The crucible of marriage and the chemistry of conflict

By Rev. Jim Innes

The crucible is a container that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and is essentially used for mixing chemical compounds at very high heat.

In my counselling, I use the term “crucible” to describe a marriage (or partnership) in which two people are fused by a love that changes them both.

The change process is caused when the two involved face the heat of outside stimuli such as economic demands, familial expectations, and unresolved emotional issues. These, and many such “heat producing” influences, crank up the temperature and stimulate some manner of transformation (personally and relationally).

This transformation generates a level of stress. And how those involved manage that stress has great impact on whether the transformation is a positive one.

Stress can be quite intense. And the reaction of those involved is often unpredictable. Sometimes this will blow the crucible apart. Nevertheless, if both people are reasonably resilient, something new is created.

With this in mind, the crucible becomes an important place for new growth, and “staying” becomes the cornerstone of success. Deeper in this mix, we find the resilient love that fused them together in the beginning.

Extra support for the crucible can be found in counselling. But only in those interventions which preserve the change process by focusing on the identification and management of the stress. Additional support can be gleaned from those self-help books that try to rekindle the positive energy from when the crucible felt strongest.

Stay away from resources that promote the planting of a rose garden. No such sweet smelling bliss exists in a real crucible… at least not as a constant.

Also avoid interventions (or readings) that focus on ending stress. Stress is an inevitable part of the journey. If nothing else, some couples need be coached to face their conflict straight up. And helpful strategies may include setting time to “fight” (fairly).

Marriage (and a like-framed partnership) is but one form of “crucible”. Other crucibles, in which “heat” stimulates personal and relational are friendship circles, faith communities, and other such interest groups in which the organization is reliant upon mutuality and an agreed upon mandate.

As in marriage, “staying” in these other crucibles becomes so very important to the change process. Someone leaving the crucible too early, for whatever reason, minimizes, if not, defeats, any potential for personal growth.

Granted, not everyone is looking for personal growth. But, in my mind, growth is but a natural maturing, and comes part and parcel in any manner of mutuality. Perhaps it is why it’s said, “no one is an island.” We cannot even sneeze in relationship without affecting each other.

Truth is, not all leaving is bad, and not all staying is good. There are complicated situations, when the ramifications of staying outweigh the benefits; think here of abuse and ethical breaches.
Nonetheless, as I have come to see it, all creation suffers when good people choose to turn their backs on one another. The systemic casualties are unnumbered, and the creative potential is lost forever.

Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the regional Ministry of South Huron.
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