In a recent CNN interview, I was asked what the next steps should be for estranged reality TV couple Jon and Kate Gosselin, who are engaged in a contentious divorce. Although the Gosselins are unique in that they are the parents of 8 children, their bitter divorce is not unusual. Nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, many of which are as acrimonious as the Gosselins'. Below is a recent interview I did about why many marriages fall apart, and how to stop the destructive patterns that turn relationships into battlefields.
What causes a marriage to deteriorate to the point of a separation or divorce?
The things that draw people together in a relationship are the same ones that drive them apart. People typically fall in love with partners who have the qualities they lack in themselves--their opposite -- in an unconscious quest to feel complete. While they're initially enamored by those differences, over time, they often become points of conflict and disdain. And since most people lack good communication and conflict management skills, the real issues never get addressed. Over time, resentment builds, trust is eroded, and the relationship becomes a constant battlefield.
It's one thing not to get along, but in many relationships things get downright ugly, which is the case with Jon and Kate. What causes such bitterness and injurious behavior?
There's nothing like a divorce to invoke our deepest wounds. We're all the product of our life conditioning. And since most people come from families with some level of dysfunction, most of us carry emotional pain and dysfunctional patterns into our relationships. Many of these patterns are like viruses, infecting our self-esteem, our lives, and our relationships. Those closest to us know exactly how to invoke our deepest wounds, which is why people react so badly in the throes of divorce. They think it's the other person who's causing their pain, when, in fact, they're both replicating the dysfunctional patterns learned in childhood in their own marriage.
How can Jon and Kate -- and others going through a bitter divorce -- stop the cycle of anger and destructive behavior?
When a relationship deteriorates to the point where the partners have become what I call "intimate enemies", the best approach is to find a professional who can help them cut through the symptoms of their issues -- which are often disguised as anger, resentment, jealousy, or infidelity -- and address the root causes of their problems. This is especially important when there are children involved, because they still have to interact as parents. Regardless of whether Jon and Kate move forward with their divorce or repair their relationship, the only way they can co-parent in an amicable and constructive manner is for them to become aware of the dysfunctional patterns they each brought into the relationship. Once they've identified what they are, they need to do the personal-development work needed to change them. If the destructive behavior continues, it will inevitably cause deep emotional and psychological damage to their children, and the legacy of dysfunction will pass on to the next generation.
Lauren Mackler is the author of the international bestseller, Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. She is a psychotherapist, life and relationship coach, and host of the weekly Life Keys radio show on www.hayhouseradio.com. You can follow her on Twitter, watch her videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and read her Live Boldly blog You can contact her through her web site at www.laurenmackler.com.