As a licensed counselor, I have the privilege of not only helping my clients figure out how to make better choices, but also, I learn how to make better choices myself. For example, after one particularly intense Couple's session; I came home and picked up the clothes that I typically drop by my side of the bed, walked into the kitchen and shut the cabinet doors and made a mental note to always remember to shut them. I put the cap on the toothpaste and I told my partner how wonderful she is, how grateful I was to have her in my life, and that I would do better to help her.
What happened in that session struck me with how important the little things are. This couple, having been married for over 20 years, was now on the brink of divorce because she was fed up with having to pick up after her husband year after year. He was blindsided and bewildered. I was stunned by the fact he had passed through the years completely oblivious to her unhappiness. He failed to respond to her early initial loving requests to clean up after himself, then to her sturdy reminders that she needed help. He ignored her anger (attributed it to nagging) and didn't notice the death knoll to their marriage when she stopped bugging him altogether and seemed not to care. She really didn't care anymore. This is when she stopped loving him. He didn't see it coming and it was too late. She couldn't get the love back for the years of disregard for her feelings. The marriage ended in divorce. She was happy and free (and contentedly picking up after only herself). He was devastated and confused and trying to navigate the world of on-line dating. Not a happy ending.
I've seen this scenario, or some form of it over and over again until I finally had this brilliant epiphany-- a little embarrassing because it is so obvious--but like most things obvious--I had to face it in my office again and again to get it. The epiphany is: If you want to stay married, you have to stay loveable.
When we're dating, we're so driven by our desire to be with this person that we don't have to remind ourselves to shower regularly, keep our teeth brushed and our homes and cars cleaned. We laugh often; we are thoughtful, considerate and generous. We happily engage in boring conversation when we'd rather sleep and we turn off our favorite TV shows for a chance to spend time with our lovers. We pretend to like things that we don't, and we do things we wouldn't do in a million years if we weren't in love. We wear fashionable clothes. We keep bathroom, stomach, and gas issues to ourselves. We think of our partner all day. We think everything they do is sexy. We can't wait to see them at the end of a day -- go back and remember. I bet you can add a bunch to this list.
Then we get married.
This article is to give you the perspective I'm privileged to get in my role as a therapist. So take note: here are my top 10 tips for staying happily married:
1. Remember that whether you are legally tied or not, the decision to stay with someone is a matter of free will. You can leave, or they can leave any time they wish. It only takes ONE member of a couple to end a relationship. Never assume that because they married you, they have to stay with you. Work at keeping them interested in you. Don't take them for granted.