“I always tell my patients, ‘I can guarantee that you have married the wrong person,” says Yukio Ishizuka, M.D., a Rye, New York-based psychiatrist who specializes in Borderline Personality Disorder and other extremely difficult cases in addition to his work counseling married couples, from around the world over the internet for the last 20 years.
How can Ishizuka be so sure that his patients married the wrong person?
“There can always be a better partner,” he laughs, “if they had waited a little longer. They might have found someone a little more handsome, a little prettier, a little more successful, a little sexier, healthier, and so on. There could always have been an even better person than the one you picked, even if you did 100 trial relationships, which no one does. Life is too short. It’s such a colossal decision as marriage with such profound consequences cannot be made rationally by any of us.”
Ishizuka says that one of the main complaints that people present when they come to him for couples counseling is that they did exactly what he says everyone does — they picked the wrong person.
Sometimes they look back on the decision they made and consider it totally irrational. To which Ishizuka responds, “To pick a single person as your partner in life is an impossible decision to make rationally. There’s nothing rational about it. Yet people keep getting married anyway.
“Ninety percent of humanity continues to get married,” Ishizuka adds, “and plenty of them keep on being unhappy in those relationships. Fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce, 67% of second marriages end in divorce, and so do 74% of third marriages in U.S.
“So if you’re going to married, consider the fact that you almost certainly married the wrong person. But if you try it again, your odds only get worse! And just to stay married for ‘kicks’ ‘obligations’ or ‘convenience’ is not much fun either. “
What makes marriage so difficult? Ishizuka points out a fascinating contradiction.
“American psychologists, Holmes & Rahe performed a well-known study ranking 41 stressful life events,” Ishizuka says. “The top three are ‘Death of spouse’, ‘Divorce’, and ‘Marital Separation’. The contradiction is that ‘Marriage’ and ‘Marriage Reconciliation’ are also in the top 10! So we see that both losing/ending a relationship and staying in one (or getting closer, as in reconciliation or marriage) are incredibly stressful. We are in trouble either way, either losing the intimacy we have with another person or having too much of it.”
Ishizuka says that our need for closeness and intimacy is almost instinctive, but we tend to resist being intimate with another almost to the same degree. There must be a very good logical reason for it as is so abundantly (though inadvertently) demonstrated in Homes & Rahe’s famous study.
“Resistance against intimacy is self-protective and completely normal,” Ishizuka explains. “The problem is sometimes that resistance becomes too strong, which destroys the marriage.”
Ishizuka says there are only three ways in which people get or stay married.
“The first way is to ‘go psychotic’ – to become irrationally convinced that this person is the only one we should marry. In the cold light of day, there’s often nothing rational about that decision!
The second way is to be depressed – to feel so helpless and desperate that any half-way decent person may look acceptable.
“The third way is what I call ‘calculation or rationalization.’ It’s where someone says, ‘I got her pregnant, and so I have to marry her.’ Or, ‘I am not sure I love this guy enough, but he sure is rich enough!”
So what’s the answer? Is there hope?
According to Ishizuka, there absolutely is hope for married people.
“The secret,” he smiles, “is to learn to be happy with the wrong partner. Or to learn to get close enough to the wrong partner until the wrong partner can make you happy, and thus he or she becomes the right partner!”
Ishizuka says that his advice, though simple, is actually extremely effective, but not everyone is willing to give it a go.
“The problem,” he says, “is that some people are just too smart, too talented, too attractive and too independent-minded to accept such a dumb solution as mine!
Typically, psychiatric distress such as depression makes it possible for the usually proud and independent-minded individuals to learn to ‘accept’ and ‘depend’ on the partner more than ever before, thus get closer than ever before. For that reason, I regularly congratulate ‘depressed’ patients with a partner in life. Because I know, that if and when the partner participates in therapy, the outcome is 10 times better.
Depressed patients learn through therapy to ‘accept’ and ‘depend’ on their partners, taking advantage of distressful symptoms such as depression. Their partners are encouraged to learn to ‘accept’ and let the depressed partner ‘depend on them’ in their ‘worst’ and ‘most unacceptable’ shape ever. Thus, crisis and distress is a ‘God sent opportunity’ for the couple to get much closer to each other. Amazingly, when couples get close enough through therapy, all psychiatric distress such as depression disappears, replaced by unquestionable and obvious state of ‘happiness’ and ‘wellbeing’ far beyond their previous best, according to the couples’ own daily self-assessments.”
Wow! So depression could lead to marital happiness? “Yes,” Ishizuka continues, “I believe that many self-sufficient, independent-minded individuals cannot get close enough to his/her partner without going through some sort of psychiatric distress, such as depression, as their existing personality prevents him/her from getting ‘too close’ to anyone, particularly if you love that person, as he/she becomes too important for you, thus potentially dangerous.
“In fact, most of my patients come for ‘non-relationship related’ problems, such as career crisis and other compelling reasons, presenting with anxiety, anger, physical symptoms, depression, and psychosis. The interesting thing, however, is that once they achieve a successful closeness with their life partners far beyond their previous maximum levels, all presenting psychiatric symptoms disappear, as they seem to become ‘unnecessary.’ As soon as I learn that the patient is married, or is in a committed relationship, however stormy and problematic, I secretly have a ‘deep sigh of relief’ because I know that ‘dramatic’ and often ‘miraculous’ improvement is probable if not certain.
“Sometimes people might be a little too smart for their own good. The key is not to focus on a desperate search for the right person. The key is to accept the fact that you married the wrong person, or that you’re in love with the wrong person, but if you can learn to be happy with that person, the relationship can work out just fine.
And there are many amazing unexpected bonuses in achieving successful closeness with the very person you love the most. You will find that get along with yourself better, and with other important people in life including at work. Once you become happy in successful closeness with your partner, it seems inevitable that your life improves all around, often beyond expectation.”