Separation Tremors: The announcement that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are separating after 25 years married and four children may be sending out tremors beyond the confines of the couples’ California home. What can have gone awry? Mid-life crisis; infidelity; anorexia; male or female menopause; the end of a political marriage matching the termination of a gubernatorial career?
But what is certain is that many couples may be projecting some of their concerns, fantasies and worries onto the Shriver Schwarzenegger Coupledom. Could this happen to us?
Projection! That is the process in which we impose our own thematic notions and concerns onto someone else or something else. As in a Rorschach test, used in psychological testing, where ink blots splattered on a page are interpreted by individuals in ways that reflect the workings of their psyches, how an individual interprets events in the world around them, mirrors what is of significant concern in his or her personal world.
Opportunity Knocks: A married man in his forties interprets the Shriver Schwarzenegger separation from Maria’s perspective: she is done with him; his flirtations; his groping; his ego. A woman who has been happily married for 25 years with the same man, but was raised in a world of infidelity and misogyny, has a different focus; she thinks Arnold is dumping his wife for a younger woman; an older woman ponders the possibility that the loss of Shriver’s parents in recent years liberates her to leave a self-centered and selfish man so that she can affirm her right to happiness.
Famous Break Ups and What They Can Do For Your Coupledom: Whether it is Tiger or Sandra, Tipper and Al, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, famous breakups cause speculation and fear in the hearts of many. For the self-reflective pair, questioning what when wrong in the relationship of a well-known couple can reveal concerns in their own partnership. Sharing with your partner some of these “projections” openly and inquiring into his or her notions, could lead to a more in depth conversation about what is good, what is feared and what could be worked on. Family of origin issues influence what expectations and projections may be at work in the hearts and minds of members of a Coupledom. If one of the partnership comes from a family of adultery, then how does that history operate in their Coupledom? If one interpreted their parent’s marriage as “staying together for the children’s sake”, then the fear that they may find themselves doing the same, is worthy of airing and sharing.
Risk and Loss in Love: We know that partnering is risky business. Someone we love can leave us, humiliate us, or become boring to us. With separations and divorces all around us, and the fact that no one really knows all the variables at work in another couples’ break-up, observing one’s “projections” or notions of what brought down another’s coupledom can reflect the fears of what could bring down our own coupledom. These same fears or fantasies provide a rich opportunity to increase self-awareness and share concerns with our partners: a serviceable form of prevention.
Leave No Stone Unturned: Mine the misery of others to avoid your own. Why not? Projections provide a canvas of concern worthy of our attention. Use it!
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011