Keith let out an audible sigh and silently stared at the ceiling.

Welcome to a world that is inhabited by vast numbers of couples. The abbreviated version of “the problem” is that neither partner is experiencing a fulfillment of the needs that they came into the marriage to meet. And they are each in their own way trying to influence the other person to behave in ways that they think will provide them with the experience that they desire. Interestingly, they are both looking for the same thing. Not surprisingly, they each have different means through which they are trying to achieve it.

Both Carolyn and Keith have a strong desire, as do most couples, for a stress-free marriage that will enhance their feelings of security, harmony, acceptance, well-being, and peace of mind. Conventional wisdom, as well as documented research, tells us that these experiences are inherent in a strong, healthy, loving marital bond. It is not a pipe dream to believe that a great marriage can transform the quality of our life. While most couples enter marriage with this hope or desire, few are equipped to adequately meet the challenges that they will encounter beyond the altar.

It is not the fact that Carolyn is so interested in her spiritual affiliation with her church, nor is it Keith’s lack of interest in attendance that has come between them. It is the judgment and reactivity that leads to the disconnection that pains them. When they can recognize that it’s not the differences, but the way they are dealing with those differences, they have a real chance to create the harmony and security they are looking for. Such differing orientations can peacefully co-exist and this mixed marriage can turn out to be a splendid one. Carolyn doesn’t have to give up her church affiliation, nor does Keith need to attend. All they need is a respect for the differences, and a heavier emphasis on those places where their interests and values do overlap.

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