The Key To Marital Survival
Written By: Mark Smith
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Marriage over the long haul is hard, painful work. Couples end to take each other for granted until it is too late or almost too late. There are so many forces at work that pull people away from their relationships - kids, work, different hobbies, friends, family, unresolved conflicts, that cute co-worker who has been flirting with you, etc. It is a very rare couple that is emotionally healthy enough to maintain an intense, satisfying, intimate fulfilling marriage for the distance. In my experience as a therapist and as a husband of 25+ years knowing, sharing and meetings deep emotional needs is the key to not just keeping a marriage together, but also keeping it on fire.
Knowing Needs -This is harder than it sounds. Most people are so busy working, watching TV, paying bills, raising kids, etc. that they aren't connected nearly enough to what their needs are. Then those unmet needs stack up. Then if an attractive person comes along and begins meeting those needs an affair can get started with surprising explosive ease. If you are in a relationship I want for you to do a little homework. Sit down and make a list of what you need from your spouse. Make it a wish list of all the goodies that you have always wanted in your wildest dreams. So often we ask for so little. We don't love ourselves enough to dare asking for a lot. Our spouses can't read our minds. You have to first know yourself deeply and love yourself well before you can teach your spouse how to love you well. Spend some time thinking and feeling on your list of needs. Love is created when someone makes deposits by meeting those emotional needs. Childhood wounds and the psychological walls that hide those wounds also hide our needs from even ourselves. Of course, marriage is difficult because we instinctively are only attracted to people who basically possess the hidden worst qualities of our parents. It is great to ask for a babying and tender loving care if that feels good to you.
Sharing Your Needs - This is where most of my clients need a whole lot of work. They do not share their needs effectively at all. The volume needs turned way up, but it has to be done in a non-reactive and respectful manner. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you have become clear about who you are and what you need and you have pleasantly expressed those needs to your beloved with little resulting need meeting then it is time to up the ante. If you were running a business and you had an employee who was not cutting the mustard what would you do? You would sit them down, lay out where they must make improvements and then place them on probation. If they don't make the changes then they get themselves fired. For the most part it doesn't work that way in most marriages. In most marriages partners aren't clear on what they need, it isn't communicated directly or powerfully and when the needs are then ignored and not met we bitterly blame our spouses but stay put out of fear of so many things - hurting the kids, financial issues, what the family would think, etc. While we are very supportive of marriages and families staying together, a separation can be a powerful tool in waking up an oblivious spouse who needs to work harder on their own and their marital issues. Would that employee makes changes if they know that they will have their jobs no matter what their production level is? Nothing wakes an emotionally dead spouse out of their slumber like a separation or the imminent threat of one. You have the power to set effective boundaries with teeth. You just have to be committed and courageous enough to pull the trigger on a deal that will impact your "need meeter" enough to get off their duffs and get to work taking care of you well.
Meeting Needs - I feels SO good to have a deep emotional need met. It also feels good to be the loving partner who takes the action to meet a need. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. In a really good relationship partners take turns being the needy little kid while their partner is the loving parent. Reciprocity truly is a beautiful thing. It really is hard work. If a separation does not move your spouse and they refuse to go to therapy with you then you have the answer that you need. If you stay put due to your own fears and low self-esteem then those are you issues, not your spouses'. In that case you need some couch time to heal those old "you aren't worthy" wounds and to give you the courage to boldly re-build your life to work better for you. We are out of time. See you next week.
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