When couples come to therapy, one of their very first assignments is to write down their mission statement for the marriage. I am asking them for the main reason they are married. The answers are varied and may look like, “We fell in love” or “We got pregnant.” Sometimes, the answers are a bit funny, such as “Who else would have me?” We sit and listen to the couples’ individual reasons and get an idea of what is important to them as a couple. This is an important part of the therapy, mostly because as we begin to work on the marriage we hear all sorts of complaints. These complaints make me wonder why this couple got married in the first place. For example, they may complain that their partner nags them, or they have to settle for one person for the rest of their life to fulfill their fantasies. They complain about no longer being able to enjoy strip clubs, or staring at young hot women (this is something guys do the majority of the time more than females). Sometimes they even complain about having to spend their money on their family instead of the toys they want. These reasons may seem selfish or ridiculous for anyone who is married, but they are reasons for which many married couples seek therapy.
When we begin changing things within the marriage, many times what happens is the couple decides that they aren’t really good marital partners. Therapy is all about communication and for perhaps the first time in this couple’s life they are communicating honestly. Along with that honesty are also feelings of resentment and hostility. He didn’t know that looking at other women offended his wife and she was plotting an affair to get desired attention she didn’t get from him. Or she didn’t know that her husband was gaining weight because he was depressed due to lack of physical touch from her. For some reason, they felt like they were married and that’s all they needed to do. They believed their marriage was forever and it was their right to complain about it, berate it, but were not invested enough to work on improving it. Marriages can linger in this state for years, but they will eventually succumb to a crisis which becomes a catalyst to improve the marriage or end it.
No marriage needs to get to that point. But…to avoid that crisis point you need to stop the lingering state of indifference. The lingering state (about seven years give or take a few) is where the biggest improvements can happen. New marital research has proven that couples who are educated seem to also do better with marriage. They marry smarter (better choices with partners), and they are more apt to be aware of this lingering state and quicker to correct it. They seem to have a lower threshold for simply lingering when they can enjoy a close, connected relationship. Marital research also suggests you can actually teach people prior to marriage how to avoid this lingering state. You can teach them by mentoring, using your own marriage (especially parents), and you can teach them by providing pre-marital counseling.