These problems are as insidious as an illness, and they can seriously hurt your relationship.
What are the “viruses” that can maneuver themselves into a marriage, causing conflict or even separation? Let’s look an interesting idea from Mariateresa Zattoni and Gilberto Gillini, a married couple from Italy who are experts on marriage and the family (and authors of several books on the topic in Italian).
The couple identify six very serious “viruses” that can infect relationships. These six are just the tip of the iceberg. “We are sure that thousands of them can be found in all their metamorphoses and proliferations,” the authors write.
But it makes sense to focus on these six, at least at first. “We have found a concentration among these six, a concentration that gives them enormous power,” they write in their 2015 book “Coppia fragile? Tra virus e antivirus” (“Fragile couple? Between virus and antivirus”). These are the six biggest issues to watch out for and avoid.
1Thinking too much about yourself
Egocentrism is the mother of all viruses. It consists in the absolute affirmation of the individual ego, as the principle and criterion of reality, especially of emotional reality.
Egocentrism means assuming that “What’s good for me is good for everyone.” It means thinking that my reasons, my needs, my difficulties, my fears, etc. are the very reason for the existence of the relationship, and keeping them at the center is essential for the couple’s happiness. This is clearly a recipe for disaster.
This attitude derives from the previous one. It’s like saying to your spouse, “You are made for me, you should respond to my expectations; you are an extension of me.”
This attitude becomes particularly problematic when one of the spouses feels disappointed because the other “is not what I was led to believe.” The reason for being together becomes totally self-serving, a one-way street where the other person only exists to fulfill us and make us happy according to our own expectations.
3The principle of exchange
Generally speaking, the spousal relationship is a two-way street: “You are mine, and I am yours.” But if we make this principle of exchange a condition and not a promise, a relationship can be only a temporary commitment.
The relationship becomes enslaved to favorable situations (financial, physical, emotional, etc.). We won’t want to commit because we don’t know how we’ll be feeling about our spouse in the future, nor if they will satisfy our demands and expectations and give us everything we want.
4Doubts about what we will feel over time
This problem falls into a “chicken or egg” conundrum, because it is so closely tied to the previously mentioned errors. If we fall prey to any of the previous “viruses,” we cannot guarantee to love our spouse forever.
On top of that, it isn’t certain that our spouse will be “good enough” for us forever, because we can’t avoid feeling our emotions, our passions, and our moods. These passing storms can become the barometer, not only of our personal lives, but of our marriages.
5The desire not to feel constrained
The natural result of the previous “viruses” is the need for escape routes. If we’ve entered into a relationship with these mistaken ideas, we’ll feel trapped, like a dog tied to the chain of commitment. We’ll think we need to be granted outlets, shortcuts, even time off from our spouse — otherwise we won’t feel free. Our ego gives to no one but ourselves (“If I don’t defend myself, no one will defend me!”), therefore we are not willing to give up our “freedom.”
6Problematic relationships with family
“I’m marrying you, not your family. You must cut ties with them.” This attitude is not new, but in our cultural context, it brings us back powerfully to the first “virus” and is its true unmasking. It seems to say,
“To be mine, you have to cut all ties. You have to be ‘reborn’ for me: I am your horizon, your reason for being, and you owe me everything—even any of your values that you dare to put before me!—because your reason for existence is me. Otherwise, let’s break up and be friends as before…”
This attitude may be common, but it’s deeply disrespectful to the spouse, and will hurt both of you in the long run.
The “medicine” and treatment
Putting self first, having this egotistical attitude, “is the great wall that prevents love because it reduces love to passing emotional aspects,” say Zattoni and Gillini. “It goes without saying that the ‘antivirus’ is first of all the demolition of the great wall, or rather the passionate exploration of its cracks, so that the ‘you’ can enter.”
The solution boils down to focusing exclusively on the other person, not on ourselves. The answer is not thinking so much about what our spouse owes us, but about what we can give to them. Marriage is about unconditional love, “until death do us part.” It means loving the other for who he or she is, not for whom we would like or expect them to be, based on our needs and assumptions.
Marriage is a two-way street where we must give before expecting to receive. This is the only way to stem the onset of problems that can plague a couple.
If you’re feeling frustrated or dissatisfied in your marriage, don’t wait — reach out to a professional to help you work through it so it doesn’t get worse.