Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is It Magic or Bait And Switch? (By Ron)

I often hear clients and others talking about how marriage destroys good relationships. I believe that is totally wrong. Marriage is usually just the next step for couples who wish to formalize their already good relationship. So, what's with the belief about marriage destroying good relationships?

Let me answer with a story. Several years ago I counseled with a young couple who had been married two years and were having severe problems in their marriage. The sexual relationship was almost non-existent. They argued about money. There was little or no conversation between them. She complained that he was almost never home, and more.

They had met at work. He was an executive and she was a departmental manager. They didn't work closely together so the company had no problem with them dating. They began to spend more and more time with each other and finally moved in together about a year before they married. They both said they had a great relationship. They went out often, had lots of friends and were together almost all of the time they were not at work.

The relationship continued to be very good for about three months after the wedding and then problems began. It took several sessions before we were able to pinpoint the causes. As is often the case in counseling we danced around for a while before finally uncovering the source. For purposes of this blog I will skip those weeks and go right to the discoveries.

He had regularly traveled for business before they started dating. That dropped off dramatically while they dated and began to pick up again a couple of months after the marriage. Also, they began to drive to work separately because he was working later and later each day and he usually worked at least one day on the weekend. Their social life dwindled away and she spent most of her free time around the house watching television and reading.

It wasn't that they didn't know what was happening. They had discussed how hard he was working. He said he was doing it to move up in the company so she could quit work and they could start a family. She said it was because he was no longer interested in her. Then she asked why he was willing to spend so much time together while they were dating but not since they married.

He didn't have an answer. She asked the same question another way. He still didn't have an answer. Finally, I asked why he was having such a hard time answering that simple question and he made a comment about not wanting to hurt her feelings. When I explained how it was already too late to avoid that he looked directly at her and said "you should have known that was dating behavior." In his mind, now that they were married he could go back to his normal behavior.

In other blogs I've talked about it being ok to be selfish. His type of selfishness is not ok. His wife was devastated. She told him she felt like a trophy, a prize he had won by being good and now he no longer had to be good. She made it clear that his behavior was not acceptable and they would have to compromise about their time together if the marriage was to survive. He couldn't and the marriage ended a few months later.

So, did you get what you thought you were getting in your relationship? If you are married do you blame that for problems? Each of you is still the same person you were when you met. A little older and wiser, maybe, but still the same. I have also heard so often that "he/she will change once we are married." Don't count on that. It rarely happens without a lot of help and serious commitment. "What you see is what you get" should be your mantra as you enter into any relationship.

It's behavior, not marriage that destroys relationships. When "dating behavior" and "married behavior" don't match, marriages often end. It feels like "bait and switch" and that is not a good basis for any relationship. When the behaviors match, however, that's where the magic happens.

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