You meet your soul mate. You dream together, make plans, envision a future together, and get married in order to fulfill your mutual vision. You begin your marriage full of hopes and enthusiasm. Things go well for a time, and then you wake up one morning full of sadness and yearning, or maybe you just feel empty, devoid of the passion and excitement that was so abundant at the beginning. You don’t dislike your mate, but you miss the fullness that you used to feel in your heart when you were together. Is your marriage over?
The good news is that it may be anything but over. Disconnected, flat perhaps, but not over. Many couples mistake the doldrums of a disconnected marriage for signs of impending separation. They throw away what could become a grand passion in the mistaken notion that it’s over. At the very moment that one of you wakes up and says, “I can’t live like this anymore” there is the very real possibility of creating an exceptional marriage. Here are a few simple things you can do to put your relationship on the fast track to new heights of love and shared intimacy.
1 Don’t Assume That You Know Your Mate One of the most common mistakes in any long-term relationships is confusing familiarity with really knowing one’s partner. It’s true that, over time, you may get to know certain aspects of your mate’s personality and behavior quite well. We are all creatures of habit to some degree, and your partner may be able to set his watch by the predictability of some of your behaviors. But that does not mean that he or she knows all there is to know about you. It is similar to an iceberg where you only see the part that is above water but the bulk of it is underwater.
In marriage, we often tend to assume that we know the totality of our partners from our observations of what’s above the water. The truth is that we are all evolving, mysterious creatures that barely know ourselves, let alone another. Try keeping an open mind toward your mate, and allow that you probably don’t know everything there is to know about him or her.
2 Make Some Space Many couples mistake marriage for some kind of ultimate fusion. “We are one” is the foundation of their relationship. They work hard to erase or ignore their differences. They never fight and hardly ever disagree on even the slightest detail. They put a premium on harmony even if it costs them their own sense of self. Ironically, this sort of harmony can ultimately ruin a marriage.
Many couples constantly try to balance their individual needs with the needs of the relationship. However, we are separate individuals before, during and after marriage. We call those two opposing forces autonomy and intimacy. The balance of autonomy and intimacy is a dance that lasts the length of the relationship, and it means developing the ability to stand on your own feet and be a complete person in your own right, and also to be aware of the needs of your relationship. You must make space in your marriage for both of you to stand separately. The couple that can’t stand separately spend their days propping each other up instead of expanding their lives.
3 Enjoy the Mess Life is messy. Relationships are messy. Trying to keep a relationship neat and tidy all the time is like trying to keep a kid’s playroom in order all the time. Creativity, experimentation and newness are the earmarks of grown-up playtime. If you spend your time trying to keep everything ‘tucked in’ and refuse to let things get a little messy now and then, you limit the growth potential of yourself and your marriage. As Brian and Marcia Gleason, the authors of Going All the Way: The Heart and Soul of the Exceptional Marriage say, “The bliss is in the mess.”
Barry and Liz Carl work as a couple helping couples. They are Exceptional Marriage Mentors and the authors of Launching the Exceptional Marriage, a workbook for couples. They maintain offices in Manhattan and West Nyack, where they see individuals, couples and groups and give their premarital and early marriage training seminars. Liz Carl is also a licensed clinical social worker and Core Energetics practitioner. Visit LaunchingExceptionalMarriage.com for more information.