Tools for Couples Happiness — 02 December 2011
Create a balanced view of your marriage for greater happiness

Some unhappy couples accept the myth that marriage cannot sustain ongoing satisfaction and that love is doomed to wilt. They attribute their joyless relationship to childhood wounds, poor parental modeling, marital mismatch or circumstances beyond their control. This disempowered stance only perpetuates their misery and blocks their clear assessment of their marriage as it dashes their hopes for happiness.

Though the early “in love” state is unsustainable for the long term, realistic happiness is attainable through balancing expectations with accurate assessment of what pairs do and do not have in their marriage.

In “Passionate Marriage,” David Schnarch disagrees with Oscar Wilde’s recommendation that one should always be in love and thus one should never marry, “ My work with couples suggests something entirely different: marriage doesn’t kill love, intimacy, or sex- it just looks like that at some points along the way.”

Two main reasons that marriage and love seem incompatible at certain junctures in relationships is that the evaluation of marriage is self-centered, skewed and negative. It often focuses on what one is not getting – rather than on what one is not giving. Secondarily, when people concentrate on what they are lacking – they do not count what  they are blessed with in their marriage.

When a complaining mate was disgruntled because he did not receive enough affection,  he humbly confesses that he did not give his spouse sufficient physical attention as well. The justifications range from feeling too hurt to initiate warm gestures to sensing that the partner does not appreciate affectionate touch, to accusations of the mate’s cold nature or dysfunctional family modeling.

Some unhappy spouses complain about one aspect of the partner’s behavior that irritates them, without recognizing that this very trait is also an admired and important benefit to them. For example, a husband complained that his wife was so attentive to caring for friends and family that he felt abandoned.  He later realized that this same sensitivity and tenderness is extended to him as well when he is ill or in need. A wife who disliked her husband’s deferring and non-assertive style with his boss, shyly admitted that he also allows her to have her way most of the time, which she truly appreciates.

A marriage may seem unsatisfactory when a spouse refuses sexual intimacy, it may feel as though one is “always” rejected. It is wise to balance it with the occasions that the complainer has been disinterested and with the times that the spouse did initiate physical contact.

  • Give what you wish to receive. If you want more affection, time, help, conversation or appreciation, generously provide it to your mate.
  • Assess how your mate’s trait or behavior that distresses you at that moment is actually a benefit to you under other circumstances.
  • Develop an honest, positive awareness of how much you do receive from your partner. Tell your spouse how lucky you are to be married to him/her.



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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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