Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
You want to stir up the conversation at your next dinner party? Try throwing out the term “normal marital hatred.” What? Hating your spouse or partner is normal? Anyone who has been in a long-term romantic relationship will probably react to the term with a laugh — at least as a first response. But from there it gets a little more complicated, and interesting.
Writing for HuffPost.com, Brittany Wong attributes the phrase to marriage therapist Terrence Real and popularized in his book “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship.” She quotes Real from an interview in which he said, “There are going to be moments when you look at your partner, and at that moment, there is a part of you that just hates their guts. You’re trapped with this horrible human being. How did you wind up here? What I want to say is, ‘Welcome to marriage. Welcome to long-term relationships.’ ”
Yep, read that quote to everyone at your dinner party and stand back. The reaction from your friends will probably be similar to the reaction that quote stirred among professional therapists across the country. Some people interpreted the comment as having an ulterior motive. Wong cites a tweet from Hannah Evans, a sociology Ph.D. candidate, who said, “It’s not normal to hate your spouse. If you hate your spouse, you should see a therapist and/or get a divorce. The point of platforming all of these opinion pieces that basically say the same thing appears to me to be trying to discourage people, particularly women, from leaving.”
Some therapists, on the other hand, were sympathetic to Real’s comment. Wong offers a comment from Samantha Rodman Whiten, a clinical psychologist and host of the podcast The Dr. Psych Mom Show: “This is certainly a pretty normal feeling for most long-term married people. There’s seasons of a marriage where you feel disconnected, angry and even hateful. If this is all the time, something is wrong. But it’s very harmful to act as though marriage should be all happiness all the time.”
Tellingly, though, the comment truly invites people to define the words they are using. Perhaps a sincere discussion might begin with agreement about the meaning of the words people are using. Wong quotes Amanda Baquero, a Miami-based marriage and family therapist, who says, “When I work with couples, it’s totally normal for them to express negativity, frustration and annoyance toward one another. But I don’t think marital hatred is the right word for this, as hatred implies a deep disdain for the other person.”
That, in the end, may be the real value in starting a discussion about a charged phrase like “normal marital hatred.” It encourages people to begin an honest discussion and open communication, and that always helps build and sustain deep interpersonal relationships.