Marriages fail because partners don’t try hard enough. Right?

According to conventional wisdom, matrimonial slackers cause marital dissatisfaction.  Seems true enough.
Yes, those vows we made were, essentially, promises not to slack off after the “I-dos.”   Naively, we take for granted that there is wisdom in conventional wisdom.  We believe the myth that marriages fail because partners don’t try hard enough, just like we believe the myth that marital success depends on finding the right person.

As infatuation inevitably fades, partners begin to notice incompatibilities.  We feel disappointed over unmet expectations and confused about whether incompatibilities mean that we didn’t marry the right person afterall.  We panic and mentally grasp for explanations and solutions.  When we apply the matrimonial slacker label to our partners, we enter the realm of disenchantment.

Going with conventional wisdom leaves us vulnerable to the proverbial wolf in grandma’s clothing.  The tragi-comedy of this old thinking surfaces when: 1) One partner chronically labels the other as the matrimonial slacker.  2) Both partners think they are trying as hard as anyone possibly can and start pointing fingers at the other one as the matrimonial slacker.

If you conclude that your partner is not trying hard enough, you feel entitled to let him know about it.  To demand that she step up.  To harbor resentments, if she seems oblivious to your requests for behavior change.  To raise holy hell, if he ignores your to-do list.

Although there are as many variations on so-called matrimonial slacking as there are couples, the basic scenario goes like this: Liz notices that Joe hasn’t given her flowers in months.  She wonders whether he still cherishes her the way a spouse should.  She feels hurt and a little angered by his thoughtlessness.  She even drops a hint.  “Joey,” she says, “I was just thinking about how excited I got on Valentine’s Day when you sent that big bouquet to my office.”  Being the matrimonial slacker that he is, Joe does not take the hint.  Liz starts noticing other ways that Joe is slacking off – letting his laundry pile up on the closet floor, not shaving on weekends (who wants to kiss that scratchy mug?), snoring on the couch while the kids color on the walls, calling her “Lizard” when he knows she hates that.

Joe notices that Liz hasn’t been interested in sex lately, especially on weekends, which used to be the most likely time for love-making.  He wonders whether she is still attracted to him.  It even crosses his mind that she might be interested in that guy she seems to like so much at her office.  He drops a hint.  “Lizard,” he says, “I read that people live longer when they have sex at least twice a week.”   Being the matrimonial slacker that she is, Liz does not take the hint.  Joe starts noticing other ways that Liz is slacking off.

Partners under the influence of old thinking focus on making the case against the matrimonial slacker and convincing him or her to change into someone closer to the right person.  Everybody Marries the Wrong Person offers an alternative to concluding that your partner is the matrimonial slacker.  Instead of viewing your spouse as a renovation project, you focus on renovating yourself: learning to manage your own insecurities and dark moods, expectations and reactions.  This means adopting a new, universally-applicable and constructive marriage paradigm – self-responsible spouse.

Self-responsible Liz and self-responsible Joe direct their thoughts differently.  They go “up left.”  They take stock of their own behavior, drop their case against the matrimonial slacker and focus on what their partner does right, deconstruct their negative emotions and change their reactions.

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© Copyright 2013 Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Christine Meinecke received a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kansas in 1983. She interned at Colorado State University Counseling Center and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Meinecke is in her nineteenth year of full-time private practice in Des Moines, Iowa. Prior to entering private practice, she worked in hospital mental health settings She has taught psychology and psychotherapy classes to undergraduates, graduate students, and medical residents. She is also a playwright. Her full-length, comedic play, Flutter the Dovecotes, was the 2009 winner of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop competition and was premiered by Tallgrass Theatre Company in January 2010. For more information about Flutter the Dovecotes click ”works” tab. For thirty-plus years, she has practiced yoga and taught yoga classes in various settings. She met her beloved wrong person while both were graduate students at University of Kansas. They have been married twenty-nine years.