Luckily, there is nothing complicated about the new paradigm. The concept is simple – self-responsible spouses accept responsibility for their own anxieties and dark moods, expectations and reactions. But simple does not mean easy.
This is not marriage for dummies. This is marriage for smart people. Smart people who commit to changing their own minds and brains – not their spouses. Smart people who persist in constructive action. Or as Sue Monk Kidd put it in The Secret Life of Bees, “Not just to love, but to persist in love.”1
Get started with just one new thought. Which of the following do you think is the biggest home wrecker of all time? A. Infidelity B. Substance abuse C. Sexual incompatibility D. Failure to share housework equally.
Conventional wisdom supports pointing the finger of blame at the offending “home wrecker” for all of the above. Everybody Marries the Wrong Person offers a new thought. The biggest home wrecker of all time is the belief that we cannot or should not be expected to inhibit our own negative emotions.
But wait a minute. Isn’t it unhealthy to bottle up negative emotions? Doesn’t emotional intimacy develop as spouses air their true feelings toward one another? Aren’t spouses pretty much obligated to listen to each others’ negative emotions? No, no, and no. All dangerous conventional wisdoms.
Decades of psychoneuroimmunology research findings document that venting negative emotions is actually not all that healthy for the “ventor” or the “ventee.” And blaming partners for our negative emotions verbally vandalizes romantic relationships. Next comes something especially for smart people.
This is the new Golden Age of Neuroscience. We now know more than we have ever known before about the structures and functions of our brains. For example, specific areas of the brain have been pinpointed that are involved when we inhibit negative emotions. If you’d like to learn more, look up the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the orbitofrontal cortex. In order to become self-responsible spouses, we must strive to become “high performance users of our own brains.”2
1. Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees (New York:Penguin, 2002).
2. Katherine Ellison, “Mastering Your Own Mind,” Psychology Today (Sept 1, 2006): 72.
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