From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Don't let your marriage get lost in the family

Spring is a time when we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and reflect upon family. Maintaining good family relationships is an art form that depends largely on emotionally healthy individuals, good boundaries, and strong marriages. As grown children, we are fortunate if our parents are alive and even more fortunate if they are in good health. As parents, we are fortunate if we enjoy loving relationships with our children. As spouses, we are especially fortunate if we have (or have had) good marriages. Needless to say, all of this takes a bit of work. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.  

·         Affection and Communication. Needs that never go away. Research shows that talking and touching cause people to feel loved, loving and in love. No matter how old we get, we never outgrow our need for affection. While some people need more and others less, physical contact remains an important way to affirm love and validate each other. But when children come along, some couples make the mistake of redirecting their affection almost exclusively towards the children, as if grown-ups don’t need it anymore.  Likewise some couples stop talking the way they used to, forgetting that communication is essential to help us feel connected and synchronized.  

·         Don’t let your marriage get lost in the family. We have to remember that when spouses get together at the end of the day, no matter how busy we are with the kids, the house or anything else, it is vitally important to pay attention to our mates. Ideally, whatever tasks need to be done can be done together while we speak with and listen to one another. Besides, it is usually more fun to do things together, and it is certainly easier to pitch in and lend a hand than to fight about why we didn’t.

·         Sexuality and Compromise. Secrets to success. One tragic myth in our society is the one that suggests, the longer you’re married, the less you need sex. On the contrary, regular sexual encounters serve to strengthen relationships and personal vitality. Some say that sex was designed to be life long as evidenced by the fact that you can do it ‘til you’re 90 and you can do it lying down. Regardless, the secret to an ongoing sex life lies in a couple’s ability to talk about sex, their capacity to adapt to physical changes and their willingness to seek medical help for problems. Like the rest of our bodily functions, some things change over time, some things don’t. With a little effort, spouses can maintain healthy sexual relationships, continue to feel that special closeness, and continue to feel passionate about love.

·         Just as parents cannot be all things to their grown children, grown children cannot be all things to their parents.  If we are lucky enough to live long lives, eventually we will need help to adequately address our needs. Just as grown children should not take advantage of their parents’ generosity, parents should not be overly-demanding of children who love their parents too much to say “no”. While it is good and healthy to pitch in and help family members during crises, we must all strive to stand on our own so that the help we give and receive comes from the heart and not from guilt. For children with children, this means that sometimes you should pay for a babysitter, and for older parents, this means that sometimes you should hire someone outside the family to help out with your healthcare needs.

A friend of mine recently came by my office wearing a T-shirt that read, “Contrary to popular belief, nobody owes you anything”. While the message seems harsh, unsympathetic, and cast in a puddle of bad humor, there is also a little bit of truth behind this quip. The message may mean that just because you’re married, your spouse will not automatically stay in love with you. Or that just because you have kids together, that’s all you need for a happy marriage. Or that because you’ve given birth and raised someone, this justifies laying guilt trips on them regardless of the personal cost to your kids. Perhaps it also means that we have to work at love, we have to be prepared to change and compromise, and we should strive toward balance in our family relationships… neither asking and nor giving too little or too much.

©Copyright, 2011, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

Return to Love and Marriage

Return to Table of Contents