The Psychology of Marriage

Topic |  

The Psychology of Marriage

Topic |  

psyche-thumbby Kit Nemenzo Balane

The number of couples, who seek annulment of their marriage as compared to those who avail of marital therapy, has noticeably increased, at least in my practice. This to me is quite disheartening because it shows that the quality of our intimate relationships is dwindling. Furthermore, it also indicates that we’ve failed to understand the value of marriage and perhaps have not taken serious study of its dynamics beforehand so we are able to make sure that it will last.
In this series, I will attempt to unravel what underlies our intimate relationships, what holds us together, and what breaks us apart. Primarily, we will look into the psychological dynamics of marriage and answer why we do as we do and generally behave vis-à-vis our partners.
Marriage, believe it or not, is a reenactment of our childhood. The quality of our early attachment experiences with our primary caregivers is reflected in our intimate relationships. The kind of bond that we built with our parents is also the kind (although modified in some ways but fundamentally the same) that we continue to relish or abhor with our significant other. Hence, if we will reflect deeper, we will see that our behaviors toward each other are basically a dramatization of our deep needs and defenses related to our early attachments.
How is this possible? Two people will not form a relationship unless the partnership appears to preserve an internal structure that for each of them recapitulates experiences that are familiar. And our early relationships with our parents largely determines the nature and form of this internal structure (others call it internal working model). In adult relationships, patterns learned early in life are reenacted because the internalized model formed through repetition is so familiar that the adult is attracted to the familiarity, even if it is painful.
For instance, we have heard of women who continue to go back and live with an abusive partner despite repeated admonition from friends and relatives to once and for all leave. A background check would likely reveal that these women may have been victims of abusive parents themselves who did not have the opportunity to get out from it or did not have a choice but to embrace the belief that parents being parents, are entitled to what they do and as children, they deserve it.
In effect, this belief is deeply systematized and forms the core of their internal structure, and this explains why they keep the relationship even if it’s hell, hoping that the spouse changes one day. Indeed, the familiarity of the pattern of abuse gives them more security than freedom which is viewed as more risky.
If we take a closer look at our relationships, we will come to see that our attraction to our partner is based mostly on whether this partner continues to perpetrate our inclinations, tendencies, and habits. If we grew up treated like a princess, we will be drawn to a partner who will lavish us and treat us like – yes, a princess. If we are a mama’s boy, on the other hand, we will more likely get attracted to women who are more dominant than us and will treat us like – yes, a boy.
In my case, I got attracted and married a woman who is emotional (cries really easily) but speaks her mind and who can argue with me point by point. In introspection, it is because I grew up in a family where mother was dominant but emotional and argues with a father who I consider as intelligent and wise. On the other hand, my wife’s environment was also much like mine, but in her case, it is her mother who was more vocal and intelligent yet always anxious and afraid than father.
But were we conscious about this? Not a hair. Everything happened like it was the most natural thing. Little did we realize that our choices and actions were intensely related to the continuance and preservation of the familiarity of who and what we are as we learned from our parents. And because it is an intimate relationship, it will touch the core of our internal structure and bring out more of our deepest needs and display our defense mechanisms. The challenge is to become aware and find a way to synchronize our too familiar patterns and realize that while we need to preserve these, we can always painfully (or joyfully) give up our childhood fixations and grow up.
But how can we grow up and act like real adults? How do we maintain a marriage without getting too caught up with our all too familiar patterns, especially if it is dysfunctional? Are we always at the mercy of our internal structures? We will answer these on our next issue. Keep posted. Email me at or visit

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