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One Marriage, Two Personalities

Most married couples take for granted the loving ties (kids, home, extended family) that keep them together. Yet, peek behind the curtain and you may discover two personalities perpetually perplexed by one another. Indeed, a quick take on how healthy a marriage is might be to compute how often each side is thinking, “what’s up with you?” or “I just don’t understand how you could…”.

couple-in-oppositionPeggy has still not gotten over her profound shock at learning that her husband is a cheapskate. She says, “when we were dating, we went out to fine restaurants.” Now, however, when she suggests going to a nice restaurant, he puts the kibosh on it. He says, “I just don’t understand why you have to go to places that are so expensive,” while she says, “life is to be enjoyed; we can afford it; what’s up with you?

Phil is still baffled by his wife’s constant criticism that he doesn’t do enough for her. “I love her; I do so much for her; I just don’t understand how she thinks that I’m not doing enough.” His wife, however, is thinking, “Sure he does a lot for me but I just don’t understand why he can’t put his dirty clothes in the hamper or his coffee cup in the dishwasher. What’s up with him? Does he expect me to be his maid or his mother?

A partner’s annoying idiosyncrasies can start to nibble away at all the good things in a marriage. And when it does, people respond in different ways.

Some give up. A husband may find it easier to go to work than to figure out what’s going on in his wife’s head.

Some never give up. A wife may incessantly focus on her husband’s faults, painting them with a broad brush (“you never, you always”).

Some stir the anger pot. A husband’s angry words may land like blows as he accuses her of terrible transgressions.

Some develop a heavy heart. A wife may feel defeated: for an hour, for a day or forever.

None of these approaches have good results. People use them, however, because they don’t know what else to do. Marriage is tough. Though the beginning may be all roses and cream, the middle of a marriage presents new challenges that the beginning never even suspected.

Our partners are spendthrifts or tightwads. They are always late or insist upon being early. They never clean up after themselves or they pester you to be more perfectionistic. They don’t discipline the kids or they think you’re too tough on the kids. They snore. They fart. They drink excessively. And their eating patterns are abysmal.

Let’s face it. You made the mistake of marrying a mortal and as much as you try, you don’t seem to be able to change this mortal you married. So what can you do?
Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Remind yourself that you’re responsible for your own happiness. This is especially important when you’re obsessing over things you can’t control. Let go, accept what is, and go do what you need to do to make yourself feel good.
  2. Choose your battles wisely. Rather than have unending battles that leave you disheartened and dismayed, choose when to speak up, what you are asking for and how you might respond to his or her retort.
  3. Advice columnists are always telling you to stay away from negative people. Well, what if you are that negative person? The advice still holds. Stay away from that part of yourself. Since emotions are contagious, spend time with those who are optimistic and upbeat.
  4. You may be tempted to compare your spouse to other people’s spouses, thinking they don’t display all those annoying traits. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? When you’re lured into playing the comparison game, scratch the negative comparisons. Instead, recall all of your spouse’s good traits that compelled you to say, “I do.”

“I love being married. It’s so great to find
that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”
Rita Rudner

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