I have a guilty pleasure. I like watching Married at First Sight, a reality-tv show where people agree to be arranged in a legal marriage for 6-weeks with a complete stranger. Supposedly, these couples are matched in a systematic manner by psychologists and relationship experts. Although I am very aware that reality-tv is not always indicative of real-life, I do see some behaviors and expectations in couples on the show that are similar to people I coach, and some couples I know in general. Married couples overall want to have companionship, love, regular accessible sex, and someone to build a life with. Many couples go into marriage, on reality-tv and in real-world situations, believing they will live happily ever after and their love will conquer all. There is no need to work at the marriage like they did before they got marriage.
The idea that once you are married you no longer need to work on your marriage is an untruth. Any veteran couple can tell you, marriage takes work. In addition, some spouses believe that their significant other should have mind- and emotion-reading powers, or the ability to anticipate every need all the time. In other words, your partner should know what you want or need without you saying it. For example, one husband I worked with believed his wife of 16-months should know to ask him how he feels even if he looks fine or there is nothing going on with him. He would get very upset if she forgot to ask him “how are you feeling.” I asked him, “did you communicate this to her, and if so, how?” His response was “I shouldn’t have to--so, no I didn’t.” I inquired how could she possibly know if they never had a conversation about it? Matter of fact, I asked him to tell me what his wife valued and what she liked or wanted. He soon realized he didn’t know as much as he thought, and he was projecting his concept of marriage on his relationship based on his parents 28-year marriage. I worked with and he quickly learned his marriage was not his parent’s marriage. He saw his parents when they were already acclimated to each other and that he and his wife are a unique couple. It was important that this couple had to learn how to learn about each other with new eyes---not their parents’ eyes. In another example, a woman engaged to be married believed her future husband should know to tell her she is pretty when they go out. She got upset each time she had to remind him of her need to be admired. But when he did admire her, she accused him of being insincere. In her mind, he was only acting on what she told him, so his sentiments were not from his heart. However, as we worked on their goal to communicate effectively, she was able to understand and trust that his actions where from his heart, and that he needed to learn what to do to support her values and emotional needs.
Unfortunately some couples are unaware that the marriage relationship is not a fixed condition. It is dynamic. It changes, adapts and adjusts. Likewise, your spouse is not a mind reader, no matter how long you are married. Plus, each person comes with his or her worldview, cultural beliefs, and unresolved issues. They also come with established habits--good and bad. Furthermore, people develop communication and attachment styles based on upbringing. All of these influencers make each person a unique being. Because each person is different, with pre-established behaviors, the marriage relationship will take work and lots of effort to keep it intimate, healthy, and aligned with each spouse’s personal values and expectations about marriage. This means communicating your needs and learning new behaviors that are conducive to positive interaction with your spouse. It also means couples will need to take time and have patience to educate their partners on what contributes to their respective happiness and what does not. They also need to refresh the information as change occurs over the years. It means partners get it wrong sometimes too. Yes, couples will have to work on how to communicate with their spouses in the most productive way, when to compromise or negotiate, and how to read or interpret their partner's’ non-verbal languages. Couples will also need to forgive and remind their partners of values and wants when mistakes are made or when wants and need are misinterpreted---or when someone simply forgets.
Will it become easier over time? Absolutely. As a couple learn about each other, some anticipation and the ability to understand one’s spouse will become second nature. But, this does not mean marriage is effortless. Couples will always need work on their marriage--just at different phases of the relationship, at at different degrees of effort. Refreshing aspects of the marriage and not taking each other for granted will also require work. But the work is rewarding. As couple’s focus on making their marriage a priority, they maintain connectedness, agreeableness, openness, and change their behaviors towards each other as the marriage and both spouses grow and change together.
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