Discover more from The Meaningful Life
What is your "marriage zone"?
Where are you headed & what are the pitfalls?
“Good marriages” still need attention. Every so often, we should stand back and assess the track we’re on and spend some time thinking about the nature of our connection and how it might be strengthened.
Here I outline some of the common “marriage zones”, and their strengths and weaknesses.
The common factor? Complacency is your enemy. Many couples come to me having felt they were ticking along fine, only to be derailed by a disaster that they might have seen coming with a little more attention to the state of play.
The Comfort Zone
You’ve been through the wringer together more than once, and you feel secure enough to face any problems and sort them out straight away .
There is a also a high level of trust, so the freedom for self-development that is the oxygen of marriage is there.
Problems: these relationships can become so comfortable that a couple take each other for granted. There is a fine line between ticking along nicely and closing your eyes to problems.
One half can be so busy at work, they opt for the quiet life and let a few niggles slip. This is all right in the short term, but degree by degree the relationship can be knocked off course and suddenly the couple are in murky waters.
Solve it: it is important to guard against complacency. Use a romantic meal out not just for pleasure but to check out what’s happening in each other’s lives.
If your partner seems pre-occupied or there is friction at home, don’t assume everything will right itself. Remember how well you used to communicate, identify what has changed and bring back the good old habits.
Either one or both partners are learning a lot about themselves. This is a time of great change. One of you might be starting on a whole new life path: going back to work after a break to raise children, or getting that masters degree you’d been contemplating for years.
Sometimes, though, the change is forced upon the couple. The death of a parent, for example, is always the start of a lot of soul-searching and reassessing priorities.
Problems: one half can easily get left behind and the couple drifts apart. Especially with exciting new projects, it is easy to forget your partner and not set aside enough couple time.
Meeting new and interesting people brings a different perspective, and can engender restlessness and sometimes sexual temptation.
When change comes through a painful experience, the hurt person can close in on themselves, leaving their partner wondering how to reach them. The result is that both halves feel isolated.
Solve it: it is important for the person on the growth path to share their projects with their partner and for them to make the time to be actively interested.
After an emotional disaster, like a bereavement, we offer lots of support at the beginning, but less six months or a year down the line. Grief takes a long time to unfold, and we need to be there for our partner as and when they need us. Don’t switch the extra caring off too soon.
In general we’d like our partner to always be the same, and in a fast changing world this is a very appealing, but it is totally unrealistic. Change is what keeps us interested in each other and love alive.
For this couple, making love is incredibly important, and they take pride in their physical connection. A lot of time and energy goes into planning the perfect sexual experience. These couples have a large collection of sexy lingerie and are not afraid to experiment with their wild sides.
Problems: although every new couple goes through an intense phase of lovemaking, some never move on and find other ways of communicating.
All the passion sounds wonderful but the relationship is very vulnerable if love making is the only barometer for the health of their relationship.
What happens when one half is under a lot of pressure at work, or needs time to recover from a serious illness?
Solve it: making up in bed after a row is fun, but don’t always let yourself be distracted by the sexual high and the intense physical closeness. It is important to talk through your differences and learn to compromise.
You are fortunate if you have a durable, passionate physical connection, but remember to nurture other aspects of the relationship, too.
If you’d like to build your communication skills together quickly and with a practical focus, try my book The Happy Couple’s Handbook: Powerful Life Hacks for a Successful Relationship.
These couples have so many problems, they have started hurting each other. They always hope that by moving house, changing job or making some other big external change, they will solve all their problems.
Sadly it seldom works out. Every action, even something innocent like making a cup of tea, becomes interpreted as an attack. Goodwill has been completely exhausted, so even when the couple agree on a truce it does not hold for very long.
Problems: despite all the pain, these couples cannot separate. They are best described as: “can’t live with them, can’t live without them”.
Fights normally have the same pattern. For example, one half will be angry and the other silent. The angrier one becomes, the more silent their partner turns, which in turn fuels the anger and more silence. It is a vicious circle.
Solve it: the problems are rooted firmly in the toxic couple’s childhood, so they need to look inside to solve the problems.
Marital therapy can be helpful, but the key is breaking the pattern of the rows. For example if the silent half can learn to voice their needs, and the angry one to listen and self-regulate, major progress can follow, and it can be surprisingly fast.
The Nice Zone
At first glance, these seem happy couples - and what other people think is VERY important to them. Even in private, the nearest they come to an argument is working themselves up into a cool sulk.
However to keep everything nice, they have to suppress all their differences. Often the act works so well, they are not even aware themselves that they are doing it.
Problems: rather than solving small everyday problems, these couples leave them to fester and turn nasty. Worse still when major upsets occur, which cannot be brushed under the carpet, they have no experience solving disagreements. Their only solution is to split up - much to the surprise of all their friends.
These relationships may be nice, but they are devoid of passion and this can lead to unsatisfying lovemaking.
Solve it: accept there is nothing inherently “wrong” with anger (so long as it isn’t expressed with violence) - it can be extremely effective at getting things done.
The same for arguments, they bring feelings out into the open and make a solution possible.
Finally it is important to accept that two people cannot agree all the time, it doesn’t stop you from loving each other.
In other news, this week’s podcast conversation with, is a fascinating journey through the different ways in which men and women make relationship decisions.
Check out our conversation here: How We Fall in Love: Differences Between Men & Women.
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (email@example.com) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.