As you herald in a New Year, like in past years, you may find yourself in a reflective mood taking stock of the way this year has unfolded for you & your family. There may be items that cause you to wonder, “how did this happen”? or “how did I end up here”, or better yet, “what steps or pathway did I veer down that misdirected my personal ambitions and family goals”?
January is an excellent time to re-think last year, and what you might like to improve, amend, change, or repair in 2022. For many couples, Covid has presented unique, yet common problems. Increased experiences of “cabin-fever” caused by being stuck in one physical place or situation cut-off from most people. Even where couples and families with children have been together, somewhat isolated from extended family members, friends, and the community at large, Covid has been trying. Many couples report a decline in sexual intimacy and an increase in arguments and fighting.
Most people enjoy the company of others and experience an increased sense of health and wellness, self-esteem, and confidence when securely connected to a social group that extends beyond your immediate family. In fact a healthy network of family and friends, or “social support networks” is often associated with better health outcomes on personal and community levels. Where the draw to spend more time with your social support network is greater than your desire to be with your spouse or family at home, you may be at risk for future problems.
Marital stress is often cited as the context in which affairs arise. It is true that some couples enter marriage with a different set of values pertaining to fidelity and monogamy. Generally, discussed more openly before taking steps to tying the knot, there are some individuals who withhold their personal views despite participating in courses or retreats offered before the wedding day. Healthy relationships usually start with a great deal of sexual passion for one another that is all-consuming and preferably exclusive. In my experience as a mostly heterosexual couple’s counsellor, there is little agreement around the timing that a relationship began. Women typically consider the moment they are first introduced to their partner as the beginning point of a special relationship. Whereas for men, a relationship begins when there has been a decision made about it.
Many men and women continue to date different people before deciding to become exclusively faithful with one partner. This may even be true after deciding to live with one another before marriage. The importance of speaking openly during these early relationship stages cannot be underestimated. Relationships that begin on a less exclusive basis can create a sense of insecurity that may haunt your marriage for years, if feelings and events go unresolved.
More and more young people are opting out of traditional marriages officiated by clergy, ordained religious ministers or leaders from different sects. Certainly, with the marital mess that couples from the post-war era witnessed, it is a wonder that any young brave the traditional institution of marriage at all. Many children and grandchildren of divorced parents experienced the collateral damage caused by high conflict divorce. Many young adults today carry emotional scars directly related to intergenerational conflict and familial division caused by marriages that fail. There does appear to be a definite divide between couples who continue to view marriage as a sacred covenant blessed by God as well as a civil and legal contract; and those who have expunged the role of God and traditional religion from marriage altogether. It seems that we have witnessed a modern reformation of sorts, that opened up and normalized the institution of civil marriage to all couples, while leaving traditional religious options to marriage unscathed.
The next several generations will reveal whether and what this reformation will have on future societies, the health of families, and specifically the ideal of marriage as a lifelong promise with your one love. Many people have attacked this notion of an exclusive lifetime lover, even where statistics tend to show that most couples do stay together & faithful to one another for life. An active, happy, and healthy sex life and deep friendship with one partner for life is a fantastic option that is real, even today. Here are some simple strategies that will help you and your love remain deeply connected for life:
- Reserve adult time for one another for at least 15 minutes at the beginning or end of each day.
- Keep your bedroom exclusively your own, & leave your kids in their own beds! The family bed as an exception works through periods of intense illness, but for any period longer than a few days, this is likely to cause trouble in your marriage.
- Practice date nights weekly or bi-weekly throughout your marriage.
- Decide together what being on a date with one another means to you. What do you like doing best with each other, and are both of you able to enjoy some activities in common.
- Do something special and unexpected from time to time. This is really important in the early years before children, and may become less important as your family ages together. Filling up your partner’s car with gas, or picking up your spouse’s vitamins without being asked, demonstrates that you are paying attention and that you care.
- Be happy & playful in bed. Be bold and honest about what you want and need sexually from each other, and go for it. Too many people begin affairs due to sexual frustration, or lingering anger over unimportant day to day stuff.
- Let go of the little things and do not withhold sex as a form of punishment. If you are angry, go for individual counselling to process and resolve your feelings.
- Lighten-Up! Talk about how you feel and learn to laugh at yourself. Try not to take yourself or your partner so seriously, it’s demanding, frustrating, annoying, and simply not that much fun!
- Talk to one another freely, about everything and without any hesitation.
Couples commonly seek counselling support due to a lack of sex with one another, increased fighting, feelings of neglect, depressed mood or generalized unhappiness. Some couples engage in counselling after discovery of an affair, but this is less common than the reasons cited above. Where you feel that your relationship requires more help, then reach out to a couple’s counsellor and regain the joy you both deserve.
Lisa Romano-Dwyer, PhD, Owner