There's a scene in the classic movie, The African Queen, where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn have the following exchange.
Charlie Allnut: A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it's only human nature.
Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
The more I work with people the more this perspective seems legitimate. There are many things that call us to act beyond what comes naturally. These things are usually foundational in our lives and even in history. Parenting, marriage, war, genuinely helping our neighbor are a few of the life circumstances that require an ability to, at least occasionally, do things that don't come naturally.
Marriage, or a long-term intimate relationship, frequently calls us to set aside natural inclinations in favor of compassion and patience. It's easy to demand our hurts be validated. It's easy to take the opportunity to subtly exact revenge. It's easy to look outside the marriage for support and solace when needs aren't met within the marriage. It's easy to clam up and protect one's self when, out of hurt and fear, our partner lashes out. These are all "natural" responses to the common disappointments partners experience.
The hard and necessary response is often the "unnatural" response. Receiving a partner's anger with compassion, patience and even open arms is likely what will change the situation dramatically. Alas, most of us aren't grown up enough to set aside our natural response in favor of the better response. But, that's one of the basic functions of marriage--offering an opportunity to grow up.
These posts are written by Jake Thiessen, PhD, co-founder of Couples at Crossroads. We hope you find them interesting, helpful and maybe provocative. Please feel free to comment on them.