Some Unrealistic Ideas About Love & Marriage

I attended a seminar by Janis Abrahms last week. She’s the author of the often recommended book for healing after infidelity called After the Affair, nowwith a second edition that includes new chapters addressing the internet and emotional affairs. One simple list she had in her handout was a good reminder of common fallacies about love and marriage. Here are a few I encounter a lot.

*My partner should be able to anticipate my needs.
*I shouldn’t have to work to be trusted.
*My partner should be emotionally available to me whenever I need him/her.
*Love is a feeling that can’t be forced or manufactured. It either exists or it doesn’t.
*We shouldn’t have to work at feeling sexual desire for each other. It should come naturally or not at all.

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War and marriage

USA Today 4-25-12

Excellent article describing how the individual experience of wartime deployment causes emotional detachment and rage and negatively affecting marriages and family relationships.

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The Lure of Infatuation

A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there’s less of you.
- Margaret Atwood

Many times I see couples who are deciding whether or not to get divorced. Usually there is one partner who is wanting the marriage more than the other – the concept of two people amicably agreeing to divorce is a myth in my opinion. There is always one person more in favor of the decision and in the other goes along unwillingly. Though not all marriages can survive I believe it is important to slow this decision process down so that the lifelong implications can be weighed realistically and each partner has an opportunity to understand what brings them to this point. If there is an outside emotional relationship with a promise of those heady times of infatuation, it is very difficult to halt the demise of the marriage. Often this important piece of information is not disclosed in therapy and the focus is on what is missing. This leaves the more committed partner believing it is his/her fault and potentially a lifelong mystery as to what went wrong. 

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Myth of the Blended Family

In working with stepfamilies I find that there are often unrealistic expectations of a ‘Brady bunch’ blending and confusion about how to handle discipline with step children. My opinion is that the bio parent should be the one to handle discipline with their own children with the step parent backing them up. Too often the step parent feels the ambiguity of their role and wants to assert power by directly disciplining the step kids which can cause resentment and ongoing problems.  foundation for respect and open communication. Understanding the children’s point of view is key. They’ll likely feel uncertain about the changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parents. Acknowledging and respecting their conflicted feelings will lay a good foundation for respect and open communication. Most importantly expect this adjustment to take time!

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Infidelity…Fight or flight?

“Do not make a life altering decision while you are in the initial stages of surviving infidelity. Even though it may feel as though there is no hope at all for your relationship, there may still be hope. Even though your spouse has done this awful thing, it is possible that he/she still loves you very much and perhaps you still love your spouse as well. …Many people have completely ended their relationships in the emotion of the moment, only to find themselves later in a 2nd marriage to someone who is 2nd best. Later both spouses realize that they both had actually loved each other more than anyone else and they could have worked it out, had they only tried. Don’t doom yourself to a future filled with “what ifs.” (Anne Bercht, from article “Ten Strategies for Surviving Infidelity”)

I’ve seen this happen before. It’s easier to flee then stand in the fire. And the fire can temper a material into something stronger than it was before.

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75% of married women believe sex is very important!

Married sex is almost never portrayed on tv and in movies mainly because it involves emotional intimacy and connection beyond the infatuation stage (first two years) that’s difficult to capture on film.  So what keeps sex alive? Most women say “saying nice things about me to let me know he still thinks of me in that way.” I would also say that the reverse is also true….men want to know that women want them too! Distressed couples want the same thing and are gridlocked in negativity related to the challenges of handling day to day life together. Breaking that negative gridlock is often the main goal of couples therapy.

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From Crisis to Healing

Working with couples in therapy immediately after the discovery of an infidelity first requires crisis management along with a plan for healing. In the safety of the office feelings of both partners must be explored and acknowledged. A recounting of what happened is the first step in laying this trauma down into the context of the relationship. Couples usually want to know what to do next to get through this and I share what I have seen work in the past. Therapy proceeds in a parallel fashion. At one level we always touch on the hurt partner’s processing of the trauma, progress, setbacks, recent triggers, additional questions. At the same level we touch base with the experience of the partner who has inflicted the damage. It is a challenge to him/her to be the healer here. Have patience, do what is required to reassure, steps taken to rebuild trust, stand in the fire for a while.  At a different level in the parallel process we begin to touch base on the relationship and what may have contributed to the environment where the infidelity occurred. If we do this too quickly, it is often perceived as looking for excuses. Many times there are questions of individual growth and development that have contributed and individual counseling can be helpful.  It is a roller coaster of emotions through the fog…but I have seen couples come out the other side saying they have a closer, more honest relationship that may have never developed, but for this crisis.

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Musings on cohabitation

I ran across an article in the Journal of Family Psychology indicating that couples who live together before  marriage  are more likely to get divorced than couples who don’t move in together.  At first glance I thought that this makes sense since people who share space are more likely to encounter conflict in working out day to day compromises and that ‘familiarity may breed contempt’ in the words of the master. However the study concludes that a major reason for this fact is that living together often leads to marriage for all the wrong reasons. In other words, people slide into marriage in part because they are already living together.  Thus it is perceived to be more difficult to stop cohabitating – which has all the emotional pain of a divorce- than to just go ahead and plunge into marriage.  When I think of my experience working with couples I have encountered many who tell me that they had to stop living together in order to make the decision to get married….that they suspected that they were in fact “sliding into marriage”.With nearly 70% of couples cohabitating before marriage, there is certainly a rich environment for further research!
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Bite your tongue!

There is an old saying that contradicts the emphasis on communicating feelings and frustrations to our partners. It says, “Marriage is improved by the two or three things not said each day.”

So many arguments begin with sniping about minor, day to day issues. The alternative of holding your tongue instead of responding with a retort or contrary information can do much to create a more peaceful environment. Some wise words to use in the face of a disagreeable comment are. “You may be right about that.” You are not agreeing or disagreeing, merely acknowledging  that you have heard what was said, neutralizing what could become a bigger fight over an issue that is not worth it!

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Can Marriage survive kids?

Is it possible that children can be both the best and the worst thing for a marriage? Once children enter the picture, parents often throw themselves into kids’ activities with enthusiasm that seems to add depth and interest to the relationship as they see themselves happily engaged in building their perfect family. Over time this kid-centric focus wears on both parents – who have no time for their own social life with other adults, and children – who are overscheduled and unable to entertain themselves without parental involvement.  After a decade of playing tag team with kids activities, parents often have grown distant from each other just when their kids begin to see them as an embarrassment and want more social independence. To avoid divorce it may be wiser to ignore your kids and focus on the relationship rather than to focus on your kids and ignore the relationship….or strive for a happy medium!

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