Tag Archives: marriage

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 you 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.

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.

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.

Are you Preparing for a Wedding, or a Marriage?

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, been in one, or at least been close friends with someone getting married you know that the preparations can take months, hundreds of hours, and in most cases, $1000s of dollars! So many of us get caught up in planning the “Big Day” that we neglect to prepare for something even more important: the marriage!

How do we miss this important step?

There are invites to send out, cakes to taste, dresses and tuxedos to try on, flowers to select, and a million other things to take care of. Often the engagement period can be one of the most stressful times in any relationship (right up there with having your first child or buying your first home).

What happens for many couples is they put all of their focus on making sure that all of the decorations are in place, the song list is matched perfectly to each dance, and the guests are all seated at appropriate distances from that one relative you know they’ll get in an argument with. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of wedding preparation and forget about having those EVEN MORE IMPORTANT conversations about what life will be like AFTER the Big Day.

What will change about your relationship?

Even if you’ve been dating for years or living together for a long time, there will still be changes. There’s something fundamentally different about relationships once there’s a legal commitment made on paper and in front of at least a judge (and more likely everyone you know and care about).

Who is going to take care of which chores? Who will handle the finances? Will you have only joint accounts or will you each keep one in your own name? (I’ll discuss the pros/cons of these situations in a later post). Will you own pets? Have children? How many? Where will you live? What holidays are most important to your new family? How often will you have sex? How many hours do you expect to actually spend together each week?

How can you think about this moving forward?

The list of important things to discuss is endless and will continue to be addressed the rest of your lives together. You will grow and change together for years to come. If I could summarize my two biggest encouragements for you as you prepare for your wedding and marriage at this point it would go like this:

  1. Make sure to spend some of your precious and limited engagement season preparing not just for your wedding, but for the decades of marriage to follow. The wedding will happen and the mistakes you laugh at will be more fun to remember than the things that went off without a hitch. Get ready to spend your lives together, not just a day.
  2. Remember that you’re not marrying him/her because they are perfect or even perfect for you. In 10 years, neither one of you will be the same as you are now. You are marrying them because you want to grow with them. Start growing together now!

Having a hard time with these conversations?

If you’re finding it hard to get through these conversations on your own, it can be helpful to discuss them with someone whose counsel you trust. Find an older or more experienced couple and ask them how they get through the tough talks. It is also typically helpful to see a marriage professional (psychologist, couples/family therapist, etc.) as they are trained to help you see the potential rough spots in the relationship that you may have overlooked in addition to having the conversations discussed above.

The bottom line is that your marriage is too important to not prepare for it with the same level of intensity that you put into picking that perfect flower combination to compliment the bridesmaid dresses. Investing in your marriage now will pay big dividends in your relationship for decades to come! Feel free to give me a call to see how I can help or get in touch with someone you trust in your area.

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.

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

A while back I was talking with a distressed couple on the brink of ending their relationship. Their situation reminded me of the importance of closely attending to what our partners really want. I call this “listening between the lines.” In this situation the wife was tremendously upset by something awful the husband had done. Embarrassed. Livid. This was how she felt, and rightfully so. She just wanted distance. Space to think and feel. Almost anyone in her situation, including you or I, would probably feel the same.

Follow up actions can help or harm.

The husband, to his credit, owned up to his actions and began doing what he could to initiate repair in the relationship. One such action was to buy his wife flowers. Under normal circumstances this would be a welcome gesture to most wives! A thoughtful, spur of the moment gift to make her feel special, right? Perhaps not surprisingly, in this situation the wife was more upset by the gift. She saw it as a refusal to respect her desire for space and time to process her feelings and decide what she would like to do moving forward.

What kind of flowers does she really want?

The repentant husband learned that giving his wife some space was exactly the kind of “flowers” she wanted. It wasn’t about a quick fix, or something that would directly make her (or him) feel better in the short term. It was about allowing forgiveness to happen on his partner’s terms, if at all. The first step to potential healing was to give up control over the healing process and take the risk of giving exactly what his wife needed at the moment.

Ask for what you need!

If you’ve experienced a breech of trust in a relationship, been hurt deeply, and felt like giving up on a relationship that means the world to you, it’s important to ask for exactly what you believe you need. Setting boundaries will be important. You may want space. You may initially want more frequent check-ins with your partner. You will typically be the best person to identify your needs in any given moment. That said, your partner may need to help you express those needs, and this can be hard to do if communication has not been a strength in your relationship.

Finding the journey too difficult alone?

Learning to trust again, learning to communicate in healthy ways, having someone to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, these are all things that effective marriage counselors can help with. If you are in the Huntington Beach or Orange County area and need help getting a derailed relationship back on the tracks, please give me a call to discuss how I can help.

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 in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, at least one with nerdy white folks like me, you’ve probably at least watched people do the Hokey Pokey. This awkward, ultra-cheesy “dance” (a generous term for sure) involves standing in a circle goofing around with other friends and relatives you haven’t seen since the last wedding. Dancers are told to “put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about.” If you can leave all self-respect at home you’ve got a decent chance at having some fun.

What’s the Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome all about?

The sad truth about a lot of the couples I work with in therapy is that they suffer from what I call Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome. All too often couples wait to enter therapy until they are at their breaking (up) point. They are on the brink of divorce and may no longer be living together at the time they call to start counseling. There are obviously many problems that can bring a couple to this edge. One of them is Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome.

Couples experiencing HPMS have at least one partner who is contemplating ending the relationship. They may only be 1% out the door, but they’ve started leaving in their mind already. They’ve started thinking beyond the relationship. They wonder what it may be like if they leave. They begin planning ahead, looking at apartments, setting aside money, and anything else they think might help make a transition to single living easier if that time actually comes someday.

What’s the harm in planning ahead?

You might wonder how a little planning ahead can be dangerous. In reality, for the individual, it may actually be a smart move. It sets them up to be better prepared than their partner for single life when they eventually leave. The problem, however, is the mental state of this partner with one foot out the door. They are already thinking as an individual as opposed to a committed partner in a relationship. It may be helpful for the individual member of the relationship to plan ahead. Unfortunately, if they do, they’ve essentially committed relationship suicide. By “putting one foot out” they have already stopped doing everything they can to save the relationship they’re already in.

What is tempting you to put one foot out?

It’s convenient to forget certain parts of our vows when we are unhappy. Your partner may be doing a lot of things to make your life miserable. Maybe he’s a poor communicator. Maybe she’s not taking care of your “needs.” Maybe he changed his mind about wanting kids. Or she wants to go back to work instead of staying home with the kids. Maybe your partner has an addiction that’s wreaking havoc in your marriage and family life.

With few exceptions (i.e. physically or sexually assaulting you or your kids, having an adulterous affair), I’m a big believer that as long as both parties are fully committed to working on the relationship, any marriage can be saved. Even in those exceptionally troubled relationships, fully committed partners have a decent shot at turning things around. It’s the “fully committed” part that seems to often be the most difficult for partners in today’s immediate gratification, all about me (think “selfie”) culture. It’s hard to be fully committed to a relationship when we’re so committed to making ourselves happy first.

Is happiness such a bad thing?

The commitment to your own happiness first is an easy way to justify putting a foot out the door and starting to think beyond the relationship. It’s just not what you or your partner signed up for. And having that “me first” mentality is almost a guarantee that your relationship will not work out. If you want your relationship to not only survive, but thrive, you need to be thinking about your partner first.* Your partner also needs to be thinking of you first, but you can’t control that. If you want your relationship to last, you’ve got to keep both feet in, fully committed to making it work. Otherwise, you’ll likely fall victim to Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome and sabotage your chances of being happy in the relationship you already have. You can’t think about your relationship the way you did when you were dating. It’s different now. It’s not about you. It’s about your marriage.

Do you and your partner have Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome?

Do you have one foot in and one foot out? Have you started thinking beyond your relationship? Have you noticed your partner displaying some of the above signs of HPMS? If so, it’s time to talk to someone. It really would be best to talk to a couples counselor before you get to this point, but you can only be where you are. For some guidance on what to consider before choosing a marriage counselor, click here. Get some help now, before it’s too tempting to take a foot out and you start living for yourself instead of your partner and your relationship. That’s really the only way to make things work long-term. And if you both live for each other, you’ll probably end up happy too. Maybe even happy enough to do the Hokey Pokey.

 

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.

 

*In putting your partner first, it’s important to remember that you need to keep firm boundaries in place to protect yourself from harm. Leaving for an apartment or a parent/friend’s house for a while may be the best way to stay safe while holding out hope for reconciliation with your partner as they go through a change process on their own. Looking to serve your partner and seeking their happiness before your own should not come at the expense of your safety. It also definitely does not mean you need to serve as a doormat for your spouse. Standing up for your basic human rights and dignity is different from looking for temporary happiness at the expense of long-term relationship success. If you are in a relationship that involves domestic violence, couples counseling is probably not the best option right now. Individual therapy would likely be a better first step.

Teaching your partner how to respect you is one of many important steps toward a healthy relationship. On your way to getting both feet back in the dance, you’ll each learn how to communicate in ways that are safe and empowering for both partners. This will help you both move toward respectful discussion of any inequities in your relationship that may be getting in the way of fully realizing the future of this most important relationship in your life.