By Dr. Dale Atkins
For most people, the picture of a perfect marriage is a white picket fence and eternal happiness. But just how to achieve that bliss is subject to wide debate: Do babies really bring you closer? Should you be concerned if you’re not having much sex? How much should you tell your spouse? Let’s separate the marriage myths from reality.
Your spouse is your best friend
If you think this way, you’ll be in for a big disappointment. Over the years, you definitely develop an amazing friendship with the person you are married to. But it doesn’t necessarily start off that way. You develop that respect because you have your own life and your own interests and you support each other through illness, bad times, and death. That is what the basis of the friendship is about.
A best friend is someone you go to the movies with, that you have a lot in common with. But you need someone who you can go through life with, depending and relying on — and that takes time. And you may not tell your spouse everything, but it doesn’t mean you are not close.
Don’t go to bed angry
When you are lying next to someone and you are seething anger, it’s not good. The best thing is to table things so you don’t feel like you want to murder the person sleeping next to you. Remind yourself of all the positive things about this person and hopefully you will have a fresh eye in the morning. If you are that angry with somebody, you might not hear what they are saying anyway. It becomes unproductive.
Is there a problem if one of you sleeps on the couch? Well, it might be a problem if one of you doesn’t! As long as you are not running away, then you are all right. But if you need time to think, that’s one thing. If it becomes weeks at a time, it’s a problem.
Don’t worry if you don’t have sex
On the one hand, people are so busy, that sex becomes something else you have to do. But it should be a way to unwind, to be playful together. It doesn’t have to be a whole romantic evening, it can be a quickie. The myth is that you are going to want to have sex every night, and that is just not what happens.
People are different, and marriages — good marriages — are based on lots of different factors Some people have really good marriages and make love a lot, and some make less. Most people who have really good marriages make love. They do it in ways that are important to each of them. So if you are not having sex, it is something to examine.
The balance definitely changes as you get older. But you have to be careful that you are getting what you need. You don’t want to get into a boring pattern where you are no longer interested in your mate or want to share your life with them.
Babies bring you closer
Babies can bring you closer in many ways. But it’s so hard on the body and the mind and the emotions — people are exhausted, and constantly questioning whether they are doing it right Usually the woman feels she is doing way more than her share and is very resentful and disappointed in her partner, but most of it initially is hormones. A woman’s body goes nuts. There are wonderful moments of parenting children together, but it’s important to maintain and really nurture your marriage when you have new children in it.
Most people put most of their energy into their kids. If you can afford child care, get someone to baby-sit and go out to dinner. Or rent a movie and cuddle up together — don’t go on your respective BlackBerries. For some people, nighttime is the only time they have to do laundry or clean the house. But try to take an hour, and be sure to focus on talking about something other than the baby.
Don’t fight in front of the kids
It all depends on how you define “fight.” It can be very frightening to observe parents going at it. You have to be civil with each other. But if you fight fair, you can be teaching your children how to have a disagreement respectfully. Most people don’t fight fair; they call each other names, they diminish each other. And most children don’t know what to do and they mimic it. If you know how to fight and can fight fair, then very often you then have to make up in front of the kids as well. Let them see that this is a process — so they see how mom and dad get along.
You have a responsibility as a parent to teach your children how to interact with other people in difficult times and good times. We spend a lot of time teaching them please and thank you, but we don’t give them any lesson at all about how you fight, disagree, how you can agree to disagree, because generally we all get too hot-headed.
If you learn how to fight civilly, I would say you’ll fight less. You will learn how to come to solutions rather than fight.
Don’t take your spouse for granted
If you can’t rely on them, who can you rely on? Of course, don’t treat them like an old shoe. That is really very important when you build trust in a relationship, that you can rely on the person but you don’t take advantage of their love and their commitment. You still consider them and treat them very specially.
You want to feel secure in your relationship but at the same time, you have to show them how much you count on them and rely on them. Nobody wants to be taken for granted — everyone wants to be appreciated. You have to let the person know they are appreciated. Don’t assume they know you appreciate them — even if you say “Thank you” or “I don’t know how to do it without you.” Let them know they are the person you want to be with, and you have to remind yourself why you are with them. Remove yourself from seeing the dirty T-shirts … the weight gain … sometimes it’s hard to focus on what’s positive and remind yourself what a great person they are.
Dale V. Atkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who has more than twenty-five years of experience as a relationship expert, focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well, managing stress and maintaining balance in one’s life. Visit her at drdaleatkins.com