FINDING YOURSELF AFTER YOU SAY “I DO”

[ 0 ] February 8, 2018 |

“Study: Uttering Phrase, ‘Marriage Is Hard Work.’ Number One Predictor of Divorce.”

by dr. greg cason

That’s the headline I read as I was perusing Instagram for half-naked bodies and updates from friends…also showing their half-naked bodies. The title was from The Onion, a real, fake news outlet that presents newsy-type headlines that are generally a spoof on modern day events and culture. Only this time, the headline didn’t seem so fake.
As a psychologist who regularly sees couples, I know that marriage really is hard work and that all couples struggle. As a human who has been a part of a couple for the past 28 years, I experience the struggle and sometimes I feel too tired to do the work. It made me question: Why do relationships that seem to start so easily… sometimes end up being so hard?

Maybe it’s because though we may be with the same person the whole time, we do not always stay the same people. Not that we are invaded by pod people and taken over, but we grow and change as people over time. Our choice is to grow and change within the relationship or away from it.

When we meet that special someone, it is like no other feeling. The exuberance, that thrill, that unbridled sexual attraction, and that emotional bonding all tied up into a temporary obsession around that one special person…that state is called limerence, first described by Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who coined the term for her 1979 book, Love and Limerence. She described it as the biochemical and undeniably intoxicating state that helps us to rapidly move from being two independent beings into one emotionally bonded unit.

Limerence can last anywhere from a few weeks (a crush) to a few years (unrequited love or an abusive relationship that can often turn into a full-blown obsession), but the average for most is about six months to a year. During this time, everything seems easy and the relationship just flows. You like doing things with each other, hate being away from each other and the sex is hot.

In their 1984 book, The Male Couple, authors David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison describe this time as “blending.” This is when that emotionally high feeling of limerence, helps the couple to meld into one cohesive unit. If only that could last forever, right? Well, maybe not.

That time can feel wonderful, but other things tend to suffer. Friendships, career, family, even personal routines can be put on hold, or cast aside all together to accommodate this new person in your life. Nature has a way of helping you there, too. Once your brain has constructed a new permanent space for your new love in your heart, it helps you get back to the business of being you (only now with a 200-pound hunk that texts you about dinner).

During the next one to two years, called the “nesting stage” by McWhirter and Mattison, it’s time to set up house with your love. But, as you’re doing that, it’s also the time to rediscover yourself by getting back again to your friends and interests after being lost in your cloud of romantic lust. During this time, a couple must learn to create a balance between being both a part of a couple and being their own individual beings within the context of that couple.

Move too much in one direction and you look like a couple participating in a three-legged race. Move too much in the other and nobody remembers (or cares) that you are in a relationship and will continue to treat you as if you are single.

So, how do you preserve the relationship while rediscovering your individuality?

If there is one tip I can give you that can make your relationship flourish after the pixie dust of lust has worn away, it is to support your partner’s dreams. In order to grow with your partner rather than grow away, find out what they want most in life and help them make that happen. Give them moral support, emotional support, financial support, physical support, or maybe even the support shown by just getting out of their way. If you do this, they are much more likely to do the same for you, and when you do this together, you will both grow.

The relationship will become a necessary component to your individual story and your individual story will become a part of the relationship. If you don’t follow this mutually-supportive path out of fear of abandonment or some other demon; competition, resentment and distance are likely to manifest and the relationship is much more likely to fall apart.

To succeed in a relationship, we need to nurture that relationship, including our partner and ourselves. And, think it’s easy? Nope. Supporting a partner in their dreams can often conflict with some of our own (e.g., one wants to run for public office while the other wants a quiet life in the suburbs). This is where the hard work is required, and change can happen that will strengthen rather than erode the relationship. It is work…And, you do get tired sometimes.

It’s easier if you start early. Ask your partner about his or her dreams and take a risk by telling them yours before life starts to get in the way. By doing so, you lay the foundation that will make your relationship house stronger when inevitable storms hit. For example, around year three most LGBTQ couples get the “seven-year itch” and eyes start wandering. But, if you can show your partner that you have their back and support their innermost dreams, they are much more likely to keep the focus on you. You are also likely to do the same because you know that your partner will help to bring out the best in you.

There is another fun benefit to this as well. If you support your partner in the big stuff, they are much less likely to be bothered by the small stuff, such as your odd love of college football or spending inordinate amounts of time in the gym steam room. You too will be freer to be you and you will feel more relaxed about allowing them to be them—as long as they have their own TV—and gym.

So, though we spend the first year coming together with full-frontal force, we spend the remaining years finding ways to keep from drifting apart. As time moves on, every couple grows and changes. The choice is yours, so start the work now, no matter where you are in your relationship.

A funny thing happens when you work together to support each other rather than continually fighting for your independence—the “hard work” drops away and it becomes a lot easier—because you know someone is there helping to carry the load.

Maybe the spoof headline from The Onion,” Uttering Phrase, ‘Marriage Is Hard Work.” Number One Predictor of Divorce,” is not such a spoof after all. If you’re saying it, maybe you’re working too hard and you need your partner’s helping hand to lighten the load.

While you’re at it, Lend him your own.

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