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Changing the glue that holds a marriage together - 6/6/2016

A close friend’s brother came to town, and we were invited to a brunch to sample some of the goodies he brought from California. Not only was the food extraordinary, and the afternoon delightful but, during the meal, his wife brought out her iPad and shared a short film of their daughter’s marriage. The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome, and the ceremony emotionally touching; particularly when the bride and groom exchanged their vows, which they had written.

As I listened to their words, I thought, “It’s truly wonderful when two people feel that much love for one another.” A part of me was emotionally moved, but my cynical self wondered if the devotion, warmth and love they expressed that day would still be there 10 years from now. Probably because of the many troubled relationships I see on a daily basis, I couldn’t help but question, “Will they make it? How long will they stay together? How happy will they be?”

I, of course, didn’t have an answer for those questions. Nevertheless, they brought to mind the fact that 54 percent of individuals, who share similar loving emotions during their wedding ceremony, eventually wind up ending their marriage in family court. It’s a sad commentary on marriage, but there’s a reason for it. The glue that once helped hold young newlyweds together has become so watered down, it’s no longer adhesive. Let me explain what that glue was and why it isn’t as effective as it used to be.

To be blunt, it’s sex. Think about it: Years ago, premarital sex was the exception, not the rule. Today, things have changed; premarital sex, moving in together and having a child before marriage is common. Waiting to have sex is the exception. Before you believe otherwise, let me assure you I am not advocating people go back to the old days or that they were necessarily the good old days. I am only suggesting that, when sex became too easily available while dating and prior to marriage, it lost its mysticism and no longer served the purpose it did before. In the “good old days,” couples married and experienced the same problems that newlyweds do today. Learning to live together wasn’t any easier then, than now.

The same issues prevailed, one partner liked it cold, the other liked it hot, and fights over the thermostat became a major issue in many households. In others, one liked the lights bright and the partner preferred the lights dimmed. One was neat and orderly; the other left their clothes where they dropped them. They then expected their newly found surrogate-mother, i.e. wife or husband, to pick them up. This, of course, resulted in frequent conflicts that included statements such as, “I’m not your mother or your servant, and I am not going to pick up after you.”

There are endless other areas of conflict, such as sleeping with a light on or off, going to bed early verses late, eating in front of the TV verses sitting at a table. Not to mention differences in financial, dietary, religious and sexual attitudes and orientations. All of which need to be addressed, fought over, and resolved before young married couples can learn to live together compatibly.

But, no matter how tough things got in the old days, there was always the “glue” that helped them overcome their differences. Many will recall the saying that supports this notion: “Sure, we argue a lot, but making up is so much fun.” However, if you’ve had sex with numerous others before marriage, and then with your spouse prior to your own wedding, the glue is so diluted it can no longer effectively help you and your spouse stick together during the tough times that inevitably occur in every relationship.

To complicate this situation, extra-marital sex is more common than ever before, so, if you don’t get it at home, the glue is available in other places. That being the case, couples, today, who go through the normal process of learning to adapt to a life together, don’t have the staying power they had before. What makes matters worse is it takes years before most individuals mature sufficiently to discover that, although sex is a wonderful, healthy and desirable facet of a relationship, it isn’t a lifetime adhesive. In contrast, communication, commitment, intimacy and sharing emotions can be. Don’t try to tell that to an 18-year-old young man who can become aroused by a lamp post; or a 16-year-old young woman who, so desperately desires to be loved, is blind to the fact somebody wanting her in their bed isn’t the same as wanting her in their heart and head.

That being the case, the questions that need to be addressed are, if sex no longer supplies that glue, what will? And, how do you help people recognize that building a healthy marriage is a process that starts with learning to cope with one’s self? It requires you to first recognize your short- comings, your weaknesses and strengths, and then share them with your partner.

The rule is that it is only after you come to peace with yourself that you can come to peace with your spouse. Why? Because the fights that occur in marriages have nothing to do with lights, temperatures or finances, etc. Those issues are only the facts. The problem is how you react to these facts. When you are able to react positively to the differences between you and your partner, even the worst of situations can prove to be stepping-stones to building a better relationship.

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