MARRIAGES THAT ARE VULNERABLE
* Note: I use marriage but please read common-law relationship if you are not “formally married”.
ONE: STAGE of ADJUSTMENT: I come across couples who seem on the surface doing very well. Both partners are educated and working on a similar level. They share friends and have a very active social life. Both have hobbies including travel and sports, mostly individually. They feel that they are perfect for each other. Both have their job, hobbies and friends and there is still time for going out with friends together.
Now the challenge: the well-educated couple hits 30 (or 35). They have spoken about starting a family and both agree that this is the time. Soon life is changing…and the impact is NOT anticipated. Pregnancy can mean not feeing well, it means, no more drinking and very likely less socializing and less sports: For the FEMALE! If this has not been discussed and thought about prior, the resentment of the mother-to-be will hit the couple where it hurts most! One step further baby one is born and all goes reasonably well as the couple feel that they are very well equipped to be parents. Baby one goes to daycare and both pick up work as usual. Baby one is taken to social events. Unfortunately, a baby gets sick and does not sleep. A baby cannot attend all the social events….and here is where things go wrong: One partner, often the female will stay home more. In the perfect scenario there will be an understanding and adjustments accordingly of the father, but not always. I have met couples (fathers) who have not made any real changes to their weekly structure: they go out with their friends and work out in the gym or go for long runs…
And now imagine baby two coming along…If indeed father (with all the good ideas, but no actions) is not making a real change, he will deal with a resentful partner. The house is a mess, the bills not paid, the garden not done….and hang on: the father NEEDS to see his friends and he NEEDS to go to the gym? OK, I think you all get the picture. One parent is feeling isolated and not appreciated. The partner tells her to do things as he can look after the baby…[yeah really]. The first parent is doing more in the home and with the kids. The “inequality” hits the fan! When these couples come to counseling, they think that magically, all will be good when the other understands them with the help of the “mediator”. Well…..it does not work like that. There are only so many hours in a day and you both need to make choices. YOU CANNOT HAVE IT ALL! By the way….gardening, vacuum cleaning and cleaning up the garage can also be a workout! Bathing your children and playing with them is also an activity. Instead of becoming resentful on what you are missing…maybe learn to appreciate what has come in place!
TWO: ROCKY MARRIAGES: In these marriages the NEEDS of partners are often not met. There are periods of satisfied marital bliss followed by stages of disconnect and the symptoms; lack of good communication, avoidance, or arguments. These marriages are vulnerable to affairs as partners try to fill a void by finding connections outside the relationship. This does not always have to be an affair, but can be any activity that does not involve the partner or the children. Although it is healthy to have “me” time, if this is causing tension and arguments, it is obvious that there is something not OK. Often affairs start as “friendships”, but boundaries change and it can become an emotional affair. Emotional affairs are affairs and therefore damaging. The emotional affair can turn into an affair that includes sexual encounters. “Rocky marriages” have a chance to heal. It requires courage and hard work. Therapy is needed to help a couple to identify missing needs. Couples can learn to become better communicators and to create balance in their life. If one of the partners has an affair this affair needs to end…right away… with no contact whatsoever with the “third person”. Only when both are willing to learn to reconnect, the relationship can have a future.
THREE: BAD MARRIAGES or “THE MARRIAGE IS NOT HEALTHY” : This sounds negative, but unfortunately many couples struggle with more than unfulfilled needs. There are frequent disagreements, verbal fights, total disconnection and a lack of respect. It is unfortunately that couples let it come so far. I hope that they at least tried couple counseling. When respect for each other has disappeared, partners hurt each other in many ways. It does harm to themselves and to their children. Although it is NEVER too late to work on a relationship, in particular when a couple has children, sometimes it is just too late for the marriage. A couple in this situation is suggested to seek advise and to arrange formal separation. COMMUNICATION remains important in particular when children are involved as they do not deserve to be damaged more than they already are. In “bad” marriages partners are not honest to each other. Being dishonest affects TRUST and no relationship can be build on a lack of trust. Unhealthy marriages are often not visible to the outside world. Many people keep the problems inside the home. Children however, feel the tension and as a result in particular older children, try to avoid family gatherings. When both partners keep things secret from each other and increasingly do less together as a couple or as a family, it is obvious that the relationship is in problems.
FOUR: PRETTY GOOD BUT NOT PERFECT: These are the couples, who survived the phase of adjustment quite well. They managed to have good and stable relationships. None of these are perfect (that would be boring and unrealistic). The relationship is based on mutual respect and an appreciating of each other’s role in the home. In particular when a couple is working many hours outside the home, there is the potential for a disconnect due to heavy workloads, household chores and many other “normal” hurdles as well as “hobbies” and interests. As a therapist I am often surprised that people make it that far, as the sparse couple time is often sacrificed for perceived “duties”. Couples having survived the phase of having young children have opportunities to do more together. Unfortunately, some couples do not utilize these when it is nearly too late. But, of course, it is never too late to make changes. As many couples found out, couple time means talking, the two of you about your needs, hopes and wishes. About what is good and about what needs improvement. This phase in your relationship can be full of fun and new experiences! When the kids are older, you have less responsibilities, more money and more time. Make this phase GREAT and re-discover each other. Unfortunately this is also a time that many relationships collapse. Couples have become bored with each other and have disconnected…..