Would You Take the Plunge?

In a harrowing scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry is drowning under the ice in a frozen lake when his friend, Ron, appears out of nowhere to save him. Ron enters the freezing cold, dangerous water to rescue his best friend from near certain death. Would we do the same for someone we love? Probably, but there’s more to consider in both Harry’s story and in our own relationships.

Let’s suppose it’s a comfortable, sunny Saturday in early September. You’re feeling warm, but not overheated. You’ve got your swimsuit on, no place to go the rest of the day, and, for the sake of argument, you enjoy swimming. Unfortunately, you’re not sure whether your pool heater has been running the past few days. Would jump in the pool without first testing the water temperature with your toe or checking the thermometer? Probably not. Now let’s imagine it’s the same sunny day, and your two year old daughter, who can’t swim, has just fallen in the pool. Still want to test the water temperature first? Or are you jumping in regardless?

Why Do I Have To Be Uncomfortable??

Though we may not always want to be in the water, especially if the water is uncomfortable, some situations dictate that we leap without looking. Marriage is a lot like the second scenario. It shouldn’t matter how warm or cold the pool is. It shouldn’t matter how stressed or sad or angry a situation might make you. Your commitment to your future spouse needs to be such that you are ready to jump in the pool no matter the temperature.

One of the truly difficult things about this metaphor is that although many of us would be willing to jump in the pool to save our child or spouse, we become less willing when there is not an imminent crisis. If we’re honest, many of us would waver in our agreement to STAY in the pool for an extended period if no one were drowning. Are we willing to not only GET uncomfortable, but STAY uncomfortable for as long as it takes? (This is the constant struggle of non-profits- most of us are happy to post our support on social media or make a donation in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, but then we return to our normal, comfortable lives and forget about the needs around us).

It’s Not About You Anymore

Knowing you may never be as happy as you’d like and still choosing to stay in the pool is true commitment. If you’re thinking about getting married, think about whether you are committed to your partner enough to not only dive in the pool to save them, but stay in the pool to sustain them, whatever the cost to you personally. Marriage is not about your own comfort and happiness. It’s about your spouse’s comfort and happiness. The day you say “I do,” your life is no longer your own. If you’re not ready for that level of commitment, marriage may not yet be for you.

Risks of Living Together Before Engagement

This is why research has shown that pre-engagement cohabitation (living together), but not simply pre-marital cohabitation is linked to poorer marital outcomes: commitment matters in marriage! Living together (in a mostly married state/situation) without truly committing to each other in either a marital contract or a promise to soon enter one (engagement), gives the behavioral appearance of commitment without thoughtful, intentional commitment. Those whose relationships gradually evolve toward marriage in this “one thing leads to another” pattern report “lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence as well as more negative communication and greater potential for divorce than those who cohabited only after engagement” (Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009, even after controlling for things like age, income, education, and religiousness). Some researchers call this approach to the enormous decision to get married, “sliding, rather than deciding” (Stanley, Rhoades, & Markman, 2006). (It should be noted here as well that some researchers have found that those who only cohabitate with their future (first/only) spouse are less likely to report the above negative marital outcomes than those who live with other romantic partners before their eventual spouse).

Marriage Changes Everything

Or at least it should. This is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Entering a marriage covenant changes everything about your relationship. Yes, many things will look largely the same, but the underlying motivation in a successful marriage relationship is different than it ever could have been before marriage, or at least engagement. Before the marriage, either party can simply walk away with no real lasting consequences. This necessarily has implications for many aspects of the relationship (e.g. sexual interactions, sharing your truest hopes and fears, providing constructive criticism, etc.).

In a marriage, each member of the couple has now agreed to put the other first, “forsaking all others,” “in sickness and in health,” and in so many other ways. Before you “take the plunge,” take some time to consider your level of commitment. The pool can be a great place to relax on a warm summer day, but your spouse WILL need you to take an extended swim in a frozen lake on some frigid January morning. Probably more than once. If you and your spouse are committed to each other and the relationship, the sacrifice of completing these chilly swims may be very unpleasant, but will be well worth the effort in the long run.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: A replication and extension of previous findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 107–111.

Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding vs. deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Family Studies, 55, 499 –509.

Live your life in episodes

Did they find the body? Did she say yes? C’mon, Chris Harrison, who gets the final rose tonight?!?!!?!

I was remarking to my wife last night as we began binge-watching Designated Survivor, that you can tell when a show was made for TV, because they build in suspense by adding commercial breaks at critical points in the action.

Why is binge-watching so addicting?!

I can’t speak for you, but what I love about binge-watching shows on Netflix is the continuity of story, emotion, and drama. I love that there are no commercial breaks in the action. I love that I don’t have to wait a single second to continue having the emotionally engaged experience that I’m having. I don’t even have to wait between episodes, because Netflix now allows me to “Skip the Intro” to many shows! It’s literally seconds between episodes. It’s almost hard to tell where one episode ends and another begins. This is great when watching Netflix, but not for our lives and relationships.

What we lose by binge-watching our lives

Unfortunately, we often tend to live much of our lives as though we are starring in a Netflix Original show. We don’t build in breaks in the action. We don’t tend to slow down, digest what we just saw, heard, or experienced. We just push through to the next thing.

What would happen if you built in a commercial break in the action? What if you slowed down enough to talk to your spouse about that thing you’ve been worried about? What if you called that friend you’ve been meaning to get in touch with? What if you finally called a therapist to work through what happened to you a few years back? What if you said “no” to yet another request and just took a nap instead?

If we don’t take a break from the action, there’s no chance to process, sift through, and move on from difficult feelings, relationship struggles, and the drama, and sometimes trauma, of life. Sometimes we just need to be assertive with ourselves and others, and set up some healthy boundaries.

Live your life in episodes

As much as we may love to binge-watch our shows with no commercials, and no breaks between episodes, it’s not healthy to live our lives like that. Live your life in episodes. Yes, there will be common themes, and some story lines will follow from one episode to the next. But allow yourself some space, resolution, and healing, by not living it all at once. Breaks are healthy. Sleep is healthy! Saying “Yes” and “No” can both be healthy at the right times and with balance.

What about the bad episodes?

Even if you do this, your life will have some bad episodes. Perhaps you’ve made some bad decisions, or someone else made decisions that impacted your story in a negative way. Maybe there are some episodes you’d just rather forget even aired in the first place. Whatever your story may be, remember that you can choose to live your life in episodes. You can choose to move forward from those hurtful episodes to more joy-filled ones. Only you can make the choice to stop re-watching the same episode over and over. It may require some help, but you’re the only person with the remote control, and the only one who ever will.

Grab the remote!

It’s time to think about which episode you keep replaying, and whether you might need to start building in some commercial breaks to engage differently with the people around you. Think about what your next step is, and take it today. Maybe it’s calling a friend, a psychologist, or your satellite provider, or maybe it’s just taking a well-deserved, long-awaited nap. Whatever your step is, it’s time to pick up the remote control and make a change.

4 Ways to Keep Your Anger Managed

My morning started out just as exciting as always yesterday. I was downstairs, half awake with bed-head hair, getting Batman vitamins for my two pre-kindergarden aged boys, and vaguely listening to the TV as they crunched away on Honey Bunches of Oats, when I heard it again. Wisdom from a preschool cartoon. I’m amazed at how often this happens. With all the garbage we “grown-ups” watch, I’m reminded of the posters you see in classrooms stating, “Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten.”

This is obviously an overstated simplification, but I think of that saying sometimes when I hear the amazing life lessons that my kids are taking in passively as they watch silly cartoons. Yesterday (and today again) it was the Muppet Babies. If you stick around for the end of the video below you can hear the overproduced theme song that hasn’t left my brain the last 48 hours. I’m only slightly less sane than I was last week because of it.

Anyway, during yesterday’s episode, Animal (the wild and crazy Muppet that bangs away enthusiastically on his drum kit) got very angry. Animal’s “big feeling” turned him into a gigantic 50-foot-tall version of himself that had a negative impact on his best friends (Kermit, Miss Piggy, etc.). Does this sound like you at all? Maybe not the giant thing, but the part about your anger hurting those around you? If so, read on! If not, read on anyway, because you likely know someone who struggles to contain their anger. You might be able to better support them, and understanding their process might help.

  1. Catch your anger early. Unless you are very young or are neurologically/biologically impaired, there’s a great chance that this one step will make a dramatic impact on your  anger. So often we get ourselves in difficult spots, say things we end up regretting, etc. because we don’t respond to the first feeling we have. You get a little frustrated… or disappointed… or rejected. Feelings often start small, and only build when we don’t address them early. Let the feeling build, fail to seek repair in relationships, and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be impacted by the feeling transforming into something bigger and more difficult to manage down the road. Catch it early. Address it early.
  2. Feelings never last forever. Yes, if you fail to address it, your anger will build over time and come back to bite you. However, if you take steps to reconcile ruptured relationships and address the primary problem, you won’t experience the same negative emotional consequences later. Feelings come and go. They can be intense for a while, but they ALWAYS subside. Take some deep breaths. Pray. Go for a short walk. Meditate. Whatever you need to do to cope, do it! This will give your body the time it needs to come down from the angry high. For many people, men in particular, this often takes about 20 minutes. Once your body is calm your brain likely will also be calm, and you will be able to address the person/issue with more respect and wisdom than when you were agitated. If you’re in a relationship with a man who often gets angry, talk with him (*at a time when you are both already calm) about maybe taking 20-30 minute time-outs in future arguments to calm down before coming back to discuss the issue again. Big feelings don’t stay big forever.
  3. Lean into your support network. If you tend to get agitated easily, try to spend more time with people that care about you. They will build you up and put you in a better emotional space where you can handle life’s frustrations and disappointments. We often get angry because we’ve failed to receive or achieve something. Knowing you have the support of your closest friends and family can act as a buffer against any negative self-talk you might be tempted to engage in when life setbacks happen. Lean into the people who will continue to support you after you fail and go a bit over the edge with angry behaviors. They should also be challenging you to grow, but in a way that shows they love you and want good things for you.
  4. Finish unfinished business. If you have unfinished business with people, meaning that you have old wounds that have not healed, unforgiven hurts, unresolved anger, bitterness, or resentment, it’s time to let it go. I don’t mean that there should not be consequences for past actions, or that you have to like the bad things that have happened to you in life, or even like the people that have hurt you. What I mean is that you need to FORGIVE the people who have hurt you. (For a post all about forgiveness, click here). This means that you need to let go of emotional hurts from old wounds. Feelings serve a purpose in that they are informative, and can be motivating for us. But they can also get in the way if we hold on to them too long. Finish your unfinished business. Even if the person who hurt you has died, moved away, or simply refuses to respond to your efforts to connect. It takes two people to have an ongoing relationship. It only takes one person to forgive. Don’t let pride get in your way. You don’t need revenge (even though you might want it). You need forgiveness. Probably for yourself for some things, but definitely for the other person. This can happen in stages or percentages, but it does need to happen. Refuse to let other people have control over your feelings. Don’t let your life continue to be about them. Live your own story!

All told, managing anger can be relatively simple if we practice and utilize basic coping skills, keep anger in perspective, cultivate relationships with dependable social support sources, and move beyond past hurts by moving toward forgiveness. This process can be daunting at first, but if we make these actions ongoing habits, they get much easier over time. If you want or need help with this process, ask for it! Freedom from anger is often easier to achieve with someone walking the journey alongside you. Remember, big feelings don’t stay big forever. You just have to do your part to manage them.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

There’s No Such Thing As Soulmates!

Will I ever find THE ONE?

If you’re looking for an article to give you some hope that there’s that one person out there that’s destined to be the love of your life, you should probably stop reading now. My goal here is to help you understand how there is simply no one out there who is your “one.” But not only that, I hope to empower you to get out there and find A one and MAKE them your one. Fairy tales don’t exist, and there’s no prince charming, damsel in distress, love at first sight, or any other Disney princess nonsense going on in the real world. (To be fair to Disney, their movies have generally played to the mainstream cultural mood of America in some ways, and they’ve made moves toward more egalitarian, even power-female, plots in recent “princess” films.).

We’ve got great physical chemistry…

If you’ve been searching for “the one” for a while with no luck, it’s probably because love (at least lasting love) is not about luck, serendipity, fortune, or destiny. According to the majority of the scholarly research available on couples, it’s about commitment, trust, and sacrifice. It’s also not about physical intimacy. If the physical “chemistry” happens to be good from the start, great. But let me emphasize that physical chemistry is something that can be worked on and improved far more easily than personality issues and worldview conflicts (differences in the personal value lenses through which we see and interpret the world around us).

Passion in Paris, or consistent commitment?

What we are often led to believe by Hollywood, and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” is that near death experiences and passionate physical encounters are the main ingredients of great love. But what Hollywood often fails to portray in these epic romances is the depth of devotion and sacrifice required to maintain that chemistry over the long term. Even the 90’s NBC sitcom, “Friends,” takes a humorous approach to the subject, and largely equates soulmates to someone attractive with whom you share primary interests.

Most of the “love at first sight” stories fail to show the complex and nuanced process of growing together over several years. In entertainment romances, love is seldom earned by working at building and maintaining a friendship based on trust and mutual self-less action. Instead, one partner covers the bedroom in a thousand rose petals, sells a business and moves across the country, plans a romantic weekend in Paris, etc., and the characters “fall” for each other. These sweeping gestures and fancy vacations lead to passionate emotional connection that has little chance of lasting without the key ingredient of commitment.

Should marriage be so difficult?

I recently heard a marriage therapist say, “If your marriage is difficult, you’re doing it wrong.” I think I understand where they were coming from, but I would hate to sugar coat anything about marriage. It’s hard work. No, it shouldn’t always be difficult, but there will be difficult moments. There should be fun, and it should outweigh the bad times, but most of our daily lives together are not epic, harrowing, dramatic, exciting, or anything else that many people look for in soulmate love. Much of life is ordinary and detail-oriented. It’s meal-planning, budgeting, working, raising children, scheduling, etc. The business of daily life.

If you need constant excitement in your relationship, you’re likely heading for a break-up. No relationship can offer constant fun. If you start to say to yourself, or your partner, “We never have any fun anymore,” that’s okay! Talk about it! Ask for what you need and want. Discuss what you’re willing to sacrifice to make positive changes to the relationship. Show your partner what you’re willing to give up in the schedule to make time for new adventures. For example, how willing are you to help your partner with their daily tasks to make their life easier and create availability in their schedule for the fun time you crave?

Soulmates are not found. They are made.

You pick a person, just about any person, and as long as there is mutual commitment to trust and sacrifice for each other, the relationship has a great chance of surviving and thriving for the long haul. We all grow and change together. The soulmate you find today may be somewhat different in a year, and possibly very different in ten years.

What if s/he changes over time?

Few people change dramatically overnight. Growth takes time, and what matters is growing together. You might find your soulmate at the grocery store, or at a club, church, school, or office. You just won’t know it’s them yet. Even if you feel a strong connection right away, this is short-term emotional excitement. This represents attraction, aroused interest, novelty, and curiosity, but not love. Find a person you like now, and help them to grow over time, loving and sacrificing for them to help them reach their full potential as a person and partner. As they do the same for you, they solidify their place as your soulmate.

I love him/her, but it feels like it’s not working anymore…

If you’re already in a committed relationship and it’s not feeling like a soulmate situation, this doesn’t mean you picked the wrong person. It means you’ve both got some work ahead of you to become the soulmate each other deserves. Relationships are a team game, and you have to play WITH and FOR your teammate. You’re bound to lose the game of love when you start playing only for yourself. Be the partner you want your partner to become. You can’t change them. You can only change yourself, and appeal to their love for you in requesting that they also make some changes. Show love and ask for it in return. Be open about your needs and desires. And when they follow through, even on the small things, give them credit!

Should we just tough it out?

If it’s still difficult, get help. Talk to a psychologist, a therapist, a pastor, or maybe for starters, a happy long-term couple that you know and trust. Relationships are not meant to be lived in isolation, but in supportive community. If your partner changes, you’ll probably need to make changes as well. You can’t find a soulmate. But you can be one, and help your partner become one too.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Should I get a Prenup?

In the 2001 film, Ocean’s 11, George Clooney’s character, Danny Ocean, attempts not only to pull off one of the greatest casino heists in Las Vegas history, but also to win back the heart of his ex-wife, Tess (played by the fabulous Julia Roberts). It just so happens that the casino owner has been romantically involved with Tess, and it’s looking somewhat serious.

Part of Ocean’s scheme involves having Tess observe a conversation between Ocean and the casino owner following the heist. Ocean essentially tells the casino owner he can help find the guys who robbed the casino, and all he would have to do is give up Tess. As Tess watches from a hijacked video feed in another room, the casino owner agrees to Ocean’s proposal. Tess decides that she’s not interested in love that comes with a price tag, even one that is over $100 million, and leaves the relationship immediately. (Cue chants of “You go girl!”)

I’ve yet to come across a person who is excited about pouring themselves wholly and vulnerably  into a marriage relationship knowing that their partner values a particular item or dollar amount more than the relationship. It’s just not a recipe for great love. And yet, many Americans who might support Tess’ move still think about their own relationships more like the casino owner.

Obtaining legal counsel

Now, before I say anything further, let me be clear that I am not a legal expert. I’ve got lawyers in my family that I consult for these kinds of things, and hopefully you’ll consult one if this topic has been on your mind. Here is some info from divorcenet.com that provides the basics of prenuptual / premarital agreements in California (where I practice). Laws may be different where you live, but it’s something to get you started. That said, I can speak to the relational issues at stake here with confidence, so buckle up, and lets talk about PRENUPs!

 

A little history

Unfortunately, the last 50 or so years have seen tremendous rise in the divorce rates in America. The traditional view of marriage as a bond that requires and deserves consistent effort seems to have faded into the mist in the wake of the “me generation.” The American values of dedication and sacrifice pervaded the pre-boomer generations following multiple wars and the great depression. This all seemed to change as America entered a time of prosperity and self-indulgence. Even with the shift toward pursuit of self and temporary turn-ons, people still tend to get married more than not, even if it is later in life for many (after pursuing careers, exciting but temporary relationships, etc.). The irony here is that as we’ve sought to please ourselves above all others, we’ve lost the art of relational sacrifice and end up suffering in our most important relationships.

The prenup as a response to divorce rates

One “solution” many couples turn to in light of this increasing statistical likelihood of divorce is a prenuptual agreement. This agreement can take many forms and can specify a number of ways that things like personal property and financial assets can be divided in the event of marital dissolution. This is all well and good if the couple does not plan to stay together forever. If we’re honest, many marriages these days are less about lifelong commitment to the person, and more about infatuation with a current feeling.

What you think about marriage matters

Probably the most important consideration when it comes to a prenup is your personal philosophy of marriage. What does it mean to get hitched? Originally, it meant tying a horse to a wagon, it’s charge and burden. Later it came to mean getting married. In both cases, the idea is that one thing is tied to another, ideally with the intention that one cannot separate itself from the other without great cause or effort. After all, what good is tying your horse to a wagon if it can stop pulling whenever it hits an uphill road or simply gets tired!? This also rings true with marriage. This is why your marriage cannot simply be about how you feel about your partner right now. It’s a commitment to them even if (when) your feelings change in the future.

When we say “I love you” to someone, it often means “I enjoy the way you make me feel.” When we say, “I can’t imagine my life without you,” it often means, “I hope I always feel this excited, passionate, and happy.” Some friends told me recently about a wedding they attended where the bride and groom eschewed more traditional vows in favor of exchanging compliments. This probably made most of their loved ones in attendance say things like, “Aww, how sweet!” and “You can tell they are so in love with each other!” Unfortunately, saying nice things to build each other up is only a small fraction of the original purpose of a marriage. What you think of the remaining tasks of a spouse are vitally important as you consider a marriage and/or a prenup.

The meaning of marriage

Marriage’s original intent, for better or worse, was to bind people together legally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, and in all other ways, forever (or at least “until death parts us”). Marriage is not supposed to be convenient. In fact, it is most effective at it’s original purposes (creating a secure family environment for the bettering of each spouse, possibly the raising of children, and serving the community) when there is some healthy tension. People don’t grow without experiencing tension!

A good spouse should not always make you happy, but should also challenge you, hone you, and grow you. If you’re looking to always be happy, marriage isn’t for you! But if you’re looking for a partner in life whom you can trust and rely upon, no matter what, then you might think about making a lifelong commitment to someone. Done right, marriage can bring lasting security and joy, which is not about a feeling in any given moment, but a way of experiencing life.

If your philosophy of marriage includes these more traditional ideas and practices, I would encourage you to consider the relational message a prenuptual agreement sends to your future mate. And I say “future mate” because until you have been bound together (hitched) legally in marriage, there’s no security for either of you, and really no reason for your partner to be fully vulnerable with you. No matter how long you’ve been dating or even living together, there’s always the option of leaving, with no notice and possibly few strings attached.

The benefit and costs of a prenup

Nowadays we have “no fault divorce,” an oxymoron if ever I heard one. In light of this reality, a prenuptual agreement is essentially a way to protect yourself from your future spouse. It guarantees that when you split up, you’re not left high and dry. And protect you it will, but that protection comes with a price higher than your attorney’s fees. A prenuptual agreement indicates to your fiancee, in legally binding terms, that there is a price on your love, an amount you are not willing to sacrifice to be fully theirs. It also signals that you are entering the marriage believing that there’s a decent chance it may end in some way other than the death of one or both spouses. Though I’ve never been in the military, I imagine committed marriage to be similar to a soldier squaring himself with the fact that he may die defending his country and the soldier next to him, and still making the choice to run toward the sounds of danger. You may lose in your marriage, and you may lose big, but committing to vulnerably take that risk is the only way to have truly great love.

What if I’m a lot more well-off than my fiancee?

Some will certainly argue that a prenup allows the wealthier spouse to have peace of mind that their partner is not marrying them just to get at their money. To that I simply say, if your marriage is not built on trust and commitment, it’s not likely to be very successful anyway, and yes, you’re probably going to need that prenup. Neither you, nor your partner, will ever feel secure as a husband or wife until you both are willing to give up everything for the other and fully commit. If they maliciously deceive you, that says more about them than you. Does that get your money back? No. But the complete vulnerability it takes to trust your spouse is the very foundation of a healthy marriage.

Can’t I just keep one foot out the door to be safe?

Prenuptual agreements reflect a more modern view of marriage, and frankly, one that has likely contributed to the rise in divorce rates. If you enter the marriage with even one toe out the door, you’re not fully committed to your spouse. Why, then, should they fully commit to you, put your needs first, and make sacrifices for you (the things most of us vowed to do on our wedding day)? (see Hokey Pokey marriages for more on this).

So should I get a prenup or not?

All told, if your philosophy of marriage tells you that marriage is simply a way to legally change your social status to “in a relationship,” or marriage just feels like “the logical next step,” consult your family law attorney and look into possibly getting yourself a prenuptual agreement. The stats say there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to need it.

If, however, your philosophy of marriage tells you that marriage is a covenant between two people who not only like each other, but also commit to loving the other when they don’t deserve it, are unable or unwilling to give love in return, when life is just hard, when you haven’t talked for a while or haven’t had sex in three months, or one of you is depressed or physically ill and needing endless care and attention, then I urge you to think otherwise. Officially, I need to say you should consult an attorney as this has not only relational but financial/legal ramifications. That said, there is much more at stake with a prenup than just your money. Your vulnerability and secure attachment to your future spouse are on the line as well.

Vows are not something to take lightly. If you don’t really mean them, exchange compliments instead. It’s still nice, and it may more accurately represent the meaning of your ceremony. Are you looking to spend a lifetime getting to know someone as they grow, change, and fail? Or are you just looking to have an expensive party, dress up, and go on a nice vacation? It really is that simple. If you commit to the former, the remaining details shouldn’t matter. As Tess showed us in Ocean’s 11, nobody likes to learn there’s a price on their love, whatever the sacrifice.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you a marriage consumer?

One of the leading causes of death for marriages is consumerism. We get so caught up in consuming our spouse that we lose track of what it means to serve them. We forget the original vows we told each other, and we start thinking about ourselves first.

When my wife and I got married, we exchanged vows and promised each other the following: I want you in my life, to have and to hold, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others (i.e. don’t be intimate with other people!), as long as we both shall live, as long as you meet all my needs first.

Okay, maybe not that last part. But isn’t that what we end up doing all too often in our relationships? We start out with the rose colored glasses on, thinking only of our partner’s happiness and security. We give of our time, energy, and affection regardless of how tired we are or how much we are looking forward to doing something else at the time. Our partners know they are our top priority. But then things change.

We get into routines. We get busy. Maybe we have kids. Few things can get in the way of a couple’s relationship more than those adorable little bundles of joy. In fact, research tells us that often the lowest point in terms of satisfaction in most marriages is in the child-rearing years. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as we often let it get.

What’s the problem here? It’s not actually the kids. It’s not the number of hours you or your spouse are working. It’s not money. Granted, those things can often be difficult to deal with. But what I remind many of my couples is that there are plenty of marriages out there where both partners are happy and their situation is objectively more despairingly difficult than most couples’ situations. So what is different for those happy couples? What is the problem, really?

What I’ve learned from reading the scientific literature on relationships and from the couples I’ve worked with, is that the biggest problem facing married couples is not what stressors are in their lives, but whether they face them together. Are you and your partner connected in such a way that you both feel safe and secure in the marriage no matter what happens outside of your relationship?

If you lost a job, a home, a child, would your relationship survive? Would you draw each other closer in that time of need? Would you reach for one another? When one of you is tired and having a difficult time meeting the other’s needs, does the other understandingly pick up the slack? Or is there resentment? Bitterness? Frustration and withdrawal?

If happiness in your marriage is based on consuming your spouse like a product, you’re in for a disappointing and lonely time when you and/or your partner hit a rough patch in life. If you’ve secretly added the “as long as you meet all my needs first” section to your vows, it’s going to be hard to do your part in the relationship when they are unable to fulfill theirs.

The bottom line is that we cannot be consumers of our marriages. We must instead be investors in our marriages. We must be entrepreneurs and constantly invest, sometimes in new and creative ways, in our marriages.

This may not be easy for you, especially if this is not what was modeled in your home growing up. But what needs to happen is for you and your spouse to begin to truly live up to your vows to put each other first. Even when it’s not fun or easy. In sickness and in health. When money is overflowing and when you’re scraping pennies for mac-n-cheese dinners. When you’re happy and when you’re not. There are no contingencies in successful marriages.

To be successful in this, you need to cultivate the safety and security that are the foundation of healthy communication. Consuming your spouse only puts pressure on them and drains them. Investing in their happiness, their success, and their emotional health puts them in a much better position to be able to meet your needs. Be an investor in your marriage, not a consumer of it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Weeks and Weeks of Little Tweaks

A while back I was talking with a married couple that was getting ready to finish up their couples therapy. They had been separated for quite some time and were essentially living as a divorced couple, co-parenting their children effectively, but not much interaction outside of their parenting efforts. After several months of therapy, moving back in together, enjoying date nights, and starting to have civil and even meaningful conversations even around difficult issues, we decided that it was about time to try things on their own.

As is typical toward the end of therapy, we talked about all of the wonderful changes that had happened in their marriage and all of the goals they had met by working together on being together. As I tell my graduate students all the time, there’s no magic elixir, no magic pill, no special word of advice or wisdom that will fix any relationship. It takes two people committed to doing the often difficult work of recommitting to put their partner first, just as they did months or years earlier.

During our happy discussion about all the exciting changes in their relationship I praised their hard work and tried like crazy to make sure that they took the credit for the positive changes they were seeing. I mentioned the “no magic elixir” bit, as I had many times before with them, and the wife mentioned something I’ll never forget.

“It just took weeks and weeks of little tweaks,” she said, not knowing just how brilliant it was at the time. Now this obviously simplifies the process substantially, but how true that statement is! Some couples will be able to mend things and reconnect faster than others, but relationships are still, at their core, about doing the little things. Sweeping gestures and grand gifts are nice, but it’s not about what have you done for me lately. It’s about what have you done with me, done for me, and shared with me every day, whether we got to see each other in person or not.

If you’re in a rough spot in your marriage, weeks and weeks of little tweaks are likely a big part of what you need to be doing. Fancy vacations together, calling sappy radio shows at night to dedicate a song, and other cheesy actions are great, but make sure they’re not a one-time deal. Make sure your lover knows you love them! Every day. In many ways. Do the little things.

If you’re on board for doing the little things and maybe are having a hard time deciding which tweaks need to be made, it might be time to ask someone who is trained to help you and your partner get back on track. If you happen to be in the Orange County area, feel free to give me a call to see if I might be able to help you and your partner out. But wherever you are, get in touch with someone who can help. You’re worth it, and your relationship is worth it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.