Is Marriage Really That Difficult?

Another celebrity marriage has bitten the dust this week, with the announcement of J.Lo and Marc Anthony’s split.

Headlines around the world are proclaiming the couple fell victim to the clichéd Seven-Year Itch, which scientists revealed a few years back to be nothing more than “we’re bored with our marriage.”

In further alarming statistics, there has been a spike in younger couples (under 30s) who aren’t even making it past the four-year mark in their marriages—the media last year coined the “three year glitch” for these attention-deficit couples who seemingly decide to splash out on a white wedding with all the trimmings, then up-and-leave when things don’t go their way.

If you’re not willing to compromise and you still have time on your side, there’s no compunction for Generation Y when it comes to divorce.

Certainly, our modern society has no stigma attached to divorce. So we have this new trend of practice marriages—”starter marriages”, which are a dry run for the real marriage that will come later in life.

Except it’s not a dry run. It’s the real thing.

You’d think the easier option for the warm-up would just be to move in together without signing the papers, pledging commitment, and making your family buy you expensive towel sets and fancy toasters.

But you have to ask yourself: is marriage really so difficult that you can’t last more than 36 months before contemplating divorce?

Are couples weighing up the pros and cons far too late? Shouldn’t you be sure before you walk down the aisle?

And once you have wed, shouldn’t you do everything in your power to try and make it work before divorcing? Is three years a long enough time to say you really gave it your best shot?

There are obvious exceptions—cheating, lying, abuse are all valid reasons to end a marriage.

But studies showing that couples are more annoyed by their partner’s weight gain and spending habits are what really get me. These aren’t marriage-dissolving issues, surely?

Author Christine Meinecke has hit the nail on the head with her book Everybody Marries the Wrong Person. Every marriage will move from infatuation to disenchantment, she says. And there is no “right person” out there. Marriage cannot succeed without mature love, which is self-responsible.

“Self-responsible spouses do not try to change their partners. Instead, they focus on managing their own insecurities and dark moods, expectations and reactions.”

What genius. Don’t blame someone else for your problems. Be self-aware and be prepared to self-improve. This will obviously work only if your spouse is willing to do the same.

Marriage is hard. I don’t think anyone goes into thinking it will be easy. And you only have a marriage just as long as you’re both willing to work at it. But that’s the point of marriage. That’s exactly what you’re committing to do—work at it, no matter what.

What do you think about three-year marriages? Are couples less willing to try and make it work these days?

3 Ways to Show Your Partner You Appreciate Them

It’s easy to take things for granted sometimes. We don’t mean to, but it can naturally happen—it’s the path of least resistance, after all.

But a little bit of appreciation goes a long way between sweethearts.

I just watched this beautiful documentary about Sally and Sam, which left me in tears but also made me very grateful that my husband and I both have our health, and each other.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user theswedish

If you think you could probably do with giving your partner a little extra gratitude, here are three beautiful ways to show your partner you really do appreciate having them around.

1. Thank them

Just because your partner makes dinner every night or mows the lawn every month, doesn’t mean you can’t thank them for it. Even if it has been their job for the last twenty years, even if they got up to the baby during the night just once and you’ve done it a hundred other times, thank them!

Thank them sincerely, and thank them often.

2. Compliment them

Stop for a moment and pay your partner a compliment—let them know you notice them. Perhaps you love that color blue on them, you like their new haircut, you think they give great hugs. Whatever it is, lavish them with a compliment … or three!

3. Do something lovely for them

Take time out of your day to do something just for your partner. It may be as involved as cooking their favorite three-course meal and serving it by candlelight, as cosy as giving them a shoulder rub, or as simple as bringing home a tiny present you know they’ll love.

Do you appreciate your partner as abundantly as you could? What’s your favorite way to show your appreciation?

How Your Family Impacts Your Relationships

Reading this heartfelt and honest piece by Kylie Ladd on Mamamia.com.au last week, I remembered something that I had long-forgotten from when my husband and I did our pre-marital education course a few years ago. Ladd talks about the restrained family upbringing her husband had, and how it has impacted his emotional connectedness with her today.

It’s called Family of Origin theory: the family that you are raised in impacts enormously on the person you turn out to be. Your habits, your emotional expression, your way of interacting with loved ones … right down to how you sort your cutlery drawer, even (spoons to the left, thank you very much).

The idea is that each person brings with them into a relationship their own idea of how a family operates, based on what they’ve had ingrained in them over the years. This can prove problematic if two different systems start to clash.

Different attitudes, value systems, rules, customs, and taboos may cause friction between partners, or may turn out to be so hardwired that they prove hard to change, even if you want to.

If you are starting your own new family together—whether that’s just two of you, or it involves children—it’s worth talking it over first to make sure expectations are managed and any potential sticking points can be sorted out early.

How to talk about it

The exercise we did was a great way to get on the same page about what life was like for each other in our childhoods. It involved a huge sheet of butcher’s paper each and a few colored markers. We divided our sheet up into eight panels by making folds.

If you’d like to play along at home, here is what each of the eight panels featured:

  1. Family Tree: Draw your immediate family tree, showing your parents, you and any siblings you have.
  2. Communication: Write down some key points about what communication was like in your household. Was it quiet and calm or energetic and chaotic? Were you listened to? How was affection demonstrated?
  3. Roles: What role did your mother play? Your father? You? Your siblings? Was everyone happy with the roles they played?
  4. Family Values: What were some overarching family values? Some examples from the sheet I have kept include generosity, striving for excellence, care, and respect. Also ask: Was appearance important? Were possessions important?
  5. Conflict: How was conflict managed in your household? Was there yelling? Was there silent treatment? How quickly was it resolved?
  6. Rituals and Culture: When was family time? Did you go on holidays often? Was dinner always at the table? How were Easter, Christmas, and other events treated? Was there close community that you socialized with as a family? Any cultural traditions that were observed?
  7. Money: What was the attitude towards money? Did you feel financially secure? Who was in charge of the finances? What did money get spent on, as a priority? Were you aware of any money problems?
  8. Education and Work: Was education important? What about higher education (College/University)? Were good grades encouraged? Were your parents happy at work? Was job satisfaction emphasized?

Sit down separately and answer all these questions on your sheets, then bring them together so you can talk about them. After each panel, ask each other what you like and would like to keep for your own relationship and family, and what things you intentionally would like to change.

It turned out that my husband and I come from families with very similar family values and traditions, but the way each communicated was completely different. It definitely shows in our own interactions—Denis doesn’t back away from conflict at all; in fact he kind of seems to enjoy it. I prefer to keep quiet and mull over problems rather than get them out there. Our upbringings in regards to money, among other things, are also extremely obvious.

You may be surprised at the new level of understanding you gain of your partner after doing this exercise.

Do you and your partner come from similar families? Share similar values?

The Art of the Compromise

I received a text from my mother the other day. She was chuckling over the little spat I’d just told her about that came off the back of hubby and I moving house.

We’ve been back and forth about what items to keep, what should go where, and what should be thrown out (interestingly, I always think his belongings should be thrown out, while meanwhile he earmarks only my things for the trash). Anyway, that’s besides the point, and was to be expected.

“Ha … step two of married life!” read my mother’s message. “Compromising!”

I assume she means that the honeymoon period is over and now we’re getting down to real married life business. The compromise.

Learning to cut a deal is an essential part of a healthy relationship.

Plenty of people hate the idea of compromise. They like things to go their way. They don’t see why they shouldn’t. Maybe you were just born stubborn (like my Taurean husband) or maybe you’re used to getting what you want (hello, boardroom managers and Generation Y*).

Well, it’s simple. There are two of you in a marriage. Both have your own completely valid opinions, and both have your own ideas of what constitutes an ideal outcome to any given situation.

There is definitely an art to compromising. Remember—the very definition of the word means that you should both be happy with the end result. It doesn’t mean that someone constantly gets steamrolled into something they don’t want to do. And it doesn’t mean that you grudgingly give in to your partner and then resent them.

Compromise is not about winning or losing. It’s about workability. And it’s about caring about how your partner feels and wanting them to be satisfied, not debating a point for the sake of it.

Keep talking

You’re each entitled to your own opinions—about anything from whether to eat Thai food for dinner down to how your children should be educated. Which means you are also entitled to voice that opinion—ideally, in a calm and civil manner.

Giving your partner the silent treatment while secretly fuming is not productive. Not telling them what you want and then giving them the silent treatment is certainly not helping either.

Keep the lines of communication open and honest and make sure you both get heard. Remember to use “I” statements and not accusing “You” statements.

Pick your battles

Ask yourself: are you just arguing over the small stuff through force of habit? Does it really matter whether your underwear gets folded a certain way? (Something I compromised on years ago after I realised my very particular husband likes things done the way he likes them done and that my sub-standard underwear-rolling was upsetting him. True story.)

Save yourself for the things that you really do care about.

Be sure you’re square

If you have to debate the pros and cons, make lists, or hash it out over a few sessions, do that. But regardless of how long it takes you, make sure you’re both happy and there’s no resentment lingering once you’ve made a decision. Be clear to your partner that you want them to be happy. They should want the same for you.

What do you think about compromise? Are you good at it? Any tips to share?

*I myself am a Generation Y, so please don’t think I’m Gen-Y-bashing! You know as well as I do that we’re used to the good life.

Moving On After Heartbreak

Most people, by the time they’re grown, have experienced at least one heart-break in their romantic life. You know: the gut-wrenching kind that leaves you scarred for life.

After being hurt so badly, it can be hard to think of moving on. Sometimes you may think you’ll never get over your lost love.

Broken heart

Image by Kiomi

While it may take time, once you think you’re ready then go ahead and get yourself back out there. Here are some handy tips to help:

1. Be brave

Just because you’ve been hurt before, doesn’t mean you should stop seeking relationships. You will need to let your guard down eventually. Love does hurt sometimes, but other times it’s amazing.

A great relationship will blend the both beautifully into one long journey—although, in a great relationship, the ups will far outweigh the downs.

2. Work out what you want

I believe you should learn something from every relationship and sit down and work out what you want from your next one. What will the relationship look like? What sort of qualities will your new romantic interest have?

Something amazing happens when we write goals down. The universe manifests to help us along and get our needs met. Just be careful that you don’t make your tick-boxes too specific. It’s not: “He must have blue eyes, blonde hair and be an architect.” Think more like: “Kind, family values, laughs a lot.”

Once you’ve written it down, put it away and forget about it. Chances are, you’ll find your list years later and realize it is a very accurate description of your new love!

3. Be your own person

When you do start dating again, don’t be one of those people who forgets about all their friends and gives everything up for their partner.

Keep your own hobbies, and try not to see them seven days a week. As exciting as falling in love may be, you don’t need to be attached at the hip.

If you are, you’re setting up patterns for failure later in your relationship—no one can maintain that level of contact with someone. And your friends won’t be happy, either, if you ditch them every time someone new comes along.

4. Have fun!

Take the opportunity to try new date ideas, push your comfort circles a little and explore new things. If you’re having a lot of fun on your dates, there will be barely any time to get nervous about it!

What tips can you add from your experiences moving on after heartbreak?

Grand Gestures of Love

So, I’ve had a long week. I won’t bore you with the details—suffice to say my husband and I bought a new house and have been painting and moving all week… And I never want to see another box for as long as I live.

When I am a bit flat, there’s nothing like a bit of romance to perk me back up again. I was feeling so great while watching this video that I thought I might share it in the hopes of making you smile too. Go watch it—I’ll wait here…

grand gestures of love

Image by stock.xchng user qute

Grand gestures of love like these are beautiful. They don’t happen every day, which makes them very special. They take something that is usually private and only between two people—intimate, romantic love—and scream it from the rooftops.

To see someone go to that much effort for love—well, it gives everyone hope that true love really does exist.

The little, everyday things that go into love and relationships are just as special, of course. The cup of tea your partner brings you in bed in the mornings, your favorite chocolate bar they bring home at the end of the day. A lovely hug. All those are important too. But they’re also evidence of a completely different thing—a sign of caring between two longterm partners, usually.

These flamboyant shows of love are also wonderful, and they are the quintessential representation of love in its early stages: loud, impulsive, and energetic. Simply magic!

While that video is an extreme example, there are many great stories out there to share. What’s the best grand gesture of love you’ve ever seen … or experienced?

What You Need to Know About Break Ups

Breaking up is more than just hard to do. It’s physically painful. Scientists who have been putting dumpees into brain scanners have found that the same part of the brain lights up when they feel physical pain as when they see a picture of their ex-partner.

So now we can see why people who are experiencing an unwanted break up report feeling like they’ve been “kicked in the stomach” or “knocked sideways”.

I know that during my last breakup, I spent many an hour nursing my solar plexus, which felt like it had gone six rounds with Mike Tyson.

The feelings during a break up are a mixture of grief and something akin to breaking a drug habit. That is, you’re reliant on and addicted to what you get from your partner. Once they’re taken away, you go into a withdrawal, heavily salted with the stages of grief.

Grief for the person you lost, grief for the future you’d been planning. Suddenly everything has to change. You have to readjust your five- or ten-year plan—sometimes you had your whole life with a person planned out.

You go through all the stages of grief—the denial (it’s a break, not a break up) and then anger, fear, depression … and finally acceptance.

It’s no wonder we can’t just get on with life straight away. Everyone goes through a break up at their own pace. It’s okay to be sad.

Here are a few tips on getting through the process.

Be realistic

Don’t put your ex up on a pedestal. Know that they’re just one of many people who will be a good match for you—the fish in the sea metaphor is a good one because it’s true. Of course, in your addiction-addled state you won’t believe this for a while. Keep it in mind until you do.

Accept it

You can’t keep thinking you’ll get back together. Your own grieving process will move quicker if you can accept that it’s over. It’s not just a break, it’s a break up. Remove reminders of them and minimize your contact, especially early on in the break up process.

Put yourself first

This is a better time than ever to pamper yourself and take care of your own needs. Get to know yourself again, as some people may experience a little identity crisis after being part of a couple for so long.

Keep yourself clean

Turning to addictive habits to cope is not a good thing. You’re very vulnerable in a break up state, and even things like too much caffeine can blow out anxiety to full scale panic-attacks. Don’t binge on alcohol, drugs, food, or caffeine. You’re only adding to your problems.

Get a support network

…Preferably of single friends! Reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while, and hang out having fun with other singles. It will give you hope that there is life after your break up.

How do you get through a break up?

Emotional Affairs and What to Do About Them

We spoke last week about Surviving an Affair. I was talking about the topic with a friend over coffee the other day and another great offshoot of it came up: the Emotional Affair.

These are affairs that you may not even realize you’re having. Because technically, you’re not breaking any rules. There’s been no swapping of saliva, no one’s seen anyone naked (except maybe in your daydreams) … you may tell yourself you’re just good friends, even though you know you’re thinking about this person a bit too much.

If this all sounds familiar and you think you’re not doing anything dangerous, you’d be wrong.

Not only are these affairs the precursor to a full-blown, rolling-between-the-sheets adulterous kind, but even if you never get to that stage, you’ve already broken your partner’s trust.

How? You’re getting your emotional needs met by someone else, and in the process you are probably lying to your partner about the nature of this “friendship” you spend so much time on.

According to The Emotional Affair, there are three things every emotional affair has in common:

Emotional intimacy: Transgressors share more of their inner self, frustrations, and triumphs than with their spouses. They are on a slippery slope when they begin sharing the dissatisfaction with their marriage with a co-worker.

Secrecy and deception: They neglect to say, We meet every morning for coffee. Once the lying starts, the intimacy shifts farther away from the marriage.

Sexual chemistry: Even though the two may not act on the chemistry, there is at least an unacknowledged sexual attraction.

An emotional affair often starts as a friendship, perhaps with a co-worker or with a long-lost friend you’ve reconnected with on Facebook.

Your partner may not feel like they have a right to put an end to your “friendship” with this person. They might not even be aware that there’s anything going on. You may have made them believe that their intuitive jealousy is petty.

You may have been telling yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. But if the above sounds familiar, then you need to stop. Now. Before it gets worse.

Emotional affairs may not be about sex, but you’re definitely looking for something. Instead of looking outside your relationship, pour all that energy back into refocusing on your partner and your connection with them. Before you make a big mistake.

Have you had, or heard of, an emotional affair? What are your thoughts?

Surviving an Affair

This article caught my eye last week. The writer’s close friend has found out her husband is having an affair. Instead of kicking him to the curb like most people around her are advising, she has decided to fight for their marriage.

She doesn’t have much support in this decision from her family and friends. It’s understandable—I often find that, in matters of the heart, your nearest and dearest are more loyal to you than you are to yourself. But then she is the one that loves her husband, and sometimes love is not able to be rationalized.

She has decided to try and forgive, which blows me away. Not least because I don’t think I could do it.

What a huge job this woman is undertaking.

Not only does she have to try and rebuild trust with the man that already did her wrong (harder almost than starting a new relationship, and trusting someone new with your heart) but she also has to rebuild her own self-esteem.

On one hand, they have children together, and many experts say that if the partners really can work it out and move on to a future relationship that isn’t full of hateful conflict, it can be better for the family in the long run than cutting your losses and leaving.

Some experts even maintain that a marriage can be stronger and better for having recovered from an affair.

To stay or to go is obviously a very personal decision. I think most people have an instinctive and knee-jerk reaction to infidelity.

I’ve always, always said adultery is a deal-breaker for me. Reader comments on the article reflect others with the same opinion. “Denise needs to get some self esteem,” says the first one off the bat. In the past, I would have tended to agree.

But the more I read into Denise’s story, and the more I started researching, the less sure I am about the cut-and-run approach, and the more impressed I am at her courage to stay.

Her story reminded me of that of Laura Munson, who refused to let her husband divorce her even though he wanted to leave the family.

Online, I found another woman who had been through adultery describe it: “He decided to leave me for a season of our marriage.”

I liked the connotation—marriage is a long, convoluted journey. For one season, her husband wasn’t up for the commitment. He has since recommitted and they seem like they’ve moved past it. The marriage endures.

Dr. Gary Neuman has found that the number one reason men cheat is because of an emotional disconnect at home. It’s not about the sex, or that the mistress is younger, or more attractive, it’s about them being dissatisfied with the emotional state of their relationship.

While Dr. Neuman hasn’t done studies on why women cheat, many websites cite the same reason. Emotional disconnect, feeling unloved, and feeling rejected.

In light of that, I think most people who have experienced infidelity could probably look at that and say. “Yes, my relationship could have done with some work to keep it stronger.” Or, “Yes, we did let the intimacy slide.”

They say it takes two to tango. That isn’t to condone the adulterous behavior, but if you can identify a reason for that infidelity, and one that you, personally, have some control over, you might begin to see how you could work it out together.

For anyone who finds themselves having to deal with this unfortunate situation, then one thing I would absolutely recommend is seeking professional help to deal with it. Adultery is simply too big and too complicated to tackle alone.

Without knowing what you’re supposed to do next, it can become bigger than you. Every fight can turn into: “Well, who cares what I did because you had an affair!” and that’s not forgiveness—that’s resentment.

Both partners have to want to rebuild, and both have to commit to working at it.

The most important thing to remember, if you find your partner is cheating, is that you don’t have to make a decision abut staying or going right away. Not today, and maybe not even tomorrow.

Take the time to vent, hurt, cry, and scream. Release all the grief that comes out. And then you will have a clearer head and can make a more rational choice about the future of your relationship.

Then you need to open the lines of communication, with help, and start to rebuild from the ground up.

Do you think you have it in you to forgive an affair?

5 Habits of Highly Effective (and Happy!) Couples

Of course, there are certain things every relationship needs to function properly even at a basic level.

These essential foundations—trust, honesty, and attraction—should be already taken care of if you’re in any kind of a functional romantic relationship.

But what about the little extra things that make a good relationship great?

Here are five common habits of highly effective couples … as observed by me.

1. Commitment

A relationship is nothing without commitment. Because life is never one straight road. And relationships are a rollercoaster. There are highs and there are lows, and there are times where you feel like throwing in the towel and walking away.

It’s not that there are certain couples that are walking around on clouds all the time. Even the happiest of relationships have their dark hours. The highly effective couples are the ones that push through the other side to find the light and laughter again.

You only have a relationship as long as two people are committed to it. It’s a matter of waking up every morning and committing again and again to what you want, despite all the other hazards that get in the way.

Charlie and Linda Bloom, authors of Secrets of Great Marriages, have a lot to say about the topic of commitment in this interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

2. Make an effort

Great couples make the effort to be great.

Connectedness, intimacy, conversation, and time together don’t come easily. Well, they do at first, but then you’re fighting a losing battle against hormones and time to keep all these things—and the spark—alive in your relationship. If you don’t make an effort, they will all but disappear and you’ll barely notice as it happens.

Great couples continue to reconnect and be intimate even when their libidos wane, they schedule regular date nights and make sure they stick to them, they talk about things that are not the bills, the children, or the washing.

They don’t just let life pass them and their relationships by in a heartbeat, without getting what they want from their relationship.

3. Time apart

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the couples that I admire are always ones that have great balance between their couple-time and their independence.

I love couples where each partner pursues their own hobbies, spends time with their own friends, and isn’t afraid to take leisure time alone. There is of course such a thing as too much time apart … but there’s also too much time together, and that can be just as damaging.

4. Fight fair

Every couple—even the happy ones—will have disagreements from time to time. Highly effective couples know that during an argument, they need to still respect their partner and listen, even if they don’t agree with them.

We talked earlier on FeelGooder about why fighting can be good for your relationship—go check out the article if you want some tips on how to fight constructively with your partner.

5. Play

I love couples who still play together, even after years in a long-term relationship.

A bit of playfulness in your day keeps you laughing, keeps you young, and keeps you happy. Singing loudly at the top of your lungs, dancing barefoot in the lounge room, tickling or water fights … whatever it is that takes your fancy, do it.

This is by no means a complete list. What other qualities do you see in couples you admire, or in your own relationship, that you can share with us?