​​Marriage and Other Arrangements

Disappearances in Marriage

by Kenneth L. Stewart, Ph.D.  

There is this line in one of Paul Simon's songs.

"Slip Sliding Away" that goes something like this:

"Delores, I live in fear, my love for you is so

overpowering I'm afraid that I will disappear"

What is it about love being so powerful that we are

in danger of disappearing ? How could that be ? Isn't

love supposed to enhance us, make us more complete?

What gives ? How could love make a person disappear?

In my 40 years of doing marital therapy with couples, I have seen many wives and some husbands come close to disappearing in their marriages. These people have given themselves so fully to their partner that there is an empty shell where a person used to be. They have been drained of their personhood and agonize over what went wrong, and cry over the loss of themselves when asked the question: "What ever happened to you ?" I have sometimes responded to their tears by saying: "You have been so careful not to get in the way of your partner's wishes and whims that you have very successfully eliminated your own desires." Without the expression of desire, they stand like ciphers at the edge of dark pool, staring down into the water and not seeing a reflection. So busy are some spouses at fulfilling their partner's desires that they submerge their own desires, soon followed by their hopes and dreams, until there seems to be nothing left, until they disappear and are presumed missing. Therapy becomes a search party sent out to recover these lost souls ­ who can only provide a tired smile as a faint beacon to anyone who might be out there looking for them.

These people have become lost while carefully giving themselves away to a partner who demands to be noticed, who demands to be cared for, who sometimes demands harshly and sometimes demands in a weak, dependent voice. They have got the art of receiving down very well. They know how to fill themselves up with the kindness of others. Its as if they been given to for so long that they have become filled full of themselves and cannot see beyond the end of their desires and demands. With a partner only too willing to oblige them, they continue asking, demanding, pleading, or threatening ­ until their partners are devoid of anything of themselves left to give.

Some people come to realize that the only way they can make an appearance in their life is to get out of the marriage. Others are brave enough and still hopeful enough to try to make an appearance in their marriage. They more easily gain courage to make and appearance if their partner can simultaneously become curious enough to discover the joy of living with another complex and interesting human being, not the shell of a person masquerading behind a blank smile.