A bad marriage can kill you

By Donna Gray, For Neighbours - The Calgary Herald

When Mika and Aaron Norel married six and a half years ago, they never would have thought they'd be considering divorce. But the pressures of raising a family, working full time and living with each other's idiosyncrasies were weighing heavily on their nerves.

Bickering replaced common sense communication. Chronic fighting, yelling and screaming caused a rift. They eventually slept in separate beds on separate floors. Their children were becoming concerned and were often afraid of their arguments.

"I was either going to kill my husband or get a divorce," Mika says with a laugh. "I hated him half the time, and I thought if we don't fix this now, we'd be headed for divorce court."

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Mika says the stress was creating havoc on the mental and physical health of the family. She knew they needed help to keep their marriage together. She suggested they seek counselling through the Calgary Counselling Centre. During the first visit, they exchanged barbs for an hour and a half while the counselor watched and listened.

"He would stop us and ask, "Are you done?," she says. "At that moment, we realized what we were doing. We treated each other like punching bags. If one was in a bad mood, the other would get the brunt of it."

With more than 50 per cent of married couples turning to divorce as the solution to relationship troubles, studies show that less than one per cent actually attend any marital therapy or counseling during the year of separation.

Both men and women who live in unhappy marriages endure more stress, which translates to poor health, increased risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, depression and eating disorders. Marital stress can also affect the body's immune system, reducing the ability to fight off disease.

What can make it worse are the feelings of fear and insecurity, lack of well-being and confidence. This can lead to decreased productivity at work and one or both individuals seeking attention and affection elsewhere.

There is hope, however. Other research has proven that up to 55 per cent of couples who seek intervention can salvage their marriage, and consequently, live a more content and healthier life.

Robbie Babbins-Wagner, chief executive officer of the Calgary Counselling Centre, says many couples wait an average of 61/2 years into their relationship to seek help. A key problem is that people struggle to keep up with the expectations of a flawless and loving marriage.

"I think we all come into it with the belief that the connection in marriage and relationships will just be there," she says. "We are guided by the notions created by media, fairy tales and movies. Unfortunately, that's not real life."

Wagner says many underestimate the amount of time and attention marriage requires. Couples will wait it out, try to fix the situations themselves. When the relationship reaches a breaking point, the feeling of failure prevails. A solution is to have a qualified third party assist them in discovering the strengths of the relationship.

"Instead of distancing themselves, we get couples to open up more, and try not to convince the other that they're right," she says. "Even something as simple as sitting down and having coffee with the radio and TV off and just talking, actually helps."

Along with greater communication comes a need to identify and understand each other's values. John Demartini, one of the luminaries featured in the movie The Secret, and author of The Heart of Love: How to Go Beyond Fantasy to Find True Relationship Fulfillment, says people fail to communicate their authentic values. These values come to the forefront and can create conflict.

"Anytime you project your expectations on someone else, you've set yourself up with anger, blame and criticism. That can lead to withdrawal, introversion, avoidance, and affairs. Eventually, there is an erosion of that dynamic."

Demartini, who will be hosting a two workshops for couples in Calgary next week, cites a recent Wall street Journal article, which classifies feelings of love as infatuation and addiction--a chemical reaction that can later cause problems when the situation gets too deep.

"True love is a profound state," he says "Most people don't know what it is. They've confused infatuation and addiction to love."

To get to the heart of love, Demartini advises couples or individuals learn to honour their own values and appreciate the values of those closest to them. Identifying and discarding fear is one of the first steps to rebuilding a relationship or leaving it behind and working toward a better one.

"People know what the problems are with their relationships, but they're afraid to admit it or put the work into it," he says. "Primary fears hold us back; fear of authority, failure, rejection, not being smart enough, loss of money or reputation, fear of losing a loved one or connections to society."

Bruce Hoffman, a medical doctor and director of the Hoffman Centre For Integrated Medicine, is hosting Demartini's visit. He says the value system theory hits home for many couples who fail to see eye to eye.

"There was an older gentleman who is very well off," he says. "His younger girlfriend felt unappreciated and undervalued. He felt he was always rescuing her monetarily. They attended the breakthrough workshop and within hours, he saw the value she brought to the relationship. He went straight out and bought a $25,000 engagement ring. Their relationship is thriving."

Hoffman, who also assists with relationship healing, takes an Ayurvedic medicinal approach to establishing confidence and mutual respect.

"I work with relationships on a different angle," he says. "Along with the psychological and emotional factors, I also look at specific levels of healing. This includes hormone balancing, environment, and neural effects. A relationship can change dramatically if there is an imbalance in health."

Mika Norel says she and Aaron now talk more and are more positive. They make sure to monitor their own behaviour and help each other out when the going gets tough. She says couples have nothing to lose by getting outside help to make their marriage work.

"You're already at a point where you've almost lost what you worked for," she says. "I don't think you're actually trying until you take on a third party. It's worth every minute that you spend and every dollar you spend."

For more information on relationship counseling services, call the Calgary Counselling Centre at 265-4980 or visit www.calgarycounselling.com. The Hoffman Centre is presenting John Demartini in a two-hour relationship workshop Relationships: Love vs. Illusion, Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. A two-day "Breakthrough" workshop will be held March 10 and 11. For more information, call 206-2333, ext. 215 or visit www.hoffmancentre.com.