Animals and committed partners have something in common: the need for safety. Animals in the wild engage in Play, Nurturance, and Sex when they sense that the environment is safe. When animals sense danger lurking, they engage in Fight, Flight, and Freeze behaviors. The same can be said for marriage or any committed love relationship.
Safety in the human habitat is the sense that this person alone with me at home, this person lying next to me in bed, will not attack me, but will try their damnedest to understand me, be kind to me, and accept me, even help me to be different from them. Now, I’m no fool, having been married for 36 years and having been a marriage therapist for the same number of years. I know that the marriage habitat often feels and is unsafe. But a healthy relationship is one where both partners work toward making the environment safer and safer. As I’ve pointed out in previous Musings, good partners learn to fight in a way that gets them back to a feeling of safety as quickly as possible, as opposed to fighting in a way that increases the sense of danger.
Marriage calls on individuals to stretch themselves, to mature in ways that they can only imagine before exchanging their vows. Stretching means listening with compassion, or at least a partially open mind, when a quick zinger would feel a lot more satisfying. Stretching means learning to love the person we married rather than the person we thought we married.
Fight, flight, and freeze are predominant behaviors in relationships on the rocks. Play, nurturance and sex sound appealing and one would think that they would offer big enough rewards to motivate couples to work together toward safety. But the inherent fears and vulnerabilities of a committed relationship require us to stretch ourselves mightily in order to realize the wonderful rewards possible in the wilds of the human habitat.