Many times we marry without thinking what it will mean long term. Here are 3 tips to make it better
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.
If you are aware of your marriage being in the “lingering state,” it is important that you bring it to the attention of your spouse. Rather than mentioning the word divorce, you must think of your marriage as a human, living thing. Your marriage in medical terms is ill and may need life support, but it is not dead. Lingering does not mean the end of the marriage. It means you need to act NOW. Below are suggestions for your marriage if you think it is in need of life support.
1. Just as a physician would put a very ill patient on life support, your marriage will need to be on life support with the help of a trained counselor. The counselor can help stabilize your marriage so you can begin peeling off layers of denial in order to deal with critical issues that must be resolved.
2. The benefits of a healthy marriage are to encourage each other’s personal growth as well as their growth as a couple. This is achievable because the more secure each person feels, the more authentic they can become. The more authentic each of them becomes, the more free they begin to feel because they are accepted at their core. This is what gives the marriage its spark.
3. Nothing changes without goals. If you are in a stagnant lingering stage, there is nothing that works better than to sit down with your partner and identify 3 tangible goals you can work on to make your marriage more secure.
Marriage can be the very best lifestyle imaginable or it can be hell on earth. The couple together has a choice of which of these it will be. So much energy is spent on trying to determine which gender is appropriate for marriage. I think we would be much wiser to focus our energy on improving marriages so that every child born into one had the assurance of growing up in a healthy marriage where two people loved being married to one another. –Mary Jo Rapini
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