One of the most often asked questions I face in dealing with maritime conflict is: "Why did things change so much since I married?" Egypt "This is not the same person I met!" or worst yet … "I was deceived … I met person A and now I come to find out I am living with person B!"
Welcome to the real world of marriage and long term relationships.
Peter Devries (Editor, Novelist, Satirist and Linguist, 1910-1993), said: "The difficulty with marriage is that we fall in love with a personality, but we must live with a character."
Greatest truth said about marriage, and what it takes to make marriage a life long time endeavor.
Personality is your public persona. Personality is how people experience you when they meet you, when they interact with you. Personality is the part of you that "falls in love." Personality is the impressive side of you.
Character is who you really are; it's the core of you. Character is the person you are when no one is watching. Character is the decisions you make when no one answers you. Character is what happens in your mind in a split second! Character is the person you become when you face a crisis or when all things come tumbling down. I like to say that character is the "raw" self without the façade and the defense mechanisms we use to protect ourselves. Have you heard the statement: "We never though this person would do this?" Well, people only knew a "personality" not the "character" of that person. Character in the end is the constellation of enduring attitudes that are manifested in the ways that an individual reacts to the extreme challenges of life.
When you and your spouse met, you met each other's personalities. You showed to the other person the most brilliant side of you or your public persona. You and your spouse do not meet the person who charmed each other's friends, bought gifts for each other's parents, and always smiled from ear to ear. This is usually the way we display ourselves when referring to others … specifically if we have "fallen in love."
It does not mean we trick a person into believing something that is not true! But marriage lasts too long, the encounters become constant, and in close quarters for anyone to sustain a public persona. Personalities ever give way to an INNER SELF which is much deeper and stronger. That's when character gets revealed. That's when the personality fades away and you meet a different person for the first time. Sometimes that sweet spouse you met turns to drugs or some bizarre behavior and you say to yourself, "How could that have happened?" The true character of that person is simply showing up for the first time. His / her character could be the nasty, darkest, most competitive, vengeful part of that person and you never saw it fully displayed until a crisis evolved. Love making, kissing, tenderness, kindness and all the good gestures before the crisis where part of his / her personality. The crisis is, sometimes, the first time when your spouse stands truly, emotionally naked, in front of you for the first time. Not only you meet your REAL spouse after 5, 10, 15 or more years for the first time, but very very much that's the time when you meet the REAL SELF that you are for the first time! I am simply amazed, when I hear the stories of either successful or failed marriages and how character either built them up or brought them down to destruction.
Not long ago a mother confided in me (after a number of conversations) that after 32 years of marriage she was actually flipping because she was comparing her daughter's marriage with hers and she saw her daughter happier than she had herself ever been. She was actually contemplating divorce to find someone that would provide her with what she thought was missing in her life. Can you imagine? This woman's true character was finally showing up at age 52! Amazing! She later informed to deep feelings of competitiveness with her daughter since she was a teenager.
Character is fundamentally crucial to the success of a marriage, the long term negotiation of differences, and marital conflict resolution in marriage. Unresolved conflict issues in a marriage are the highest, single most damaging cause of divorce. And the truth is that there is no conflict resolution without character. When all is said and done, the person you met is not the person he / she becomes through the years. Very often crisis in a marriage simply displays the character of the people who are married. When you factor in, new experiences, change of perceptions, hormonal changes and repeated emotional injuries through the years you begin to realize that character is all you have to keep a marriage sound and healthy.
Nikki told me during a marriage conflict intervention, "The person my husband Mike now calls a bitch" was never like that ten years ago. " "How would you describe the Nikki of ten years ago?" I asked her. "Sweet, pleasant, romantic, willing to go the extra mile, considerate and kind," she said. Of course, I jumped to the occasion and asked the obvious question … "Who is Nikki? The one your husband Mike met 10 years ago or the Nikki he sees now?" She soon saw the difference between personality and character. Personality, (the nice Nikki) was revealed when things were new and smooth. Character, (the "capricious," "reactive," "demanding" woman) was showing up under stress and the reality of Mike's true character, which was selfish and self-centered! Both of their characters, Mike and Nikki, were showing up during this time of crisis and their marriage was on the brink of divorce.
The reason so many people fail at marriage and in their attempts at marriage renewal is NOT that they do not like their spouse. It's that they do not like THEMSELVES. And while everyone else in their life, or in an extra-maritime affair is like a mirror reflecting their PERSONALITY; their spouse is a mirror reflecting their true CHARACTER. And most people do not like what they see. Divorce is often found in the backrooms of our characters and the utter dislike of our characters.
Many people would rather choose to be with "someone" else (back to "personality love") than to remain with their spouse and face the true character of their spouses and their own! (Did you get that?). Marriage requires "character love."
Balthasar Gracian wrote in his 17th century manual on success, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, as follows: "You are as much a real person as you are deep. There are people who are all facade, like a house left unfinished when the funds run out. They have the entrance of a palace but the inner rooms of a cottage. "
Marriage renewal and individual character development go hand-in-hand. You can not have a successful marriage without character. Character is what keeps a marriage together through the seasons of conflict and bitter reservations.