Andy and Denice were madly in love when they got married 5 years ago. After a couple of years and a couple of kids their romantic relationship has slowly withered away. Denice is feeling lonely due to Andy’s diminished interest in connecting with her. When she asks about his distinct lack of enthusiasm for being intimate, Andy says, “You’re into raising the kids, and I’m trying to build my career. We’re just not into each other anymore.”
Denice 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, Andy’s automatic response is to make excuses.
As Denice got fewer and fewer of her needs met over the years, she lapsed into depression. She feels powerless to change her situation because she can’t find a way to get Andy to change back into the passionate loving man that she married. She’s deeply wounded by Andy’s criticisms of her, and has fallen into the trap of ruminating about whose fault it is that their relationship is failing.
Denice has become resigned to what she believes is her fate. She feels helpless and hopeless. She 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’s convinced that no one else could love her either.
For his part, Andy has turned to external sources of satisfaction to make himself feel good. Over time, wine, food, and boats and cars 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 things rather than a person for gratification.
In fact, Andy finds Denice’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 Denice feel unattractive and unlovable, which works just fine for Andy because it keeps her from leaving with half of their assets.
There’s an important lesson to be learned from this couple’s experience – blaming destroys relationships. Andy has long secretly blamed Denice for paying too much attention to the kids and not enough to him. Denice has been blaming herself for not being a good enough wife to make her marriage work. But the fact that their marriage is struggling isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s because starting a family and launching a career are both extremely challenging.
A research project lasting 15 years examined the effect that getting married had on people’s happiness. The study showed that nearly all couples are happy for about 2 years after their wedding, at which time the marital happiness boost begins to fade as life’s challenges intensify. The average couple returned to the level of happiness they had before they got into the relationship. A significant proportion of people were like Andy and Denice, becoming much less happy as a result of losing their loving feelings.
However, the study also identified some couples who were able to maintain their high level of marital bliss. 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 were committed to remaining good friends and loving partners in spite of whatever problems they encountered.
To keep a marriage happy, couples must create an intention to achieve that outcome. Creating intention requires understanding what happy will look like from each person’s perspective. Partners need to share their dreams and desires. Importantly, intention must also include a commitment to taking action.
Andy and Denice need to rebuild their friendship before they can restore intimacy. They need to be talking every day about their struggles and supporting each other to overcome their challenges. They need to focus on changing their own behavior and finding solutions that lead to positive outcomes.
In addition, they need to create an intention and make a commitment to sustain romance. That requires engaging in frequent expressions of love and affection, initiating playful activities, and enjoying date nights just like the ones that brought them so much joy when they first met. Going out of your way to make sure your spouse is happy is the best method for insuring you’ll be happy as well.