Marriage is a people growing machine

I read this on a blog from Dr. Robert Glover:

Here is one of the most important truths I’ve learned about dating: The closer you get to a person, the more you will bump into their defense mechanisms.

This often means that things can be cruising along well for a few months, maybe even a year or two. Then all of sudden, something changes. It can be almost anything: She gets depressed, loses interest in sex, becomes preoccupied at work, starts flirting with an ex, just wants to stay at home and watch television, or starts just “mailing it in” in any way.

Typically, you get focused on the issue at hand, whatever that may be. But the real issue is she has gone as far as she can in an intimate relationship. You’ve bumped into her unconscious walls of protection (the same thing will happen to you as well).

If one or both of you are conscious, you can recognize what is happening and talk about the fear of intimacy (and defense mechanisms) that you each have. Maybe you’ll work through them, maybe you’ll find out that one or both of you are not able to.

I guarantee that you will run into this within the first three years of dating. (nomoremrniceguy.com/forums/showthread.php?t=24623)

Can you comment on this?

— T.F., Detroit, Michigan

First, I did a cursory search on Dr. Robert Glover, of whom I was unaware. This quote jumps off the page: “Dr. Glover has helped thousands of Nice Guys transform from being passive, resentful victims to empowered, integrated males.”

I like what I saw in my quick review. He sounds like a current incarnation of the so-called “Men’s Movement,” a response to the post-feminist era led by authors such as Robert Bly, Sam Keen, Richard Rohr, et al.

Responding to the passage you passed along:

Glover is, in his own way, quoting chapter and verse what David Schnarch said so plainly (and for many of us clinically types, surprisingly) in his book “Passionate Marriage” (1997). Let me boil down what I learned from Schnarch in my own words:

Schnarch said marriage (or, by implication, any emotionally committed romantic relationship) is a “people growing machine.” By this, he meant that, if the relationship is working, it must, over time, begin to confront the participants. Specifically, committed relationships confront that in every human being which is yet unformed, yet undeveloped.

Marriage shines a terrifyingly bright light on our character flaws. In some ironic way it pushes those flaws to the service. Marriage provokes and awakens whatever is injured, stunted and scarred in our psyche.

See, the universal human tendency in response to emotional injury is to protect and defend. (I’ll be writing more about this in a few weeks.)

Now, when this Soul Mate Confrontation begins, virtually no one ever recognizes what happening. Frankly, the symptoms would be hard to interpret as positive. The symptoms include an abating emotional intensity, an increase in petty bickering or outright warring, sometimes a declining sex drive. Often the partners begin to say things like, “I’m just not attracted to him/her anymore,” etc.

Glover says “if one or both or you are conscious,” then you can take these uncomfortable dynamics and talk out loud about the perils and terrors of true intimacy and eros.

I would say that’s true, but to it I would add “if one or both of you is educated ….”

What I mean is that so very few modern Westerns have seriously confronted the question, “What, in its very nature, is marriage?” Answer: it’s a People Growing Machine! It should not surprise us in the least that marriage, in cycles, provokes discomforting, disquieting times. These times are rarely evidence of what is wrong with your marriage; rather, evidence of what is right! Your marriage is working! To wit: Your marriage has grown a level of intimacy that has overwhelmed your developmental capacity to handle intimacy!

And that’s a good thing. It’s not an invitation to leave. Rather, it is an invitation to get to work on the next stage of differentiation. That is, the growth of selfhood.

So, yes, thanks for passing Glover’s work along to me. I’m going to get his book and dig deeper into his work.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.