People date, putting their best foot forward, to acquire the relationship they want. If you are married, you succeeded at the Compatibility Stage of Relationships, deciding you and your spouse had enough in common to make a lifetime commitment to each other. Congratulations!
How many of you thought that was the hard part — that it would be relatively smooth sailing from there? How many were surprised by how much their partner changed, seemingly overnight? I know that happened in my marriage. I tell people it was as if my husband had an overnight visit from the Body Snatchers because he was so different from the moment we returned from our honeymoon. My head was spinning and perhaps his was too.
This happens in many marriages and there are two main reasons for it. First, once people have acquired something they want, they often begin to put their focus on something new, neglecting the maintenance behavior necessary to hold onto their original acquisition.
The second reason is the differing beliefs, values, and expectations we have around marriage. Let’s look at each separately.
Once people have acquired what they want, they turn their focus to something new. They figure they have what they want, so now it’s on to the next acquisition. We stop doing the thoughtful, considerate things we did while dating. After all, the pursuit is over. We have our prize. Now we can turn our attention to other important things in our lives.
When I wrote my book, Secrets of Happy Couples, I interviewed 100 happy and satisfied couples who had been together at least ten years. One man admitted to me, “Dancing is what you do to get the girl; once you’ve got her, you don’t have to dance anymore.” Can you relate to that? Are there things your spouse used to do while dating that he or she no longer does?
I find this to be particularly true in the sex and romance department. As a general rule, women need romance to feel sexual, and men need sex to feel romantic. This works really well during the Getting Together Stage and the Compatibility Stage of relationships, when each of you had pleasing the other as your goal but once you enter the committed Maintenance Stage, something usually changes.
This is usually a process that happens slowly and gradually. You may not even notice it as you begin to do less and less of the things you did when you were dating. You may tell yourself things such as, “The children take my time.” “S/he knows how much I love him/her.” “There’s no money to go out anymore.” “I have to put food on the table.” “There’s no time left at the end of the day.” “I’m exhausted.”
All of this is what gets in the way of maintaining a happy and satisfied relationship. We forget to prioritize our loved one because we tend to take him/her for granted. Men slowly start to be less romantic, while women slowly begin to be less sexual. If left undiagnosed and untreated, then you can get to a place where you are strangers living in the same home.
The second reason things change is our beliefs, values, and expectations. This is what happened in the case of my husband and I. Whenever a couple enters marriage, even after living together for a long time previous, they bring with them all their preconceived ideas of what being married looks like, including their beliefs, values, and expectations around what it means to be a husband and a wife.
These values, beliefs and expectations apply to us, as well as our spouses. We know how we should be and how our partners should be as well. So why is this a problem? Usually it’s a problem because our values, our beliefs, and our expectations are never identical.
My husband was relatively carefree and very generous with his money before we were married. Afterwards, he became a workaholic, spending very little time at home, and he stopped doing the fun things we did while dating. He had the belief that as a husband, he was now the breadwinner. He had to prioritize earning a living over everything else. I felt unloved and wasn’t as interested in sex anymore and this began a downward spiral. Thankfully, we realized what was happening and negotiated some changes that made a positive difference.
You might wonder why these differences don’t usually come up before the wedding. Well, first of all — you weren’t married then. Secondly, your values, beliefs, and expectations are so much a part of who you are that you tend to not even question them. In your mind, it’s just the way things are. You wouldn’t even question that your loved one doesn’t feel the exact same way. We wear blinders in this area.
What can you do? I suggest the person reading this article be the one to recognize the problem and take the first step. Don’t complain to your spouse about what he or she isn’t doing. Get back in touch with the thoughts and feelings you used to have about your spouse while you were dating. Remember the things that attracted you to him or her. Remind yourself to stop looking at what he or she does or doesn’t do that makes you crazy and begin instead to turn your focus to gratitude for all their wonderful traits.
Remember the little things that don’t take time or money. You can look at your spouse with love and gratitude, or you can look at him/her with anger and frustration. Which would you prefer? A loving look, a quiet touch… these are the things that can rekindle the sparks in your relationship.
Each one of us has two sets of lenses with which to view the world. When you choose the critical lenses, you will see all the things that are wrong with your spouse and your relationship. When you wear the appreciation lenses, magic occurs. You see the partner you love and appreciate. Which experience would you rather have? What lenses will you wear today?
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Mar 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Why You Aren’t Happily Ever After Anymore. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 7, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/03/29/why-you-arent-happily-ever-after-anymore/