Family Relationships

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Musing About Marriage

I couldn't treat today as if it were just like any other. It's my anniversary - 46 years married to the same guy - and it's got me thinking about a lot of things: perspective, the passage of time and especially how couples can "live happily ever after." Here are some of my musings, along with the thoughts of various relationship experts.

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a national poll looking at modern marriage and new family constellations. Although more unmarried couples are living together than ever, marriage is still the gold standard in relationships, with 70% of Americans having been married at least once. The average age of first time marriage keeps rising - for men, it's 28 and for women 26. Couples want to be settled in their careers before tying the knot. Perhaps that's one reason why married folks tend to be more financially secure than couples living together.

While studies show a correlation between marriage and happiness, it's not marriage that makes you happy, it's a happy marriage that make you happy, says psychologist Daniel Gilbert. The investment of time and energy in this intimate social relationship brings a sense of wellbeing, even with the drop in happiness after the birth of a child.

We all have heard that men and women are different in many ways - they're even from separate planets according to John Gray. Men from Mars are usually intent on fixing problems while women from Venus are more attuned to talking about what is bothering them and validating their feelings. With the divorce rate continuing to hover around 50%, understanding these differences between the sexes is worth the effort it takes from both partners.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal contrasted the styles of introverts and extroverts who happen to be married to each other. Each group makes up about half of the population, according to psychologist Laurie Helgoe, so a pairing is quite likely. While both can enjoy time spent with friends, extroverts become energized by being with other people while all that stimulation can be draining for introverts, who instead recharge themselves by being alone. Understanding the needs of your partner's preferred style and allowing for those differences makes for fewer conflicts between you and your spouse.

Encouraging love and forgiveness can sometimes be difficult when men and women cope with the stresses between them differently. While women may be comfortable talking with their spouses about stresses, men often withdraw to think about the issues. This can lead to mistakes in interpreting each other's actions: wives often believe husbands aren't interested in looking at problems while men may think women complain because it's so bad it can't be fixed.

Even if your partner seems to "complete you," most couples need friends as well as each other. Having someone to relate to outside your role as parent and partner can give you a sense of autonomy and self-worth as well as a greater appreciation of your spouse. The opportunity to hear another viewpoint can also enlarge your world and increase what you can bring back to your own marriage.

When conflicts arise, use what you know about your partner's style to help you work towards reconciliation. Once you have a better understanding of what motivates your partner to act as he does, you can consider new ways to respond. Respect his need for distance while letting him know you're ready to dialogue whenever he is. Once that door is open, identifying your feelings and asking for support can be the first steps in resolving differences between you and setting the stage for a long-term relationship.

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