7 Deadly Pitfalls in Marriage and Committed Relationships
Caveat emptor! What your mother never told you about being in a relationship but, Dr. Steve will.
By Steven Lake
Marriage is not all it’s cracked up to be. There has been a collusion by culture, religion, and family to glorify marriage. These pillars of society have a vested interest in keeping couples together and have for thousands of years.
Strong family units, whether nuclear or extended, form the foundation stone of society. Until recently, happiness seemed to be irrelevant to marriage. Marriage was first and foremost a financial agreement, a binding together of families to protect and ensure a positive future as well as could be predicted.
In the Middle-Ages, the concept of chivalry and romantic love entered the public domain. However, not much happened until the last hundred and fifty years, when romance and the concept of love, being in love, and marrying for love took hold in modern society.
Here we are now in the 21st century and with all the social schisms that have happened in the last fifty years, the idea of what constitutes a marriage has undergone significant change. Not for all people, but for a significant minority.
For most of us, however, there is a push, whether internal or external, to find a suitable person to live with.
Most people it would seem, still feel the need to couple. How much of this is biological and how much culture is still up for debate. I’m not talking about sex, which is genetically encoded but the urge to hang together for something other than sex.
In some traditional societies, men and women are separated and only come together at special times. For most of us, however, there is a push, whether internal or external, to find a suitable person to live with.
Co-habitation is more popular today than it has ever been in modern history. But most of us, even after living together, eventually get married. This may be due to creating a socially acceptable environment to bring up our children or make a public statement. For some people, there is no need to get married.
Today we have options. We can remain single, date, live together, get married, be monogamous, swing, or be polyamorous. There are communities that support any and all of these choices. But, for simplicity and brevity, let’s pick the topic I know best — monogamy; whether in a marriage, or cohabiting, and from a male perspective.
The 7 Pitfalls:
Let’s be honest here. Sex is one of the primary reasons men gladly get into a committed relationship. They think it will be on-demand and wild. Often it is for the first few months and then things change.
Whether it is at six months, one year, or whenever, there will come a time when the frequency of sex changes. It might be due to tiredness, illness, boredom, or demands of the children, but it will change.
If, and this one is usually pure luck if you find a partner who has similar sex needs, the road back to an ongoing and mutually satisfying sexual relationship will be easier. If not, if you have differing sex needs, the relationship can stumble and crash on this pitfall.
The relationship may not fall apart right away but over time the foundation will erode as the connecting power of sex slips away into the night. You may stay for the kids, or because you think you can deal with the lack of sex, and if not, you will justify using a prostitute, having an affair or taking on a mistress.
Successfully navigating this pitfall takes patience, communication, flexibility and lots of love. And the biggest thing about sexual relations that they didn’t teach in school — it changes over time.
Money is a huge problem for many couples. It becomes the focal point of the hidden stresses in the relationship. All the little irritations and pet peeves flow nicely into money conflict. Money gives you something tangible to latch onto and make the other person wrong.
Money problems are exacerbated when there is a lack of communication, secrets, and shame. Without the ability to deal effectively with the conflict that is sparked by money, tensions rise, anger increases and love suffers.
I love children. You may not. But love them or hate them, they are your responsibility. And that’s part of the problem. It is a 24/7 job with no downtime. Having children can skew your view of your partner. That’s assuming you even see him or her anymore.
Obviously, when your children are newborns, they demand your complete attention. Unfortunately, some parents forget that they have a partner. This is a setup for a big problem down the line. It might show up within a year for a partner with little patience, or fifteen years later when one partner realizes that they simply do not have a relationship anymore with the person they used to love.
Don’t let the kids make you forget your romantic relationship.
It is easy to fall into the boredom trap. It is an insidious pitfall, one that silently creeps up on you and strikes swiftly in the night. You wake up one morning in a sweat wondering what the hell your life is all about. Everything looks grey and this matches your feeling. Life tastes like ash and you thirst for something, anything, to wash away the tasteless filth in your mouth and soul.
Welcome to boredom and ennui. It seems that Homo sapiens have a need for novelty that is hard-wired into us. Who knew? I thought there was something wrong with me. Not that I get bored very often, but it does happen. Where it can be a problem is when you get bored with your partner.
Unless you two have been conscious and actively engaged in keeping your relationship alive, you will get bored with him or her at some point. It’s natural, so don’t fight it. Acknowledge it with your partner and look to how you can put some excitement back into your relationship and life.
A.K.A. “conflict management.” I hate that term. It feels like an efficiency team at some corporation came up with that phrase during a brainstorming session. I like more down to earth terms that don’t try and whitewash or candy coat what is really happening. We are fighting, arguing, getting defensive, attacking, pouting, raging, stone-walling, guilting, etc.
Fighting is a nasty business and nobody likes losing. As a man, I was taught to win at all costs and never admit defeat. This spilled over into relationships when I was younger. It was so bad that I didn’t apologize to a woman until I was in my mid-thirties, and I nearly choked the first time I did.
Again, unless you saw your parents fight in a constructive manner, you don’t have a clue how to fight effectively. And if you do have a clue, your partner may not.
Learning to fight effectively is often learned, if it is learned at all, by trial and error over time or by reading a book on communication or going to therapy. Sad but true.
Do you remember when you first fell in love? You and your partner spent endless hours talking to each other, getting to know each other. As trust was built you divulged more and more of yourself, even sharing dreams and dark secrets. In this protective bubble of love, you were safe.
And then, one day, you forget to tell your partner something. Nothing big, nothing special, just some small experience you had. The next day you deliberately withhold a belief, a preference, a wish or desire.
Before you know it, your conversation has a stilted quality to it — there is not much to say or share. At the end of this process, you find yourself with little in common with your partner and wonder how this happened.
In worse case scenarios, and I deal with lots of them, you are caught up in an affair and are now actively lying and betraying your spouse on a daily basis. Welcome to hell.
7. Taking your partner for granted.
This is easy to do, especially in a good relationship. Things are going well and you think it is the natural order of things. It isn’t. Life is full of surprises and demanding challenges that require a flexible response if you are to overcome the drama you face.
When your eye strays from your purpose in relationship, when you take your loved one for granted and do not recognize and honor the gift that has been given you, feelings are hurt.
Of all the pitfalls this is probably the easiest to fix. All it takes is giving your partner time and attention (though finding time might be a challenge) and then making the effort on a consistent basis. Oh, it goes both ways. If you feel taken for granted make sure you communicate your feelings and needs.
These pitfalls are real and if you are in a relationship for any length of time you will encounter, if not all of them, most of them. We are not told what to watch out for when we enter a marriage or committed relationship (unless you have taken one of those pre-marital courses religious organizations offer). We enter blindly, guided only by the cultural norms and the media, both of which are suspect at the best of times.
Over the years, I have found two critical factors that have supported me when dealing with these pitfalls. One is an awareness that they (pitfalls) exist and two, having the willingness to communicate with my partner whenever one of these challenges enters my life.
If they enter your life, don’t hesitate. They will not go away on their own and the longer you wait the more difficult it will be to deal with them. If you try to avoid these pitfalls, they turn from being challenges into relationship killers.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.