Marriage as a System- Narcissim and Intimacy


Getting married requires the setting up of a system of mutual acceptable solutions to the problems of living together. Each partner comes from a different family regulated by a different storehouse of solutions to the stresses and common problems of living. These preexisting solutions inevitably enter into the building of the new system, conditioning it in various ways. - Marion F. Solomon

Bowen (1966) noted that, despite apparent differences in overt social functioning, people tend to marry those who are at the same basic level of personality differentiation, but who have opposite patterns of defensive organization. When such an experience is reenacted, a person who experienced early rejection or abandonment may choose a mate whose enmeshed family was engulfing. The forner desires greater closeness in a relationship, while latter struggles for more separateness. At the same time each reenacts what is known. Old patterns are repeated because the known, however unsatisfying, is more comfortable than the unknown, and is therefore less dangerous. Kubie (1956) notes that marital partners are selected in the hope that they will wipe out old pains or pay off old scores.

Often one partner desperately wishes that the other would be responsive but gives no sign of such neediness, for fear of shameful exposure. Many never learned the basic skill of communicating needs in early parent-child interactions. A mate, then, sees only the perfect facade of narcissistic defense. One may seek admiration and appreciation and when it is not forthcoming feels emptiness and deflation. The other seeks understanding and acceptance and when deprived of it experiences frustration and anger. Such narcissistic collusive patterns underlie many issues - money, work, children's problems, sexual dysfunction and so on - that on the surface appear to be the source of the marital problems. Through projective defenses it is possible to split off internalized, unacceptable impulses and feelings and hand them over to a mate who is more or less willing to accept them.

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