What building a good marriage does and doesn’t require
Many women (and some men) get married and forget who they are. They may believe the “togetherness” myth that suggests that the two of you become one, in a way that causes one of you to lose your separate identity. In general, women are more empathic than men. Consequently, we’re more likely to intuit our partner’s wants and needs and habitually try to meet them, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
A woman may dislike football, crowds, and noise, yet endure many Sundays at stadiums, together, because she thinks a good marriage requires this. She might spend every Sunday with his parents because her husband wants to, although she wishes to be with her own family on some Sundays. She might teeter in painful spiky high heels because he likes how sexy she looks in them.
Marital Relationship as a Braid
In contrast, I like the way my friend Amy described her marriage to Michael. She said she thinks of their relationship as a braid with three strands. One strand represents herself, another symbolizes her husband. The third signifies their union, an identity that incorporates the two of them, yet allows each to exist independently.
Amy and Michael understand that engaging in a relationship means connecting, not clinging. She loves to travel. He’d rather to stay home and practice Karate. So Amy travels with a woman friend and he’s fine with that.
Michael and Amy are sensitive to and considerate of each other. They enjoy their time together. By pursuing their separate interests, they stay vibrant and attractive. Their example shows that self-care is not selfish.
Losing and Finding Balance
If you try to stand on one foot for as long as you can, at some point you will lose your balance and need to put down the raised foot to regain it. We feel similarly off kilter when we forget to nurture our separate identity, which we need to maintain on order to feel fully supported.
A spouse who gets into a pattern of placating her partner may feel okay at first. But eventually she’ll feel resentful about having become a doormat. If this happens to you, stop! To get back to your calm, relaxed center that exists deep within all of us, ask yourself, “What needs to happen for me to feel better?” Then do your best to make that happen.
Using positive communication techniques can help restore your equilibrium and build intimacy. Negotiate as needed. Stand up for what’s really important to you, even it causes strife at the moment, because it is better for your relationship in the long run.
Self-nurturing activities also help you return to your essential self. If you can use a reminder for ways to enjoy yourself on your own, you can do an internet search for “list of pleasurable activities,” for ideas, which can include taking a bath, a walk, or a class; going to a lecture, discussion group, or a play; and many, many more suggestions.
A short, weekly marriage meeting is a gentle, loosely structured conversation that keeps your relationship on track and honors each of your unique selves. My book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love , 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, tells you step by step how to hold a marriage meeting, using guidelines, a simple agenda, and positive communication skills.
The challenge is to respect both our own and our partner’s autonomy. Remember that you are part of the pair. There is no twosome without you.
[Marcia Naomi Berger]