Earlier this month Seth Adam Smith posted a thought-provoking article on his blog, which you can read here: http://sethadamsmith.com/2013/11/02/marriage-isnt-for-you/.
The premise of his article, titled “Marriage Isn’t For You” is that you don’t get married to make yourself happy, but to make your partner happy. Love and marriage is all about the other person and you’re not ready for marriage if you are too self-focused.
Smith’s post is probably largely influenced by his Mormon beliefs, but that last bit about not getting married if you’re too focused on yourself is sage advice for people of any or no religious denomination. As for the rest of his post? Maybe not so applicable.
Sometime before his own marriage, Smith was feeling the pre-altar jitters and went to his father for some words of wisdom: “More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them?”
Extended family approval is not a requirement for marriage, and indeed you might not even be thinking about starting your own when you decide to get married. “Is this the future father/mother of my children?” may not be the most important question you need to be asking yourself when thinking about if your loved one is the one. Compatibility, chemistry, and mutual attraction are just a few of the factors that should supersede the importance of how great a parent your partner might make some day. Smith’s claim, of course, doesn’t even address couples who may not even desire children.
Furthermore, not every relationship is striving for marriage and this does not make them any less valid. Marriage cannot fix a problematic relationship and having children will not make rough patches in your marriage go away. (In fact, it is far more likely to exacerbate existing issues and create new points of contention!)
Smith writes: “A true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’ while Love asks, ‘What can I give?’”
There is a difference between being 100% dedicated to your partner and what Smith is suggesting: that you entrust your happiness to your spouse-to-be. Ideally, both people should be happy when going into a marriage, and should indeed be thinking of how they can offer their future spouse their unconditional love and support. However, ultimately each partner is responsible for his or her own happiness. Certainly your partner should be a positive element that contributes to your happiness, but he or she is not responsible for it. That’s a weighty responsibility to unload onto someone! No one is responsible for your happiness, but you! If you’re not thinking about your own happiness, how are you going to be aware of all that your spouse does to try to make you happy? Not taking responsibility for your own happiness is a way to avoid introspection and truly understanding yourself. Self-reflection and insight in what happiness means to each of us is the best way to understand your own emotions and life goals.
Smith’s blog post is written from the perspective of someone who is married, for someone who is considering marriage. What his theory fails to account for is falling in love in the first place. How do you meet your future Mr. or Mrs. Right if you’re not being an active agent in your happiness?
Late last winter I met with one couple who were very distant from one another. Interestingly, they weren’t fighting very often (but did from time to time)! They were however, so disconnected from one another that it was as if they lived in separate homes. They had two young children and yet had been married for quite a few years already.
In many ways, they weren’t very different from many young couples. Both worked full-time, were excellent parents who were mostly on the same page, and actually had some family rituals that they occasionally followed. However, they spent almost no time alone with one another. And for quite a while, this was not a huge problem. Both truly felt like they were roommates, and had a (successful) business partnership of running a family. What was somewhat unique about this couple is that they had relatively little conflict with one another. They did not argue very much. Over time though, their lack of closeness did start to weigh on them (which caused them to come in for couples counseling).
Commitment to Change
At the beginning, while both acknowledged that while they were great business partners, each of them truly desired more. They both wanted to become more connected and feel closer like they originally felt before having kids. Both partners were actually very relieved to discover that they each actually wanted more. They feared somehow that successful “business partners” was as good as the relationship would get. So they each made a commitment to work hard, put energy into the relationship, and strive to regain the closeness they once had.
No Magic Wand
After preparing this couple that while the first step was agreeing to put in the work to rebuild their connection, I made sure they knew that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. After being disconnected for more than a few years, I reminded them that it was going to take consistency and some time to become close again. The first step was a small one. This couple agreed to my recommendation of carving out a minimum of 5 minutes per day (after the kids went to bed) of simply sharing their day with one another. Over time this grew to almost 30 minutes a night. Additionally, they committed to having a date night no less than twice per month. Each took turns planning the date night. Along the way we went over some basic communication skills and the importance of no longer criticizing one another (to learn more about how harmful criticism is to a relationship, go here). This couple gradually became more and more connected.
Nice To Meet You (Again)!
It took a bit less than two months and this couple did become reconnected and felt a level of closeness that was similar to what they once had. After spending more quality time together and sharing more of the meaningful parts of their lives with one another, their sex life improved as well. They both agreed to keep their dedicated time together (including date nights) and committed to continue to put energy into remaining connected with one another.
Summing Up These 3 Steps:
1. Communicate Your Desire to become closer! Don’t simply assume that your partner “should just know.” Stating your intentions can actually make a HUGE difference.
2. Commit to a Minimum Amount of Time Together each day. Slowly increase time together as you both become more comfortable.
3. Take Turns Planning Date Nights. Commit to a consistent schedule and aim for a minimum of one date night each month.
Earlier this year I was working with one couple who were struggling mightily in their relationship. They had been married more than a few years, yet both were left feeling somewhat unstable in their relationship. They both felt “on edge” and it was only partially related to the frequent conflict they endured.
The “D” Word
Initially, this couple raised a few different issues that they identified as problems in their relationship. However, one of the least important issues they raised had to do with how they’d argue. Unfortunately, each time they got into a heated disagreement, one partner would inevitably invoke that nasty “D” word! DIVORCE! This partner, while desperately wanting to be heard, was contributing to the overall sense of instability in their relationship which they BOTH experienced.
Clean It Up!
It became evident fairly soon how damaging the “D” word was for their relationship. Interestingly, even the partner who consistently used this word realized that they also felt a similar sense of instability and were feeling very uneasy about their relationship. So before helping this couple improve their communication skills, we decided to establish some critical ground rules to follow in their relationship.
This couple agreed to the following:
1) The word “divorce” would not be used in their relationship as any kind of threat, manipulation or attempt to be heard.
2) During contentious arguments, they agreed to not use any profanity.
3) They also agreed on the best times in their schedules to discuss difficult or contentious issues.
4) They vowed to strive to “reschedule” a discussion if either of them was too angry (when they really knew nothing productive could come out of any discussion/argument).
Communication Skills 101
After establishing ground rules, this couple wanted to continue to figure out a way to resolve their issues by learning some communication fundamentals. We went over some basic communication steps (which takes place with almost all the couples I work with) and this couple was able to practice in session and at home. After about two weeks of practice, this couple rather quickly was able to engage in what I would call “healthy disagreements” where each partner truly felt heard.
Road Is Paved
Interestingly and to this couple’s surprise, the issues that this couple originally presented with started to feel much less problematic for them. They were pleasantly surprised to be able to find some common ground and reasonable compromises on most of their issues. Both partners identified that the establishment of ground rules was what really allowed them to successfully resolve their differences.
What is financial infidelity?
The level or nature of financial infidelity varies from couple to couple and is partly relative to the couple’s financial situation. Generally, it involves spending, borrowing, or stashing away a significant sum of money without your partner’s knowledge. This is often done through credit cards, especially when the account information is being kept secret from your partner.
Why is it such a problem?
Aside from the obvious, that it could lead to serious financial problems, financial infidelity just like any infidelity destroys trust and leads to a loss of intimacy within your relationship. Surprisingly, financial infidelity is often not about money, but is frequently a sign of bigger relationship problems. If your partner is spending a lot of money without discussing it with you first, he or she might be using money as an indirect method of retaliation for other issues in the relationship, like feeling unacknowledged or unappreciated, for example. These kinds of other stresses can cause partners to act out and make impulse buys or make a big deal out of their partner’s purchases- “how could you have spent that much at the grocery store?”
Problems with sex life and financial issues are the leading causes for divorce, with some research indicating that financial issues are involved in over 80% of divorce cases.
When should I be talking about finances with my significant other?
Not only when it’s too late! Avoid getting into a situation where finances are a problem in your relationship by talking about your financial philosophies before making significant life decisions, like moving in together, getting married, and having children. Things will be a lot smoother if you have similar financial philosophies or if you can reach a compromise that is comfortable for both of you. Make a budget and stick with it. Don’t hold any financial secrets. A good sample financial plan would be do to save 10% of your income and to agree on an amount of money that either partner can spend without first discussing the matter together. Try to live debt free as much as you can. Many people today, especially young couples, because of the rising cost of education, are already in debt when they enter in a relationship. Some of them feel that their financial situation is so bad they will never be out of debt and therefore might as well incur more debt to enjoy life while they’re young. As tempting as that plasma screen television or that Mediterranean cruise might be, the subsequent stress from unnecessary debt in a relationship won’t be worth it in the long run.
Who should be making financial decisions in a couple?
There are many situations when one partner may be earning significantly more than the other. This can happen, for example, when one partner is a stay-at-home parent or if one partner going back to school. When income levels are so disparate, it is easy for the primary earner to feel like he or she should be “in charge” of money matters. While this might at first glance seem fair, even to the other person, a relationship should be founded on mutual respect and shared decision making. In addition the actual income contributed in a relationship, it is important that the non-monetary contributions are also valued. Just because one partner is the primary financial contributor does not mean they get the green light to make all the money related decisions in the relationship.
Where should I go to get help resolving problems about finances and my marriage?
The best advice is to speak to a professional. A good therapist will be able to help you navigate your relationship problems and work through any larger issues that might be causing the financial infidelity or any conflicts over finances. When you can distinguish between trust–related issues and financial ones, overcoming your difficulties may not seem so daunting.
Not all affairs are physical. But that doesn’t mean an emotional affair is any less serious because of a lack of sexual contact. Emotional affairs betray a partner’s trust and make it difficult to regain closeness and intimacy within your relationship. For some people, women especially, it can be even harder to recover from an emotional affair than a physical one, since it can’t be “rationalized away” as having “mere” lustful impulses. For many women (and of course some men too), the thought that their partner is emotionally invested with somebody else can be much more threatening. While it’s certainly easy to know if you’re having a physical affair, an emotional affair might not always be so easy to indentify when it’s going on.
It’s black and white if you’ve had a physical affair. Either you have, or you haven’t. Emotional affairs are often a little foggier. How can you be certain you are simply enjoying a really close friendship and not engaging in an emotional affair? It’s not always so clear and it’s often easier to tell in retrospect. Part of this uncertainty often has to do with someone’s self-denial since it is natural to not want to admit to oneself that you are betraying your partner. So, examining some of the most common factors that exist while people are in emotional affairs can help you honestly assess your situation. The more of the following warning signs that you can identify, the more likely you’re vulnerable to having an emotional affair (or are already in one).
1. You feel sexually attracted to someone outside of your relationship
It might seem obvious to point out that being sexually attracted to someone else is a definite warning sign, but it’s also important to remember that not all emotional affairs involve sexual desire or even overt flirtatiousness. Of course, it is possible to be sexually attracted to someone other than your partner and have an otherwise healthy relationship.
2. You feel disconnected from your partner
Feeling distance or being disconnected from your partner is probably the most critical sign of being vulnerable to having an emotional affair. It is also why emotional affairs are so pernicious. People who aren’t getting their emotional needs met within their relationship often seek fulfillment elsewhere. They may crave for more intimacy in their relationship, but end up damaging the closeness they once had. Then, of course, they end up feeling more disconnected than before. One good litmus test for whether you’re having an emotional affair is if you’d feel comfortable telling your partner about getting your emotional needs met through this person. If not, the relationship is likely more than just a friendship!
3. Your current relationship is a low priority
Maybe part of why you feel distanced from your partner is because your relationship has become stale. Sometimes the allure and excitement of a new connection with someone can be more appealing than putting work into a long-term relationship when it has become a low priority for you. Are you and your partner not happy about the state of your relationship, but neither of you feels like broaching the subject? Is your relationship like the painting on the wall you’ve had for so long that you never really look at it anymore? If no one is acknowledging things aren’t okay, it can lead to wandering interest.
4. When you say or do things with another person that you wouldn’t do with your partner
Remember that excited feeling when you first started seeing your partner? When the initial excitement of a new friendship is maintained for longer than you’d normally expect, it might be an indicator that you are more than “just friends.” Are you eager to share news and swap stories with this new person right away, yet have little interest in sharing them with your partner? The difference between a close friendship and one that’s turned into an emotional affair is that the latter tends to escalate in terms of frequency and intensity. A friendship is also especially vulnerable to becoming an emotional affair when a big part of the relationship is based on complaining about problems in your respective relationships.
5. You’ve become very interested in connecting with old friends & old crushes on social media.
On the one hand, social media has made it much easier to have any type of affair. However, it also makes it easier to know if your partner is having one. Infidelity, whether emotional or physical, is often discovered when someone comes across a partner’s text messages or social media (intentionally or accidentally). Social networking sites like Facebook can make it especially easy to reconnect with childhood friends, or old high school flames. Reconnecting to past emotions can be a very powerful temptation and is likely to make you vulnerable to having an emotional affair.
If you feel you may be having an emotional affair, or if you think as a result of the above considerations you or your partner are especially vulnerable to having one, it would be a good idea to seek professional help either with or without your partner.