How to keep the spark alive in your marriage

Joyce Brothers

An expert responds to today’s relationship problems

Many of the questions couples ask me have changed in recent years. A decade ago, the first reaction when a marriage hit rough times was, “I want an end to it.” But today men and women I talk to are more likely to want permanent relationships. They are more prone to seek professional help when problems arise. Here are some of the most frequent questions I hear:

 

1. We both work and take care of our children. How do we find any time for sex?

The usual response tot his question is: get someone to look after the children and run off to a hotel for a weekend. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a short holiday from the children and household duties every now and then. But I find that couples who don’t have the time and energy to enjoy marital relations when they’re in bed together are hardly likely to go away for a weekend of love-making.

Sex is usually energising, not exhausting. So, as I hear couples recite the busy schedules that keep them out of each other’s arms, a line from an old song comes to mind: “I’m in the mood for love, simply because you’re near me.”

Too many busy couples are never near each other. They do their tasks and later collapse in front of the television.

As newly-weds they did the work together. Companionship is vitally important to marital satisfaction. Couples who “can’t find time” for love-making should try more togetherness. This will often put them in the mood even when they’re tired and have much to do. And children get a satisfying model for a healthy relationship—a precious gift too few children receive.

 

2. Why do we argue so much?

Linda and Les were suddenly quarrelling constantly after six years together. When Linda told me that through most of the marriage they hadn’t said one cross word, I knew they hadn’t been open and honest either. They had been storing up all the aggravations they felt would hurt the marriage if let out. But pent-up anger will eventually overflow.

Through counselling, Linda and Les learned to express their emotions. For half an hour every evening, they aired the day’s grievances—without attacking or interrupting—and later expressed the tenderness they had for each other.

“I get angry when you borrow my car and leave the petrol tank empty.” Linda told Les in one session. “I’m hurt when I feel you’ve been inconsiderate.”

Instead of becoming defensive, as he once did, Les calmly replied, “You mean you wouldn’t be angry if I just filled the tank?”

“Right!” Linda said. “I’d feel loved and cared for.”

“Well all right that’s what I’ll do. Because I do love and care for you.” Les said, and kissed her.

If arguing too much is endangering your relationship, try following these “fair fight” rules:

•Keep to one topic and don’t bring up past grievances.
•Get the quarrel over with as soon as possible.
•Don’t battle in public.
Never hit each other.
•Don’t walk out in the middle of an argument.
•Don’t suggest that you end the relationship.

The successful marriage is not one in which there are no quarrels, but one in which quarrels are turned into opportunities for greater honesty and understanding.

 

3. Does my wife fake orgasms?

One myth is that women fake orgasms because they don’t want their partners to know they don’t enjoy sex. Our culture puts pressure on both to perform sexually on demand, like trained seals. Part of the performance for women may be a faked climax if they are too tired or distracted—or if, as frequently happens, they are not sufficiently aroused.

If a man thinks his wife is faking orgasm, he should sit down and give her a slow, sensual massage, with no pressure for sex. He should let the sexual invitation come from her, then ask her to show him, by guiding his movements, how best to please.

 

4. Why is my spouse possessive?

After their wedding, Sarah, who fell in love with Scott for his intelligence and self-confidence, grew very dependent on him. At first this made Scott feel protective and manly, but finally he felt smothered. By the time they came to me, Sarah was upset because Scott was no longer her dependable protector, and Scott was trying to break away from her.

Sarah’s dependence on Scott’s attention came from her feeling of inadequacy. The way to raise self-esteem, I told her, is to become more independent. She was afraid to assert her independence at first. Then I got her to try it just once. She went to the cinema one afternoon, and wasn’t home when Scott rang to say he’s be late for dinner. He was shocked—Sarah’s dependency had annoyed him, but it had also been reassuring. When Sarah returned, she simply said, “I got something to eat on the way home.”

Gradually, Sarah began to live a life of her own and built up her self-esteem. Today, she has no need to be possessive of his attention. And Scott has found he doesn’t need her dependency to affirm his manhood.

 

5. My spouse had an affair and now wants me to forgive and forget. How can I?

By the time Thea discovered that her husband, Tom, was having an affair, it has been going on for almost a year. Like many victims of infidelity, she felt not only betrayed but humiliated.
The first thing I said to Thea applies to anyone whose mate is cheating: “The affair isn’t your fault, it belongs to your partner. You can’t turn off his feelings for someone else. But what you can and must do is decide what result you want from this crisis.” If you feel the marriage is worth saving, fight for it. In this case Thea decided to try to salvage her marriage—and succeeded.

If a marriage is to be saved, both partners have to work at restoring trust and communication. Psychologists Daniel O’Leary and Hillary Turkewitz recommend these rules:

•Ask for positive changes in the behaviour instead of attacking negative behaviour. Be specific.
•Respond directly to criticism instead of making countercharges.
•Confine conversation to the present and future. Don’t speculate on motives or analyse character.
•Listen!

When you try to forgive and forget, remember that many a couple celebrating a fiftieth anniversary has survived an affair. Take heart.

 


6. After being together for so long our marriage is a dreary routine. How can we get the spark back?

That question used to be asked after six to ten years of marriage. Today couples are postponing child-bearing, often still contending with young children—a great stress on any marriage—by their fifteenth anniversary.

I like what researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson have to say about successful relationships: love and physical desire wax and wane throughout a lifetime. “This can be accepted, even enjoyed, if partners can communicate.” But if a boring marriage is getting to be a habit, heed psychiatrist William Betcher, who says most people underestimate “the role play of marriage.”

Remember when you first fell in love? You played silly games and called each other pet names. Your love was full of fun and laughter. Then, about the time you became parents, you began taking yourselves very seriously. I’ve advised many suffering couples to try playing again. It brings partners closer and allows them to express  their desires, and even criticise, in ways that don’t hurt. Sometimes it’s not easy to start playing when you’re out of practice. But it’s well worth the effort