Marital problems? Blame Adam and Eve, not your spouse

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | July 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

Psychologist offers insights from late pope’s Theology of the Body

ArgueCouple

Couples struggling with love and conflict can trace the origins of their problems to the marriage of the first couple, Adam and Eve.

The solutions, offered through psychology and theology, are rooted in Christ, according to Peter Damgaard-Hansen, a licensed psychologist and Catholic convert who spoke recently at Mary Mother of the Church in Burnsville on marital issues seen through the lens of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

“Often, when I sit with a couple in trouble, I can feel like I’m sitting right outside the Garden of Eden with a man and woman who were just booted out of there a week or two ago,” Damgaard-Hansen said. “There’s nothing new under the sun. We’re still struggling with the same stuff.”

Peter Damgaard Hansen

Peter Damgaard Hansen

Theology of the Body, a series of 129 lectures on the human person that Pope John Paul II gave between 1979-1984, examines the meaning of the human body, authentic love, sexuality and marriage in light of biblical revelation. Marital life is specifically looked at through the book of Genesis, bridging faith and psychology.

Damgaard-Hansen first gave the talk, titled “It is Not Good for Man to be Alone – But it is Not Easy for Man to Be with Someone Either,” in early July at the International Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia. There, more than 700 people — many of them young people — from 40 states and 12 countries gathered to discuss the meaning and relevance of St. John Paul II’s work, how to implement it in daily life, and how to incorporate it into a new evangelization.

The biggest problem in marriages is not when love disappears, but how couples deal with the loss, said Damgaard-Hansen, who has offered counseling to couples for the past 30 of his 40 years in practice in Denmark and Minnesota. Blame, and the division and loneliness that result from it, have been issues since the world’s first couple tried to get over the “excruciating pain” of their mistake, he said. It starts when each person holds the other responsible for his or her own negativity and faults.

Rather than blame, Christ teaches in Matthew 7:3-5 that we should attend to the log in our own eye before seeking to remove the splinter in our partner’s eye.

Another problem stems from one spouse believing the other causes their anger, Damgaard-Hansen said.

“As the human selfish persons we are, it’s almost impossible not to fill up with anger or shut down with anger when we have been wronged.”

Couples who respond with anger and blame break marital unity and isolate themselves, he said.

Instead of responding with anger when a spouse believes they’ve been wronged, it’s better to stay in the pain with Christ and react without anger and resentment, he said, adding that we need Christ to do this.

Because our ability to love doesn’t match our human need for love, couples might find at the same time that they have no love to give each other — the “Zero Point,” Damgaard-Hansen said.

“It’s OK not to love when you don’t have anything to give. But it’s not OK to be unloving,” he said.

If they recognize the other’s deprived and vulnerable position, they can find compassion and God’s mercy, and love will flow in their brokenness.

Although Adam and Eve lost the ability to love as God loves after the Fall, people still have the same need for unconditional love, which is at the core of marital problems, he said. Since we can only love if we are loved first, we need Christ’s passion in our marriages.

Reconciliation, which sometimes can be “heart wrenching psychological heart surgery,” is possible with the Lord, Damgaard-Hansen said.

Unmarried persons benefit from this teaching as well, he said, as many non-marital relationships are also about love and conflict resolution.

Among the roughly 200 who attended the talk, Annie Kopacek and Adam Hermanson, members of All Saints in Minneapolis, said they found much to apply to their engaged relationship.

“It’s OK to be human and acknowledge that we don’t have infinite love to give the other person,” Kopacek said. Hermanson said when we’re in the Zero Point, it’s even more important to turn to Christ.

With the stresses of raising six kids, Steve and Kathy Mann said they’ve found themselves at the Zero Point. In those cases, “we need to go to God instead of just suffering and instead of being angry,” said Steve, who with Kathy, belongs to South Suburban Evangelical-Free Church in Apple Valley.

Said Kathy: “Even if no one else is there to love you, God is always with you.”

Adam and Eve might have passed on their marital dysfunction, but modern couples don’t need to do the same if they seek help from the Lord and a supportive third party such as a Christian therapist, Damgaard-Hansen said.

“Before marriage, we do what we can to pick the right [spouse],” he said. “After marriage, we don’t even worry about that. Now, it’s about becoming the right one, because what you put into the marriage is what you get back. You are co-creator of your marriage.”

For information about Damgaard-Hansen’s counseling practice, i­ncluding counseling by Skype, visit ­www.docpeter.com.

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