If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: marriage is tough. And not the kind of tough where all it takes is a little extra effort and the rest is down hill from there. It’s the kind of tough that makes you keep working a little more day after day and year after year and you still feel like you can barely keep up.
If you’re like most people you think that marriage shouldn’t take this much work. After all, when you fell in love it was pretty effortless. In fact, when you fell in love you hardly had to do anything at all. Your partner did all kinds of things that just swept you off your feet. And because it seemed so effortless you knew you two were compatible and got married. But it doesn’t take long until that effortless relationship wears off and you begin to wonder if you were really so compatible after all.
And even though you may have never considered it before, when times get tough you’ve probably considered ending the relationship to be with someone else. You may not have had a specific person in mind or had immediate plans but you’ve thought about it. Everyone has. There are times in all relationships where being with someone else sounds pretty good right about now.
Don’t worry, just because you think about it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t even mean that you’re going to have an affair. It simply means that you’re human. And because you’re human you have a natural inclination to change course when things get tough. You learned about this in your high school science class. It’s called survival of the fittest. Those who can adapt survive and those who don’t flounder. So the sooner you can change the one you’re with and change your circumstances the better off you’ll be.
It makes sense, then, why you’d want to leave your partner when marriage gets tough: your animal instincts are telling you to get rid of the dead weight and move on to someone else who is more compatible with you; Someone who can change and adapt at your pace. But just because it’s a a natural human response, doesn’t mean it’s a healthy one. And it doesn’t mean that you should look outside your marriage to fix your problems, In fact, looking outside your marriage is one of the worst things you can do. Here’s why:
Marriage is like a PhD in relationships
Humans are one of the only species on the planet who are monogamous and mate for life. And some people think that something must have gone wrong in evolution for this to happen because it keeps us back from our higher potential as primates. But the truth is, this is what puts us at the top of the food chain.
We humans have the most advanced brains on the planet. So instead of just abandoning our loved ones when things get tough, we’re able to think things through, create intentional solutions and adapt. Being with one person and all their limitations for the rest of our lives means we have to be adaptable. If we weren’t adaptable we wouldn’t be able to do it – and we’d move from relationship to relationship like the rest of our primate cousins.
You Can’t Help Your Instincts
But because we humans are still a part of the animal kingdom you can’t help but want to follow your instinctual urges and leave your relationship when the going gets tough. It’s the survivor in you that wants to leave the baggage behind so you can move on to greener pastures and other, more immediately compatible relationships.
So when the going gets tough in your relationship and you begin wondering whether your life would be better with someone else, stop and recognize that that’s your lesser advanced brain doing the talking. Your more evolved brain allows you to be adaptable and come up with creative solutions to the problems you’re facing. Listening to the more evolved part will make you more adaptable and better off in the long run.
And by listening to your more evolved brain, you can not only fix your problems, but you can have the happy marriage that you’ve always wanted. After all, you have the highest order brain of any other animal on the planet. You are capable of working through the challenges in your marriage. It may not be easy but you can make it be happy.
Aaron Anderson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. In his spare time (whatever that is) he is secretly preparing to be the next great chef. You can find him on Twitter @MarriageDr and on Facebook giving great info without the psychobabble.