09/24/2013 01:44 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

When the Beauty of Marriage Turns Ugly

Marriage. Two people sharing life, committed to the highest dreams of what it means to give, to love and be loved. Meant to shine, make you shiver and challenge you to reach your best as a human being. The crucible of unique passion and aliveness between two soul-mates where individuality shines, honoring both lovers who revel in the uniqueness of their mate. Who find ways to snuggle and blend together under a blanket of care and fondness that reminds them of their unity.

So often we see the opposite. The not too uncommon story of two lovers who drift apart and turn different ways at the intersection of despair and disappointment. Where hurt, misunderstandings and wounds abound and paint a dark picture on a canvass once replete with shimmering light and abundant compassion. Clearly the exception to the joy and synergy between two people who inspire one another.

Not that hard to imagine. Marital struggles where you eventually slip between the cracks and crevices you didn't see right under your feet and envelop you in darkness below. Not just poor communication or the usual suspects such as disagreement over finances, in-laws, etc. More tragic - problems honoring one another as unique human beings, who need to feel secure, loved and even cherished in the bonds of marriage.

This can happen for many reasons. Needs go unmet over time and focused attention to growing the marriage blurs and dims, like eyesight that weakens over the years. The once profound excitement of love and being in your lover's presence fades into a distant memory. When hurt and wounded, it gets easier to withhold love, to strike back and attack emotionally. Sometimes affairs sprout from this neglected soil of detachment and pain and add to the challenges of finding solutions that heal, where the spirit has room to blossom in the fertile ground of love.

Three themes often emerge and reflect the destructive habits that get created when love suffers or dies.

First, serious fractures in the relationship have produced a one-dimensional way of seeing one another and relating together. You no longer see your mate as a "whole" individual who needs to be honored, who has inherent value and worth. Fills the relationship space with stale air that keeps distance and anger alive. Once united lovers now become enemies - convinced the other is defective or a villain-like character. Everything passes through a "filter" that sees the other as limited, hurtful and someone to run from.

Second, you begin to blame the other person. Like they are the cause of all the problems and woundedness in the marriage. Personal responsibility withers and blame takes the place of a realistic analysis based on mutual contribution.

And third, a not uncommon phenomenon, relates to potential abuse - mild or overt. When two people fail to meet each other's basic needs, anger results. Individuals have different ways of dealing with anger. Some become abusive - hurtful and critical. Not even necessarily physical. Ultimately, we withdraw love. And stop trying to meet each other's needs for belonging, love and acceptance.

How do you turn this around? How do two former lovers restore what they once had or at least dreamed of having? With serious unresolved conflict in the marriage, there needs to be a distinct approach to change, to restoration and to creating hope. These steps need to include at a minimum:

1. Willingness to seek professional help. This is usually a "must" for couples who experience high levels of conflict and have gone down the path of serious, unresolved hurts.
2. The need to look in the mirror and ask some vital questions such as "What's my contribution to the escalation and pain we're experiencing?" "Is my partner really evil, the enemy or as limited as I now see him or her?" "In what ways do I withhold compassion, caring and tenderness from my mate?" "In what positive ways could I reach out and try to turn this relationship around?" "Am I capable of forgiveness and am I willing to try?"
3. Creating a mutual agreement to soften the tone, bringing down defensive walls long enough to start something fresh and spending time to establish some kind of plan to move the relationship forward.
4. Developing a personal commitment to bring light into the marriage by your own inner well of love, spiritual inspiration and belief in the possibilities of change.

Light, love and honor come from someplace deep inside our spirit. We marry because we hope to powerfully love another and expect we will also be deeply cherished. We assume we will be valued for who we are, despite our flaws and weaknesses.

The road of destructiveness changes all that. Love turns to despair and oftentimes even hate, like a chameleon that posed as hope and now wears the face of struggle and sure defeat. Love fades and dies. Our hurt grows and we need answers.

But love can grow again. Relationships can be restored. For love moves mountains, melts the hardest hearts and dances as a living being within the spirit of a man or woman. Let it dance, let your spirit grow and trust that within your best intentions, if mutual, you can soar into a new place.