We’ve all heard the expression ‘marriage is hard work’. I’ve never felt right about that saying – yes, it takes work to keep a marriage healthy, strong, and happy, but it’s not ‘hard’ work. To me it’s important work. And more than work it’s about discovery, exploration, and a building something together. [Blast from the past]
I’ve been married 15 years (to the same guy, yay!), but it wasn’t always easy, and in the beginning it did feel like work. Sometimes it felt like going to a job I hated, and I think that had to do with my age (I was 20 when I got married) and some personal insecurities, and mostly because I had such a hard time talking to the Mr. in an open and honest way.
Recently I had the opportunity to connect with relationship coach Tara Caffelle and ask her some questions about keeping my marriage happy and healthy. Of course my first instinct was to talk to her about my marriage today, but I thought there may be some readers that are earlier on in their married life/relationships, and my want some tips too. With that in mind I’ve turned this into a 2 part series. Today we are taking about newbies – you gals that are planning a wedding, or are newly married perhaps, and next week we’ll discuss the later years.
Read on for my interview with Tara. If you are inspired to make some changes to your marriage, or start a conversation with your partner after reading, scroll to the bottom for details on an amazing upcoming workshop.[A little more nerdiness]
WHAT ARE SOME TOPICS THAT COUPLES MUST DISCUSS BEFORE MARRIAGE?
I would say that even at the beginning of a relationship, couples should get a feel for one another’s way of being in conflict (it shows us a lot about communication style and what we can expect from each other), what each of them feel about fidelity to one another (if my idea of cheating is having my partner even look at another woman, but he thinks an indiscretion while on a business trip is no big deal, we may have some issues!), and generally get on the same page with their expectations of how life will look when they are together in the commitment.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF DISCUSSIONS NEW COUPLES AVOID, AND WHY?
I think new couples have some sort of expectation that there should never be any conflict at all, so many topics seem to get either minimized or ignored, hoping that they will work themselves out, but we also know that the average couple waits for an average of six years to bring up concerns to try and resolve them, and that is often too late to be effective. The big three that we all seem to have stories about are probably money, sex and death, and it’s not necessarily comfortable to talk about any of these things, but laying them out on the table can actually create a lot of intimacy and understanding in a relationship.
IS IT NORMAL FOR COUPLES TO HAVE INTIMACY ISSUES AT THE BEGINNING OF A MARRIAGE, OR IS THAT A RED FLAG?
I think it’s normal for intimacy to have an ebb and flow and life of its own in a relationship. The red flag comes in how we deal with communicating about these challenges. A lot of couples I fall into what they think their intimate life “should” look like, but could be taking comfort in communicating about it and knowing that whatever is happening is probably normal and will shift.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO BRING UP AN UNCOMFORTABLE TOPIC?
I always tell clients this: you have a right to say what you notice and what’s true for you. This means that if you have a sticky topic to broach, you can always preface it with your own experience: “I have something to talk to you about, but I’m scared that you’re going to be angry with me,” or “I feel like we haven’t been spending a lot of time together. Can we talk about what’s been going on?” When we bring up topics in this neutral way—as perhaps an observation—it invites conversation and solutions.
WHAT ARE SOME ACTIVE WAYS COUPLES CAN CREATE A SENSE OF INTIMACY IN THEIR MARRIAGE?
It doesn’t actually take a ton of time to keep your relationship connected and intimate and if you’re mindful, it can be done while life is marching along. There are simple things like paying a bit of attention to how you part each day as you leave for work, and then reconnect at the end of the day, or scheduling some time for actual conversation when you are together and in the routine of life. Date nights are great to keep touching in as a couple, even if just for a couple of hours. I think we get caught up in the belief that all of this has to be “spontaneous” to be great, but it doesn’t. The best things in life are planned—your very first date was probably not spontaneous at all—so don’t make it wrong to make plans and then look forward to them. If you really need things to be spur-of-the-moment, set aside some time together to see what unfolds and enjoy it. The key in all this is to embrace that intimacy and connection will look different as your relationship progresses and to keep looking for ways to enjoy each other.
– – – – – – – –
Reading Tara’s answer again while prepping this post got me thinking about the early days of my marriage. I really wish someone had told me that conflict was a normal part of a new relationship. I was so torn up over all the arguing! And don’t even get me started about the ‘dry spells’. Believe it or not, the honeymoon phase is not all about getting busy in bed, it’s also about setting up a new house, establishing routines, and learning to live with someone 24/7. [Clearly we didn’t live together before marriage].
If you live in the Vancouver area and want to give you marriage a bit of a ‘tune-up’, Tara is hosting her Super Couple Tune Up Workshop on November 19th from 10am-5pm. During the workshop she will be educating couples on relationship maintenance, and providing practical skills for recharging your relationship. If you aren’t local, Tara also has a great blog with lots of free resources, and she offers one-on-one coaching over the phone.