On Why Your Marriage is So Hard: The Swiss Cheese Metaphor

Why is marriage so hard? It’s a question all married people have asked themselves. Even single people take a stab at this enigma when they hear about what some married couples (or soon-to-be divorced couples) go through. Relationships in general can be trying; ask anyone with a parent or a sibling. They’ll tell you (like you don’t already know for yourself) about the difficulties of being in relation to others. But, still, there is something different about romantic relationships. They often reach a level of difficulty that other relationships don’t even come close to.

I have a thing for metaphors. I think they have a special way of driving home a point and making it palatable in a way that plain word cannot, so I came up with one: marriage is hard because you are like a piece of Swiss cheese. See, now doesn’t that make everything crystal clear? Can’t you see a bright light and hear peaceful harps playing? What? You don’t? Fine, I’ll explain more.

You are like a piece of Swiss cheese. We all are. For the most part, we’re pretty solid, but we’ve all got little holes in us that are the result of insecurities, perceived deficiencies, unresolved traumas and emotional hang-ups. Despite these holes, most of us get along in life pretty well. We’re able to hide them, compensate for them, camouflage them. Whatever it takes to make it through the day. That becomes our normal routine, until that magical day when we meet “the One.” Fireworks explode, dramatic music plays and a group of doves fly across the sky. You’re in love!

“Finally,” you say to your new love, “I’ve found someone that will complete me by filling my many holes. Thanks to you, my life will now be perfect and hole-free!” And for a short while (a time referred to as the honeymoon phase) it is. You actually feel like a complete piece of cheese. You continue to feel this way until one day when you happen to pass by a mirror and notice that (gasp) your holes are still there! “I’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, bamboozled,” you exclaim.

After the initial shock fades, you calm down. “He didn’t fill my holes, but he will,” you say, rubbing your hands together and letting out one of those creepy mad scientist laughs. You decide that all your spouse needs is a little help. That’s when you set out to change him–either through covert manipulation or outright coercion–into the hole-filler you want him to be. That’s when things get hard.

We all have certain expectations that we put on our mates. Many of these expectations (though we don’t even realize it) are intended to fill our holes. For example, a person with self esteem issues may expect their spouse to constantly feed their ego and always make them feel like the king of the world. They don’t realize they’re trying to get a hole filled. They simply think they’re expecting the spouse to be supportive. Another person with abandonment issues may expect their spouse to be extremely attentive–to the point of clinginess. This person also doesn’t realize their hole-filling agenda. They just think they’re expecting the spouse to be caring and considerate.

We all have holes that can lead us to hold our spouses to unrealistic expectations, and until we realize this, we will constantly be dissatisfied with our spouses’ abilities to satisfy us. We will constantly look to them to give us something they don’t possess: our happiness. As wonderful as your spouse is, he can’t be your everything. I don’t care how many sappy love songs use that exact lyric (“You are my everything,”) it’s just not true. If everything you have and are comes from this other person, what are you adding to the relationship? And what happens to you if that person leaves? What are you left with? You should have your own happiness that you willingly share with your spouse. That way, during those moments when they upset you, you’ll have your own happiness to rest in. During those moments when they can’t understand or relate to you, you’ll have your own peace to retreat to. During those moments when they can’t stand you, you’ll have your own sense of worth to lean on. Understanding this won’t make marriage a breeze, but it makes it a lot easier.

~Nadirah Angail

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