Have you evaluated the state of your marriage recently? Have you given any thought to how you would envision it a year or five years from now? In light of the recent publicity given the infidelities and divorces among the rich, famous, and well connected, the sanctity of marriage is once again in question. The infidelities of Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor, David Paterson, his replacement, and of John Edwards, former vice-presidential candidate, as well as a spate of Hollywood star “confessions” has led some commentators to dismiss the future of marriage. On the other hand, the recent death of Paul Newman reminds us of how good and long lasting a marriage can be. Newman & Joanne Woodward had just celebrated their 50thwedding anniversary, a life together that they treasured enough under the stress of two highly public careers and the loss of a son to work out to their mutual satisfaction. When asked how they achieved this success, Newman emphasized humor, openness, and flexibility. “I trade a couple of her ballets for a couple of my auto races”, he is reported to have said.
As ordinary folks, we may disassociate ourselves from people whose fame appears to be remote from our everyday reality. We are too busy making ends meet, getting the children off to school or college, and balancing the demands of home and careers. And the unfolding financial crisis is certain to place even more stress on married couples as increasing numbers face foreclosures, job loss, drastically reduced equity & savings, and even bankruptcy. So, to reiterate, how is the state of your marriage as we enter this period of belt-tightening & reduced expectations?
Recent surveys, including a much-publicized one in Parade magazine, suggest that marriage in the U.S. remains a strong institution. Between 80% and 90% of couples surveyed said their marriage was reasonably happy. Some 12% to 14% indicated that they were unhappy and contemplating divorce, and 17% to 18% said they were in a loveless marriage but remained attached for companionship and financial security. Current surveys indicate a particular concern for men. While 70% to 75% of men surveyed said they were comfortable with their marriage, almost 50% of women expressed some degree of dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction took several forms. Finances were often the major issue followed by sex and division of labor. As you might expect, men complained more about not having enough sex; women felt more burdened with child-rearing and household chores; both spouses frequently felt challenged to earn enough income and put some money in savings. But most noticeable to us were female complaints about emotional concerns –marital communication, attention, affection, and trust. Some 20% – 25% of women sought more direct communication; 50% of women claimed that they were not receiving enough attention and displays of affection; and almost 60% of women sensed that their husbands were not totally truthful. Indeed, 50% of the men surveyed and 40% of the women admitted to keeping secrets from their spouses.
What are these surveys telling us and how do you shape up? Our own experiences tell us that how you transfer the friendship, respect, and love of your initial relationship into the beginning of your marriage relationship is crucial to the success of that marriage. If you drift unconsciously from a coupleship into a marriage in the belief that everything will stay the same and that you don’t have to work at making a good marriage, your marriage is more likely to fail than if you practice more conscious loving. We have found that being open, truthful, and aware of your partner’s needs from the outset is likely to stand you in good steed over the years. Mutual trust, support, and caring are keys to translating your love into meaningful terms that your spouse can appreciate. If you are not communicating regularly and expressing your feelings about what is and is not happenig, how is your partner to know how the marriage is going? If you regularly say “I love you” without showing evidence of that love in affectionate ways (flowers, a surprise dinner, sharing a movie, a little gift) how is your partner to know what your love really means? Just as Paul Newman has suggested, compromise rather than acquiescence, patience rather than judgment, and forgiveness rather than blame are the ingredients of a long lasting relationship. As another actor, Richard Gere, has expressed it recently, “genuine love without ego” is the key.
In our next article, we will examine the different languages of love that lie at the heart of the marriage commitment.