I once worked with a highly-competent woman of impressive accomplishments and bearing. She was a former military officer and graduate of one of the US Military Academies. She had, in many ways, been dealt a good hand in life. She had a job she felt was important, was well compensated, and spent her weeks traveling to see clients and consulting with Fortune 500 Executives.
As her 10th Anniversary approached, she asked her husband what he wanted.
“A divorce,” he responded.
She was shocked, and devastated. But that was a stellar example of where unresolved conflict, seething anger and a total lack of communication –as well as an understanding that anything was even wrong—led to a divorce.
If we are married, we can’t let things get to that point.
We are partners. We need to have discussions about what our priorities are, and also how to communicate and talk. Anger can’t be bottled up and ignored. We need to look to our own happiness, and that of our partner’s, and we need to talk about it and work together to make sure we each are getting what we need.
We need to nourish each other. Because, if we’re in a long-term monogamous relationship, we have no one else who can nourish us in some many ways.
We need to clearly understand what’s a must-have, and a nice-to-have, both for ourselves and for our partner. And we need to make sure we each get what we need to be happy, as best we can.
Marriage is not just about compromise. Sometimes, it’s about giving, selflessly.
I have a couple college buddies who are my closest friends. When we get together, it’s joyful, fun, good for my soul. My wife wants me to see them, but she absolutely cannot stand any of their wives, for various reasons.
So, once or twice a year, I see one or more of them for a boy’s weekend, sometimes with our sons. I get what I need, and my wife avoids a weekend of misery. We’re all winners. And when I get home, I treat her like a queen, grateful to her for giving me something I value so much.
My wife feels she’s giving selflessly, letting me go away a couple times a year. Me, I feel more like we reached a compromise, where we’re both winners. Whatever the case, it’s worked out well.
And when she’s insistent that she wants a new couch, or volunteers me to work at the school carnival, I make every effort to give her what she wants.
My personal philosophy is that if your spouse really wants something, let them have it, within reason, and as long as things are roughly (but not obsessively) equitable. We’re partners, and I want to make her happy.
In a good relationship, we should both want the other person to be happy. If my wife really wants me to take out the trash every night, or get the kids fed and out the door in the mornings, or listen to her intently as she talks about her day, I will do my best in each case. (Although I admit I totally blow at the last item.) I could put a altruistic spin on it, and say that her happiness is important to me, and it is… but I’ll also admit that selfishly, her unhappiness directly impacts me as well.
But –and this is a critical point– I have to be careful. If I do everything she wants all the time, and subordinate my wants and needs to hers all the time, then our marriage is no longer equal: it’s the opposite, with her dominant. And there are significant negatives to that we’ll discuss in the next post.
Also, doing whatever she wants can become expected… and thus no longer appreciated. So, I have to be firm and say no sometimes, which can lead to a fight. While it’s important to me to make her happy, I also need to remember that she needs to be fair and reasonable. And that certainly goes both ways.
The barometer of a healthy marriage: Sex
When you’re angry with your partner, do you want to have sex? Probably not. You’re too hurt, or you deliberately shun your partner to punish them. You don’t feel sexy, or in the mood, or you look at your partner, and just see the person that wronged you. Feeling negative towards your partner, perhaps you notice other things about them that you don’t like as well.
So, how’s your sex life? Are you having much sex? Or are anger and other issues getting in the way?
Sex increases your intimacy, brings you closer to each other, or that makes each of you feel loved. It’s sex where you’re doing things to each other, and for yourself, rather than for each other. Maybe it will clear the emotions and afterwards you can talk openly, and if so, well, maybe that’s okay.
If you’re so upset with each other that you can’t have sex, you need to talk. Defuse some of the anger. And I would suggest that as soon as you can, you get together sexually. There is no more intimate act than sex.
Sex is a critical part of marriage and relationships, and makes both people feel loved and accepted.
As such, it’s a vital part of nourishing a relationship.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Marriage, Part 5: I’m Just Not Feeling the Spark Anymore. I’m feeling Unfulfilled.