Ted and Greta have been married for almost 5 years, but their romantic relationship has been withering for over half of that time. About 2 years after the wedding, Greta noticed Ted’s distinct lack of enthusiasm for engaging in intimacy. When she inquired about his diminished interest in being close, Ted replied, “I’m busy trying to earn a living so I can support our family. I don’t have the time or energy to do the things we did when we were dating.”
That was the beginning of the end of the loving feelings in their marriage. Greta has tried for several years to rekindle some affection, but she’s met with repeated rejection. It seems that whenever she suggests they do something to create an intimate connection, Ted automatically responds by looking exhausted and making excuses.
As Greta’s gotten fewer and fewer of her needs met over the years, she lapsed into unhappiness. She feels helpless to change her situation because she can’t find a way to get Ted to revert back into the passionate loving man that she married. She’s deeply wounded by Ted’s criticisms of her, and has fallen into the trap of ruminating about whose fault it is that their relationship is failing.
Greta has become resigned to what she believes is her fate. She still wakes up most mornings with an intense craving for a connection with someone who would talk sweetly to her, touch her, and be thankful to be with her. But she feels so inadequate that she wonders if anyone else could love her.
For his part, Ted has turned to substances to make himself feel good. Over time, wine, food, and occasionally drugs have become his primary source of pleasure. He no longer has the desire to have his affectional needs met in a romantic relationship because he’s conditioned himself to rely on a substance rather than a person for physical gratification.
In fact, Ted finds Greta’s attempts to be affectionate annoying. He communicates his disinterest by frequently taking a harsh tone with her in their conversations, which hurts her feelings and turns her off. These exchanges also make Greta feel unattractive and unlovable, which works just fine for Ted because it keeps her from leaving with half of his assets.
There are several lessons to be learned from this couple’s experience. First, if someone tells you how they intend to act, believe them. Intention, not past behavior, is the best predictor of future behavior. Second, if you’ve been unsuccessful in changing how someone else is acting, focus on changing yourself and your situation. You have no control over others, and you’ll never get what you want if you leave your fate in someone else’s hands.
Finally, do NOT let someone else define you. If you felt attractive in the past, you will be able to attract someone who will meet your needs. But resolve your current relationship before you get into another one. Step into your courage and tell your significant other that – in spite of your best efforts – your needs are not being met. Give them a choice: either work with you to create a mutually satisfying relationship or you will end it.
In a 15-year long research project that examined the effect that getting married had on happiness, psychologists found that the initial boost of wedding bliss began to fade after about 2 years. For some couples it was a modest decline, but many people became much less happy.
The scientists did discover some good news in the data. Certain couples were able to maintain their high level of marital satisfaction. What made this group unique was that they were determined to not let their happy feelings wear off by taking their marriage and their partner for granted. The happy couples committed themselves to being loving to one another in spite of whatever problems they encountered.
The key takeaway for having a happy marriage: create the intention to sustain emotional and physical intimacy. Engage in frequent expressions of love and affection; initiate playful activities. Enjoy friendly discussions about each other’s challenges, successes, and feelings. Empathize with your partner’s struggles; be enthusiastic when they share good news. And keep the romance alive by continuing to engage in the dating behaviors that worked when you first fell in love.
Couples who create a conscious intention to make each other happy by making an effort to meet each other’s needs find this is a prime factor in determining how satisfied their marriage will be.