Thursday, August 12, 2010

I do? Marriage Survival Skills

I've mentioned before how my readings tend to come in themes.  This week, almost all my readings dealt with people in struggling marriages.  And even though I am by far an expert on marriage, I thought I'd at least toss in my two cents.  I've been married over thirteen years.  We've made it successfully through many ups and downs.  One thing has sustained us -- a common life goal.  My husband and I have always wanted the same things out of life.  We don't see eye-to-eye on much.  He's outdoorsy and thinks a day on a boat, a bike or a golf course tops anything.  Give me a good book, lunch with a good friend and a tea party thrown by my daughters, and I'm in heaven.  One time, I did go golfing with him and between rounds I read my book in the golf cart.  I was never asked to join him on the links again!
When we got married, he vowed to read a book, and I vowed to learn how to scuba dive.  He did read a book.  Count that -- one book.  And I did get my scuba diving license. But we've always wanted the same things out of life -- a successful marriage and a happy family.

I told him from day one that I would leave him in a New York minute if he broke what I call my 4 A's:

1) Adultery
2) Abuse -- mental or physical
3) Addiction
4) Abandonment -- emotional

To be honest, I added the fourth A after we were married and I noticed that he thought nothing of spending all his free time on the golf course or fishing with his friends.  He agreed to two days a month and I learned the first key ingredient to a successful marriage -- compromise!

In my practice I see clients all the time who are dealing with one of the four A's and it's not easy.  But what I've been seeing more of lately are people unsatisfied in their relationships just because.  There's no messy affair, no addiction, no abuse going on -- just a soft, unspoken malaise that settles in uninvited.

Harville Hendrix who wrote Getting the Love You Want talks about this type of marriage in his bestselling book.  He said when couples fall in love, they are flooded with endorphins. They are literally high on love -- unable to see any flaws or negativity.  Hendrix believes we expect our new partner to (gag, throw up) "complete us" like some cheesy line from that horrible Jerry Maguire movie.  No one can complete us . . . what does that really mean anyway? We have to find our happiness ourselves and look to our partner only for intimacy, support and a shared life.

Then he says the drugs wear off and the power struggle begins.  This happens, he says, in every marriage.  We engage in power struggles over everything -- big things like money, careers and raising children and small things like setting the AC too high or leaving dirty towels on the floor.

After the power struggle sets in, couples engage in one of three options:

OPTION 1:  The Hot Marriage.  These are the couples who fight all the time and then make up.  They're addicted to the fighting as much as they are to the euphoric make up scene and temporary honeymoon period that sets in until the next fight.  Word of advice:  If you have a friend in a hot marriage, don't say anything bad about her husband.  She may hate him now, but trust me in two days they'll be back in love  but she'll remember your words.  I had to learn this the hard way with a few friends of mine.

OPTION 2: The Parallel Marriage.  This is when both couples agree not to divorce but they also make no effort to change their communication styles.  I call this type of marriage The Roomate Marriage -- two people who live together, share custody of the kids but don't engage in any real relationship.  These people will look to their job, their church, friends and sometimes to an affair to get their needs met.

OPTION 3: Divorce.  A tough choice.  Divorce isn't easy on anyone.  Check out this fascinating book:  THE LEGACY OF DIVORCE: A 25 YEAR LANDMARK STUDY by Judith Wallerstein.  She studied children of divorce for 25 years and her research offers stunning insights into this painful option.

Hendrix offers a fourth option: THE HEALED MARRIAGE.  In this option, he says couples need to learn to LISTEN to each other.  Most couples are so busy trying to prove their point, they don't listen to the other spouse.  My husband and I have to be ever vigilant not to fall into this trap, but we're both learning the value of listening.  For example, I have this special calling to work with women in prisons.  God keeps calling me to this in amazing ways.  I want to teach these women that they are valuable, loved and loving.  I want to teach them manifesting, forgiveness, and goal setting skills.  But my husband is adamantly against this.  I assumed it was because he was a police officer and had a jaded view.  We fought and fought until I finally took the time to listen to him.  His concern?  That I didn't have the time needed to devote myself to this project with three young children at home.  And you know what?  He's right.  So we compromised.  When my youngest is in school full time, I will volunteer one morning a week at our local woman's prison.

Hendrix also says couples need to EMPATHIZE with each other.  I think this one is particularly hard on men who love to fix things.  If I come home and complain about something mean a student said to me, my husband will tell me what I should have said.  It's taken 13 years, but he's finally learning to just listen and say, "Wow, that's terrible. I'm so sorry.  Let me make you a hot fudge sundae and I'll draw you a hot bubble bath." Okay, I'm exaggerating, but a girl can dream.  When our spouse comes home from a hard day, just listen.  Empathize.  Don't try to fix the problem and certainly don't offer any form of criticism.

His next strategy is VALIDATION.  We're all craving validation and we need it  most from our spouses.  Show your spouse in large and small ways that you approve of his looks, her career, his choices, her body, his friends.  It took my husband some time to come around to my intuitive abilities.  As a cop, he needs proof and evidence, not crystals and tarot cards.  As a devout Catholic, he was dubious to say the least of my decision to come out of the psychic closet.  So it meant the world to me one night a few years ago when we had a couple over for dinner.  The wife was discussing a problem with which she couldn't see a solution.  When I got up from the table to clear the plates, I heard her say, "I wish I knew a really good psychic who could just tell me what to do."  I laughed to myself because she had no idea then what I did for a living.  I almost dropped the plates when I heard my husband say, "Well, you're in luck because the best psychic in the world is standing right in that kitchen."  Since then, he's bragged about me to anyone who will listen.  It still warms my heart all these years later to think back on that night.

Hendrix believes healed marriages also need to show APPRECIATION.  Plan a surprise date night.  Buy your spouse a thoughtful gift just because.  Get home early from work one night to cook their favorite meal.  Initiate intimacy.  Say thank you.  And say it often.  "Thank you for that great meal."  "Thanks for taking the kids to the park so I could get my work finished."  "Thanks for vacuuming."  "Thank you for cleaning the toilets every day."  That's one I'm still waiting to hear!

He talks a lot about how to build intimacy in a marriage and says couples need two things to foster this important feeling:  they need to feel safe, and they need to feel supported.

Marriage is hard.  Period.  That's why all the fairy tales end at the vows because it's after the I Do's that things get tricky.  But marriage is a beautiful institution and one of the few mainstays that survives centuries and cultures of change.  Marriage might be hard, but in my experience, anything worthwhile take a lot of work and effort to achieve.  We don't have any good examples of marriage in our lives.  TV shows mock marriage with shows like Married with Children, The Simpsons and Everybody Loves Raymond where the man is made out to be a stupid idiot and the wife a nagging *itch.  In movies, marriages are often so happy, it's ridiculously unbelievable.  Or they're horrible tragedies.  But the in between, the mundane day to day work of making marriages successful is rarely explored. Our celebrities make a mockery of marriage too as they hop from one relationship to another.

So if you're dealing with a blah marriage, and not one of the four A's, I'd recommend checking out Hendrix's book or website

But if you are going through a divorce, know that your loved ones on the other side are with you -- offering you their love and support.  Call on them for help to stay strong.  Sometimes divorce is part of our soul's plan.  Often it just means we've finished our karma with that person.  Don't judge yourself and give yourself time to heal.  I always tell my clients that divorce is very much like a death and needs to be grieved similarly.  So be gentle with yourself as you embark on that journey.

The most important thing -- whether you're in an relationship or not -- is to work on making yourself happy.  We should never look to anyone else to "complete" us or make us feel fulfilled.  What pressure!  We should be able to happily engage ourselves in meaningful projects, hobby and work without needing someone else's input.  Love yourself and true love will always be yours.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! That book, "Getting the Love You Want" was recommended to me by a total stranger in Nantucket, MA on the eve of my wedding, and I have never forgotten it. I purchased the book, but have never read it. Now I will! I'm lucky, though, because we will be celebrating our 16th anniversary on Friday. Samantha, keep the blogs coming -- I look forward to them every week. I find you to be so uplifting and I just love to hear and read what you have to say. You are most definitely a light in this world!