I have several female friends lately whose marriage has gone into crisis. Some of them think that the symptoms are mild and some of them believe that the situation is getting serious. I have been ask for advice – a task I actually fear when it comes to intimate relationships. Now ask me about your boss, your children, your mother – and I will tell you my deepest thoughts about them. But husbands and wives…That’s another matter. Why? Because in my experience, when you are asking for advice on the subject, it means that you are not ready to make a decision. And whatever I’ll say, you will be the devil advocate. And usually the discussion ends with both party feeling misunderstood at best, hurt at worst.
But the truth is, I have plenty of advice for all situations. So I am putting them here, in the hope I will never hear the dreaded question again.
Beware that I have one failed marriage behind me, and one that is so far the dream one. I went from one extreme to another, so I can’t really pretend I am an expert on the subject. But I also love top open my big mouth, so here you are, open your ears, agony aunt is ready to spill it all out.
Your case is mild if you still remember why you fell in love in the first place, you still want to have sex with your other half no matter what and you are conscious that he/ she is doing his/ her share most of the time. If you are in these territories where you feel that not everything is perfect in your couple but you are willing to talk about it, then this is my advice: take at least a weekend off every two months. Go away. Plan it a little bit – like the place you’re are going to stay at, and enjoy the surprises of the unexpected. Talk about anything and everything, including your dreams, your goals, your values, your memories and this especially about anything you have in common. Leave the kids with someone if you have any. What you probably need is some time alone, some good sex and some adventure. If you can stretch it to a week or a month, it is even better. Now if you spend this time fighting or bickering, I’d suggest you are in phase two. The unmild one.
Your case is starting to be serious if you argue a lot, feel resentful about things that you bottle up – until one of you explode- or if you sulk for more than 3 minutes. It is also serious if you realize that you both diverge in issues such as money, sex, values, goals and time spent together. It is also serious when you notice that promises are, well, just promises. By the way, a promise that is not kept, or that is delayed, or that is filled only once or for a week ( such as taking the bins out or going to Venice on a second honeymoon) is a lie. If you are angry, you can say it is a blatant lie. For the women who still haven’t got that point, when man say one thing ( such as : you and the kids are the most important thing on earth to me) and do another ( workoholic doesn’t even remember when children have their birthday or never turns up for the holidays or simply, the goodnight kiss), then he is lying. He is not thinking one thing and doing another. He is telling you what you want to hear in order for you to leave him alone. For the men who are oblivious, a wife who stops telling you what happens at work and suddenly loses weight is a warning sign that her attention is somewhere else and probably in the hands of someone who shows a minimum of care. For both genders, if you have problems with your other half but still believe that if he/ she would change/ make the effort of/ finally listens to your demands your relationship would work, then you are deluding yourself seriously. You married a projection of an ideal, not a person. My advice is that it is up to you to fight or not. But if you do, try to do it nicely and play fair. Don’t try to make him/ her jealous or envious. Don’t play with their feelings. If you do, it may work – for a time. But if it becomes a habit, you will have to top it up more and more with threats that you might be unwilling to carry. And you may have more to lose than you imagine. Now to play fair, you have to be able to see both sides- up to a limit. Note the things that he/ she is doing well and the efforts involved in the process. Then choose a moment when things are calm and ask to have a proper discussion about one specific subject that annoys you – just one, don’t mix up work, kids, in-laws and money at the same time. It can become overwhelming and get out of hands rapidly. In order to do so, give a 15 or 30 minutes rule- with no overtime. It obliges you to keep to the subject and be concise. It helps. And if you go nowhere with this…
Your are in the desperate phase. It is usually the final one. You basically can’t stand your sweet half. Even seeing him/ her munch his / her lunch gives you the creep. You feel like screaming inside when you imagine a dialogue with him/ her- and if you actually listen to what you are saying, it sounds more like a monologue and you are a victim. You have fantasies about leaving/ meeting someone else/ killing him/ her / asking for divorce. You still make excuses to stay – such as : but I love him so much!, except when… a here the list is not exhaustive. And last but not least, there is no sex, no sparkle, and when there is, it is more hygienic than anything else- but it can become repulsive, even though it is hard to admit. What stops you to leaving has actually nothing to do with the relationship itself or the person you used to love; it has more to do with money problems, what people will say, how you are going to deal with the kids , etc. Like it or not, you are going to leave sooner or later. At this stage, any resistance is just useless.
In order to have a good marriage, I believe that several things are important. You have to accept that the fusion phase is over. But that complicity replaces it. Sex is more comfortable, but it is up to you to make it imaginative. Not every word is important, but listening is. Sharing time, interests, ideas is paramount. Patience is key, concessions are inevitable. My husband calls them sacrifices. In my view this involves something that you suffers to lose- but he stretches that it can be uplifting. So acceptance is the word. Reviewing your common values from time to time may be useful. Your paths may start to diverge without you noticing. In these days and age when we now have so many choices and such a longer life, it may be silly to expect to follow a traced destiny. This is also valid for relationships.
And if you treat the people around you with kindness, respect and fairness, you should expect the same in return. If it isn’t what you give, be prepared to gather the fruit of your lack of efforts.
THere is no recipe for a perfect combination. My belief is that you have priorities and that the person you choose has to correspond in some ways. I ‘ve been told that my marriage is probably not the ideal one as my husband is not the main breadwinner at the moment. But in my view, I have it; I wanted a family man, and under this aspect, he has always shown that the children and I were his priority, in all circumstances. Money has never been the main characteristic I was looking for in a man- and this hasn’t changed. But I guess that what I think of my marriage has nothing to do with what other people believe it is. And I don’t mind.
A last word of advice. A French writer once said that marriage chains are so heavy that you have to be at least 3 people to bear them. Although it is funny – as much as the aristocrats joke- it isn’t true. When a third party is involved, you add insulty to injury- and as far as I’ve been witnessing it- complicates the situation to the Nth degree. But some people like to play with fire. Interestingly enough, they are always the most reluctant ones to watch their house burning.
I wish you all good luck with this one.