As a marriage counselor, I have spent ten years observing couples try to stay together. The majority of couples work hard to preserve their marriage and family stability. Most relational conflict is everyday run-of-the-mill stuff and people can and should do their best to stay married. The benefits of marriage include longer lifespan, greater financial wealth, social desirability, and healthier kids. I’m not just justifying our social construct — people really like to be married. Even in the face of severe relationship despair, most people feel an imperative to “make it work,” mentally and emotionally weighing the scales, choosing to remain committed as opposed to chasing a more sensually exciting encounter with someone new. A large portion of the divorced population now wishes they had sought counseling prior to ending their marriage.
But is the absence of conflict enough? Or do we need a supreme connection — emotional joy — to call ourselves “happily married”? The answer is not obvious, but it’s worth personal reflection. What to make of Luke-warmdom? I’m talking here about “normal” relationships: mentally sound people who have been together for years — raising children, working decent jobs — who now find co-existence dry, boring, and without desire. Parenting, aging, illness, financial strain — straight up buzzkills. Even the strongest couple will experience seasons of dislike for each other, at times bordering on revulsion. Anne Rice, author and married for 41 years, said that in one marriage, we marry and divorce many times over — to fall in love again. Happy marriage does not equal good sex and good sex does not equal happy marriage, but oh, how we love those big emotions: “Of course I love you — but I want to want you.”
For the partner hoping to find an uptick in his desire for said beloved — as he knows he should — I suggest a variety of techniques. For starters, recognize that our culture pushes the notion of an idealized marriage partner who is capable of completely meeting our every need. We are alone in this fantasy, putting volumes of pressure on our partner to be all things: provider, gorgeous, fit, engaging, educated, maternal, spiritual, and sexual. What a tall order! A deeper understanding of our own unrealistic expectations allows for appreciation of what we actually have. It also helps to spend time with other couples: it is edifying to know that others are in the same boat, gutting it out for another day.
The popular assumption is that men cheat and women lose libido, but in my experience, these issues are shared fairly across the sexes. In Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, sex counselor and biologist Olivia Judson dispels the common belief that males are promiscuous and females are saintly. In fact, she argues that female organisms (r-e-a-d) are mean, hungry and horny, benefiting from multiple hook-ups, evolutionarily speaking. Scantiness of egg production exalts the superabundance of sperm. Alternately, healthy masculinity is ill-defined and dismissed in our current culture, resulting in its stifled articulation. It’s hard to be happy if you cannot ask for what you want. An earnest desire to understand male psychology pays off greatly for both sexes.
Couples can recover from both sexual boredom and betrayal, and many do. Counseling positively impacts marriage in an estimated 70% of couples.
The partner least invested will not want the “old relationship,” instead craving new and better feelings, with new ways of connecting. This, too, can be accomplished. Carl Jung described this as the highly evolved transition from being in love to loving another. Start by asking yourself how and when you feel drawn to your partner, e.g. “When he’s with his friends and I see him smiling, laughing, looking attractive.” Ask your partner, “When do I look good to you? When do you see me and feel happy that I’m yours?”
[Post edited for length and clarity]
Blog: All Things Mental | Post Title: Marriage Is So Easy! Post Date: August 14, 2015 | Author: Christina Neumeyer, M.A. | From: Carlsbad | Blogging since: 2010