At some point, the Honeymoon is over.
It’s a terrible old saying.
Unfortunately, it’s true.
No One Is Perfect
Even for the world’s most perfect couple, the newness rubs off. Maybe it takes a week, maybe a decade. But at some point, two people know each other as well as two people can. Strengths come to be regarded as expected, and weaknesses –or just things one person just doesn’t like about the other—grow from being minor irritants to relationship-killers. To their surprise, these couples find themselves in a dying marriage.
No two people will be in perfect alignment all the time. It’s as simple as one person being too hot, and the other too cold.
Maybe through chance one person is genetically more concerned about seeing to the needs of the other at their own expense, and that can work. But at some point, conflict arises and two people want different things, and the small parade of small irritants accumulate until the dam breaks, and there’s a fight… maybe even a cataclysmic all-out battle.
This is part of being human.
There Will be Conflict
Some of us are naturally skilled at working through conflict in a healthy manner. We are able to take a step back to look at the situation and put things in perspective. We can put our emotions and hurt feelings aside. We are even good at seeing the other person’s point of view, and at apologizing if we’re wrong or when we see how the other person might feel hurt or aggrieved.
Then there’s the rest of us. Actually, virtually all of us.
Most of us aren’t so good at working through issues. We are taught to avoid conflict, and criticism, and we also have an inborn sense that, “of course I’m right and they’re wrong!” It’s human nature.
We also find it hard to admit we’re wrong, to admit weakness, and to risk getting our feelings hurt by making ourselves emotionally vulnerable.
But left unaddressed, over time, everything eventually blows up.
Most of us don’t like to fight, and when we do, we fight emotionally and focus on telling our partner what we want them to hear, rather than listening and trying to understand, discuss and fix whatever the issue may be, and making sure we understand the other person’s point of view. So hurt feelings multiply; we just aren’t good fighters.
And often, the way that some people –especially men– avoid hurt feelings and the discomfort of talking about emotions is to avoid the conflict all together, or to just stop engaging. So, if there’s an argument, we sulk, and perhaps even go to the silent treatment. Often this isn’t to punish our partner, but because we’re too mad to think and communicate clearly or without making things worse. So the argument doesn’t get resolved, and the inventory of hurt feelings grows further.
And when people stop talking and trying to work things out, this can poison the relationship to the point that it can’t be fixed.
“I don’t talk too much. I just have a lot to say.”
And on the flip side of the silent treatment is over-communicating.
Let’s say there’s a fight, and the couple has talked and debated exhaustively… and the issue is still not resolved. One person wants to keep at it… but the other is completely spent. It’s best at that point to take a break, pick it up again later. Some of us just need some time to think, to digest, and to get our frazzled brains and emotions gathered before we can again talk constructively about an issue.
If we keep going, the fight can get worse, where one person says something out of frustration and exhaustion that makes things worse. Or one person caves to just end the argument and move on. This isn’t good or fair either, although it’s a long-acknowledged negotiating technique. But you’re not working out a corporate merger or selling another person a used car; you’re working things out in your marriage. And if you don’t work things out fairly, you’re just adding to your future troubles.
If your partner needs a break, give them the break. But you have every right to ask them to commit to picking up the issues again at an agreed-to time.
Extraverts and Introverts
Remember that there’s a difference between extraverts and introverts.
Extraverts often love to drag everything out into the open and talk things through, and as soon as they’re thinking it, they’re saying it.
Introverts, on the other hand, need time to really consider everything until they’ve thought things through, and they’ve perhaps even rehearsed the conversation in their mind.
Throw things at Introverts without preparation, and they feel completely uncomfortable, unprepared, and like the other person isn’t fighting fair. But to an extravert, when the introvert pushes back on needing more time before they are ready to talk, it feels like the introvert is shutting them down and doesn’t care. That’s not the case, they just need time to gather their thoughts.
So, remember and accept that your partner may be different from you, and this is okay, even if you don’t completely understand it. The way your partner thinks, talks, and handles conflict doesn’t necessarily reflect how they feel about you.
“But I thought that…” / “You never said…”
False assumptions lead to the cooling of relationships when couples discover they strongly disagree on something important that they’d never talked about.
For example, how and where to vacation, when, and for how long. One person might want a relaxing week at the beach with their toes in the sand. The other person wants to explore a historic city, soaking in as much history and experiences as possible. Who compromises?
Or, it might be the couple disagrees on how much money to save for retirement versus how much to spend on those same vacations.
And there’s always the issue of sex: how often and for how long? As the newness of the relationship fades, perhaps one partner is feeling less interested and adventurous, to the alarm of the other.
And People Are Just Different
And what if two people find they don’t put the same importance or emphasis on some things?
We all enjoy different things and make some things priorities that others don’t. Me, I like watching football. On a list of things my wife enjoys, that rates somewhere just above watching Ken Burns’ documentaries. Which she finds painfully boring, but that I also happen to enjoy.
How about when one spouse is passionate about something that the other spouse views as unimportant or uninteresting? And worse, what if the first spouse thinks it should be important to the other? And the other spouse just can’t make themselves care. For example, I agree the living room should be painted. My wife, however, had a long list of details of critical importance that she wanted my full and unwavering attention. And I try, but I just can’t put my mind to it. Here, her unstated expectations are not being met, leading to feelings of betrayal, rejection and hurt feelings.
Boom. Instant conflict.
In our own relationship, this has happened frequently. Personally, having a showplace home is not important to me. All I really want is to have a comfortable spot where I can put up my feet and use my laptop and watch TV, a soft bed, and a spot in the corner of the garage for my workbench. If I were to decorate, I’d rather have some quirky, interesting objects and posters that communicate ideas and novelty. Maybe a velvet Elvis tapestry, perhaps some gritty proof art from pulp fiction novels from the 60’s of a hardened private detective bursting into a hotel room, gun drawn.
That doesn’t fly with my gal. She wants a home she can be proud of, that friends could envision being featured in a home magazine when they visit. I joke with her sometimes about decorating my way instead.
She finds this monumentally un-amusing.
Actually, she sees it as me making fun of something that is important to her. So, I’ve mostly stopped joking about it. Although I still do occasionally see something, say a huge 1970’s Spencer Gifts Lava Lamp at a garage sale, and will suggest it would look great on our mantle. She never fails to give me a dirty look. I laugh and let it go. Call it a flaw of mine, that I needle her once in a while, jokingly. It shouldn’t be a big deal to her. But it is. And I guess my needling is to point this out to her, and remind her that I let her do what she wants. Not that it gets me any credit.
Although I should mention that she did give me permission to decorate the garage and basement any way I like.
Joking aside (well, actually, that’s not a joke, it’s really what she said), this was a case where we compromised, and we do things her way because it’s more important to her. And when she wants to talk about things that are important to her, like decorating, I really do try to sit down and give her my full attention.
And in fairness to my wife, she did make absolutely sure that I had a comfortable place to sit.
But, the key point here is that if two people feel strongly about something, and disagree, the disagreement can sap the energy of a relationship, and the feeling of intimacy. It doesn’t matter if it’s how to decorate, what possessions to purchase, or how to raise the kids: any kind of conflict can cause two people to view each other as adversaries.
In any relationship, the two people need to decide on priorities and what’s important and where they can compromise, and where they can’t.
And in the case of decorating our house, my wife has carte blanche, and I agree to not express my opinions afterwards since I wouldn’t express them ahead of time.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Nothing Can Be New Forever: Good Sex Fades