Yet the old myths about how to create a marriage haven't died yet and still cause incredible unhappiness.
This conversation I had with May is quite similar to my first conversation with my marriage counselor when I had been married just a short time.
May: I don't know what's wrong. I feel so miserable. For months I did everything I knew how to do to be a good wife and please him. Even though we both work I decided it was my job to make sure we eat well so I came home and made dinner. I did things he wanted to do.
I feel more and more alone and can barely make myself do those things anymore. I really think I need to leave him to find myself again. But I really do want to make this marriage work.
Dr. Laurie: Have you talked to him about how you feel?
May: I'm too embarrassed. I hardly want to talk to him at all. When I do talk to him, he just tries to fix it and that's even worse. I wish he just listened to me.
Dr. Laurie: It sounds like he thinks it's his job to fix any problem that you tell him about. Have you ever told him what you do want him to do?
May: Not really—I guess we really don't talk much about stuff like this at all.
Dr. Laurie: It sounds as if each of you is doing what you think you're supposed to do to make this marriage work—and it's not working. How did you learn about what you're supposed to do to be a good wife?
May: Well my mom always put my dad first and told us kids to do so also. I just thought that's the way you're supposed to do it.
Dr. Laurie: The truth is that there isn't any “supposed to” in marriage or any other relationship. It's important to learn to talk to each other about what's most important to each of you.
The problem is that most of the old rules say, “don't talk about it, just do it.” I think relationships work a lot better when you each learn to ask for what you want and to negotiate when what you want doesn't match what your partner wants.
These are skills that take a while to develop. It's worth learning how to practice them. I have lots of tools that will help. Is your husband willing to work with you on this?
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