Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Marriage Is Perfect

When Lisis hosted Zeenat of Positive Provocations on Quest For Balance, the resulting conversation sparked an idea for a post about marriage. In my comment, I said,

"I often wish it were easier for married couples to be open about the difficulties of marriage and to be able to ask for help without always having to pretend that everything is perfect."

Lisis responded, saying,

"Daphne… you’ve brought up a major issue I’ve been thinking about lately, regarding marriage. Why do we always have to give the appearance of a perfect marriage? Lots of people I know who are divorced might have been able to save their marriage, or get out sooner, had they been able to talk to each other or their friends and loved ones openly about what was going on. But no one wants to admit that THEIR marriage is difficult.

I’ve got news for everyone out there: EVERY marriage is difficult at times. The only way it isn’t is if you aren’t really IN it… if you don’t have skin in the game, and just coast through it protected by indifference. But what kind of marriage would that be? We need to get over ourselves and our desire to pretend everything is perfect and start talking, REALLY talking about what is going on."

This is a HUGE conversation and it starts now.

(Originally planned as a guest post on Lisis' blog, we have moved the venue here because of some recent very interesting conversations on another topic happening at her blog right now.)

Marriage is hard. So many of us buy into the idea that a good marriage is supposed to be perfect. This unattainable standard dooms many marriages to failure. When we pretend that our marriage is perfect, we lose our ability to ask for help.

It is a difficult balance, however, between privacy and openness. The survival of a marriage hangs in that balance and somewhat, too, upon the quality of the support network surrounding that relationship. Our support network must be willing and able to ask us "How are you?" and truly want to hear the answer. In return, the married couple must know that their support network can be trusted and must be willing and able to share the truth.

Challenges and conflict in a married relationship do not necessarily equal an unhappy marriage. The way we handle those things are what defines the relationship. Each day we make choices that will either improve, detract from, or flat-line our relationships (courtesy of Susan Scott at Fierce, Inc.). Honest and open conversations with each other and with our support network are one of the keys to a successful and happy marriage.

This means talking about everything. Nothing is off limits. Get to the meat or the heart of the interaction. Nothing will change if it is not identified and spoken about.

There are too many examples in the media of failing marriages and not enough good examples. I would like to share with all of you some resources that I have found that encourage these kinds of conversations and open communication.

First, a story in the New York Times about Barack and Michelle Obama's marriage. It is an open and honest story about struggle and survival and happiness in marriage, valid no matter your political leanings.

Second, some blogs that touch on the reality of marriage in ways that don't read like Cosmo articles:
Zen Family Habits
The Marry Blogger - check out their finalists for the top 10 marriage blogs here
Confessions of a Young Married Couple
Simple Marriage
Wilma's blog - especially the posts about communication
Through The Illusion - Hayden's posts about her marriage here and here

Let the conversation start now, in this safe space, and let us become part of your support network. 

If you knew that there would be no negative consequences from a conversation you want to have with your partner/spouse/significant other, what would you ask or say? 
How are you? 
How is your marriage? 
How is your sex life? 
Are you happy in your marriage? If not, why not?


  1. Hi Daphne, I am so glad you brought up this topic. I am married, happily. My husband and I are very close and over the last several years have covered every possible topic relating to our life and love, our values, our struggles and our victories. We are partners in every sense of the term. The times I notice us struggling are the times that I feel "flat" about my own life, which colors how I view our marriage. I work through that and thankfully my husband rides that out with me. Sometimes, too, we get distant or grumpy with each other and I'll notice it has been too long since our last date night (which I am a huge proponent of, by the way). We take some time to reconnect, and then we're back on track. Marriage is a special thing that must be nurtured, daily. The more you put in, the more you get out of it. It's funny, too, because marriage doesn't seem to reach a "joy cap"--if you continue to nurture the relationship, love just grows and grows and grows. As for the sex life question...we made some major progress in that department several years ago and it completely and totally catapulted our relationship to a whole new level of intimacy and connection. When my friends reach a troubled patch my first suggestion is to make time for love-making--and talk second. Touch and physical connection in a relationship makes all the difference, in my opinion. Without it, cracks turn into valleys which turn into chasms. Thanks again for bringing up this topic. (I hope I didn't blab on too much in my response!)

  2. Jodi, this is wonderful, thank you for sharing! I am familiar with the "flat" feeling and it is amazing how that can color everything around us, including our marriages. Kudos to you for making time for dates and reconnecting. I think you're right about the importance of touch, whether part of sex or not. Sometimes my husband and I just need to hold hands as we fall asleep. You didn't blab at all - I hope others are as candid and sharing as you were. Thank you!

  3. Hi Daphne!
    Hubs and I came into this marriage almost 30 years ago with BOTH of us having two "priors" - yeah, scary indeed! haha! We are very happy and content at this stage but it has been a long journey, not without it's rough spots! I think we would both agree on several things being key elements. We laughed and joked about writing a book together "Marriage by Mavins" figuring that even before we met, we had valuable experience. Well, different spouses, different challenges - but some really foundational things would be:

    First - honor and respect each other's need for BOTH of us to experience some time alone as well as making "dates". It really helps to refresh yourself and also gives you the time to plan a surprise now and then.

    Second - Realize each other's strengths and weaknesses on an honest level and accept them. Yes, this is a partnership but from time to time you carry each other along - and that's OK - don't make a big deal out of it! Keeping score is also NOT recommended.

    Third - Communicate! Be honest and loving and for godsake don't assume just because you live together that you can read each others minds about everything.

    I could write a book here - somebody stop me! haha - basically I think take nothing for granted, remember you are human and so is your partner (throw out pedestals!). It was love that brought you together in the first place - that will grow, change, and deepen over time. Hold the hand that was given to you in love - it's a beautiful thing!

    There's a ton more........always more...but hope this helps in some weird way.

  4. suZen, thank you so much for adding your voice to this conversation. I love the list you made because every relationship could benefit from your advice, not just married couples. And congrats on almost 30 years, that's wonderful!

    I think one of the things you're also saying is how important it is to have the same standards and expectations for each other. For example, if I need alone time, Donald probably does too.

    The true challenges come in getting good at doing the things you listed. We can talk about the importance of good communication forever, but unless we know HOW to communicate well, we'll never make it happen. This sounds like a topic in itself!

    Thanks for adding to the conversation! I can see future posts taking form already.

  5. Daphne,
    Wow. I am so glad you started this necessary conversation. I was married for 10 years, ending in divorce five years ago. To me that is my greatest failure. I believe in the sacredness of matrimony for a lifetime. I had to learn to own my responsibility and treat the rest with compassion to move forward in my life.

    My input would be that you are right on with so many points to consider. In my own case, I grew and evolved and he stayed the same. We knew I would grow because I'm effervescent and embrace life--so static is not an option for me. We could not have predicted the outcome it would have on us both. I think had he been able to communicate more openly many of the problems we encountered could have been avoided. There were times we were hurt or disappointed with external events--such as my daughter's need for 6 medical surgeries before she was 5--that had we worked together would have strengthened out marriage, but instead became a barrier. At any point either of us could have apologized for the baggage we brought to the table, tried to better understand it, and saved what eventually couldn't be fixed.
    In the spirit of honesty, many of my friends were in unhappy marriages and began to have affairs. I'm not being judgmental, but affairs are something I'm not comfortable with. Something I don't understand. I believe you work on your marriage and that cheating opens doors to more heartache and bigger chaos. The fact that I chose divorce while others staid stuck but chose an affair drove a wedge among some of my closest friendships. I just think as a whole our society no longer values marriage and if you admit you're struggling lots of people look toward divorce, affairs, compromise rather than toward solutions. I am glad you presented some positive resources for your readers.

  6. Joy, I'm so glad you added your perspective to this conversation. You have my admiration and respect for taking on your own responsibilities and moving on from the rest.

    It is amazing how important communication can be, especially when problems start to add up and take on a life of their own, almost. It can also be a barrier to decide to start the conversation once a pattern has developed, placing the two people in the relationship on opposite sides of the problem, rather than standing side by side and addressing it together (I will be writing about this).

    The value of monogamous marriage is definitely a question in our society, including who gets to be married, whether it is a valid expectation, and what happens when the couple encounters trouble.

    I agree with you that infidelity probably exacerbates the existing marital problems and leads to distrust and more pain. Divorce is sometimes the right path for people, so I don't believe that a marriage should be upheld no matter what.

    I would love to see more solution-creating when it comes to unhappiness in marriage. What can we do to encourage this?

  7. Yay! You got the comments working! I tried to comment a few other times and got kicked out. :(

    I'm not sure I can even remember what I said originally, but it doesn't matter because Suzen probably just covered most of it. That girl is always stealing the words right out of my brain!

    One of the things that concerns me is this issue of communication. It is VITAL for a marriage to remain healthy and intact... communication with our partner, and with anyone else we need to use as a sounding board.

    But many times, when there is trouble in paradise, no one wants to admit it... to themselves, to each other, or to the world out there that seems to have it all figured out.

    Or sometimes I want to the communicate, and my hubby isn't the sort to delve into the emotional ramifications of how leaving the toilet seat up every single time makes me feel like he just doesn't care enough to take that extra step. (We don't actually have the toilet seat discussion, but we have others like it.)

    I don't know what I'm saying, really... other than sometimes it's downright challenging. Not "throw in the towel" tough, just "Sheesh! I wish this could be easier!" You know?

    Anyway, thanks for having this discussion and getting us started on this path. :)

  8. 1. What would I say to my husband.. Well, honestly, there isn't much I haven't said. In my first marriage, I learned to believe my husband would discount everything I said anyway so I kept silent. This time around, Gary and I have put very specific effort into changing that. I had to practice speaking and it was his job to absolutely without judgment until I asked for input. And it was so very hard for me. But now we use that skill regularly, so there's nothing super important that goes unsaid these days.

    2. How am I. Disappointed that a month of going to the gym hasn't shown any results, but very excited about trying to become a more professional blogger. I now have lots of time to write quality posts and a whole page of topics!

    3. How is my marriage. Brand stinkin' new. We got married on our 2 year anniversary back in August. Getting fired really trashed the newlywed buzz and I worry that all this time together on our extended honeymoon will make Gary bored of me, but we talked about that (see #1.) Marriage is good and comfortable and a source of comfort and pride right now.

    4. How is my sex life. Not even remotely as active as I'd like it to be. It's probably the singlemost constant source of conflict in our relationship. He's male - how can he not want sex on a daily basis? I don't understand it, but he says he's just not always in the mood and I have to respect that. But given how he used to live his life (lots of partners), I feel pretty gypped.

    5. Am I happy in my marriage. Yes. Except for the sex, I have more than I ever thought a marriage could provide. I'm excited about where we'll go together.

  9. Lisis - Sorry the comments weren't working; I had no idea.

    I agree that communication is often THE thing that helps or hinders the success of a marriage, both with each other and with other people, as you say. I know it was for my parents. I think the impression that everyone else is doing fine is one of the things I'm trying to debunk here. If people believe that everyone has trouble in marriage at one time or another, they may be more willing to speak up when they need help or have questions or need to talk.

    When it comes to resistance to communication, I think it takes time. I might suggest that in this situation that you make sure that the problem is actually worth the conversation. Is this something you are trying to change about him? Is this something you can decide not to let bother you? Is the smaller problem actually an indication of the larger one you should be discussing instead?

    Thank you so much for adding your perspective, Lisis! I look forward to hearing more!

  10. Sonrisa (Kate) - So good to see you here and commenting, thank you! I think it's wonderful that you and your husband have figured out a good level communication, especially after learning from your mistakes the first time around. Good for you for working so hard to make things better and for keeping it up!

    Stick to the gym thing and remember that there are all sorts of results you might not be able to see - energy level, mood, metabolism, etc. Hang in there! I'm also glad you're blogging more; I just came across your blog recently and I'm looking forward to reading more.

    Congratulations on your new marriage! Some people will be jealous of your opportunity to spend more time together, so I guess it's all about perspective. It's good to hear that your marriage is already comfortable and supportive for you.

    Your answer about your sex life really connected with me. It's funny how our assumptions about men and their sex drives can really surprise us, huh? This is definitely material for a post all on its own. I appreciate your willingness to share. I would suggest, perhaps, exploring what you really need, whether it is sex or touch or a massage, etc. Sometimes our need for sex is about connecting and sometimes it truly is about a physical release. I've been exploring my needs on this topic as well, especially now that Donald is away from home several nights every week.

    Hooray for being excited about your marriage developing over time! I'm excited to see where it takes you! Thanks again for sharing with us.

  11. All I can say is "What they said!", particularly jchristin. I grew, my husband didn't. I wanted to get close and communicate, he avoided and stayed the same, seeking an emotional connection with someone else, someone on his own level. Our difficulties drove us apart, not closer. At least now I feel incredibly clear about what I need in a relationship and know that those things are not negotiable. Honesty, kindness, respect, love, loyalty.

  12. Oh, I'm loving our extended honeymoon. Gary usually needs more space than I do. I only worry about time together becoming less.. special. Because there's so much of it now, it's less dear. We're doing well at carving out dates and stuff.

    As for sex.. I inherited a strong libido. And now I'm at the magical age of 30 where supposedly, a woman's sex drive peaks. On top of that, I spent the last 4 years of my first marriage sex-less due to that husband's car accident injuries. The first year or so was a lot of making up for lost time.

    When Gary's not in the mood, I ask for a back or for him to brush my hair. My need for physical affection has everything to do with my childhood relationship with my father (as psychology will tell you) so I do understand that aspect and where the need comes from.

  13. K_dorothy - Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I appreciate your input in this conversation about a very complicated topic. I'm glad to hear that some good came out of a bad situation - good for you for getting through it so far and for identifying the values that are most important to you.

    Sonrisa - Thanks for the follow up. I'm so glad you're enjoying the extended honeymoon and good for you for making dates even though you currently see each other a lot anyway. I'm with you on the strong libido thing and it's interesting to figure out a balance between both people's needs - it sounds like you have come up with a good solution for getting physical affection with or without sex. Good for you and Gary.


I welcome and appreciate your comments!