Tools for Couples Happiness — 10 October 2003
How to stay in love long after the honeymoon is over

It all starts very early in boys and girls upbringing. Boys’self-
esteem is fostered through actions. A boy learns to be a man when he
masters tasks well. He helps his dad fix the car, mows the lawn, has a
newspaper route and plays sport. With each accomplishment his self-
esteem is affirmed. Girls, on the other hand, develop their sense of
worth by pleasing others. She is taught to be a “good girl”, help her
mother, assist her siblings, and be nice and accommodating to all. She

is rewarded for her selfless conduct and putting other people’s needs
ahead of her own.

At age five both boys and girls are taught to play soccer. I personally
observed on many occasions the difference in the nature of instructions
given to boys versus the ones received by girls. Boys are taught the
rules of the game and then told that they will each be a winner or a
loser by the end of the hour. Girls are told that the coach, the
teammates and their parents will be so proud of them, if they played
well. So when Johnny scores a goal he is pleased with his
accomplishment. The kudos he receives later are nice, but not essential
to his self-esteem. He knows he is a winner because he did it. Suzie
scores a goal and immediately stares at the sidelines looking for
parental and coaching approval. Suzie needs to be told that she pleased
others to feel accomplished.

Courtship is a task which most men know how to do well. They are
attentive, patient, verbally expressive, romantic, and they listen well.
Women delight in the attention and are loving and accommodating as well.
Each individual woman convinces herself that she met a unique man who is
so tender, emotional, sensitive, and a good conversationalist. We ” talk
for hours”, she excitedly exclaims, ” can you believe it?”

Once married, the man has completed his courtship task and is moving to
his husband role. Now he is busy at work, does what is agreed upon in
the household, and is feeling good about himself and his marriage.
However, he no longer remembers to bring flowers, he is too tired to
talk, and is less attentive and conversant.

The wife assumes that the change in her husband’s conduct means that she
is not pleasing enough to him. So without a word, she embarks on losing
a little weight, improving her cooking, or becoming more knowledgeable
about his areas of interests. When these efforts fail to capture her
husband’s attention, the wife decides that she must have made a terrible
mistake in selecting her partner. She now begins to view him as a
blemished individual who is deliberately withholding his attention. In
her anger and frustration she begins to criticize, demand and be
displeased with all that he does.

The husband observes his wife’s unhappiness and, not knowing what she
needs, he decides to be more accommodating about her stated wishes. So
he remembers to bring milk on his way home, he fixes the leaky faucet
promptly, and even remembers to bring her flowers at times. However,
whatever he does, she seems to be unhappy with something else he has
failed to do. (What she really needs is to know is that he loves and
cherishes her). He tries to help more with the kids, tell her more about
his work, and then she resents his Monday night football viewing.
Exasperatingly, he tells her: “No matter what I do, it is not good
enough, I can never please you”. With time, the lack of appreciation of
him and his actions, lead him to conclude that he is no longer loved.
The realization that he made a major error dawns upon him. Did he fail
to recognize that the wonderful woman he married actually possessed
major personality faults? He feels profoundly sad and discouraged.

Now this couple is in a major crisis, both are disillusioned, and
bitterly unhappy. They may either resign silently to a life of misery,
elect to get divorced, or seek help. Unless they choose the latter, they
will never fully comprehend what happened and how they got derailed from
the path of bliss.

Certainly not all couples follow this course. Many keep their loving
union and resolve their differences amiably. For those couples who can
relate to the above scenario, here are a few recommendations:

  • Know that what you experience is common and prevalent.
  • You did marry the right person. Your partner still possesses the endearing qualities you saw initially.
  • Neither of you is seriously blemished. You just didn’t get your needs met.
  • He is doing what he was taught to do and he still loves you. 1. She is missing the attention you lavished upon her during courtship.
  • You both need to begin to talk with each other about your needs and wants, create a new marriage plan and support each other in reaching it.
  • Your marriage is at a crossroad. It can be improved, and even become a happy and joyous one.

 

For all couples, here are five tools for improving or preserving your
good marriage. All five are required for a more intimate and satisfying
relationship:

  1.  Spend twenty minutes a day in eye to eye conversation.
  2. Have a weekly three to four hour date, doing what you love to do together.
  3.  Give each other three statements of appreciation daily.
  4. Spend a weekend away alone, three to four times a year.
  5. Court each other with love notes, small gifts and tender acts.

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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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