Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Private Time Indispensable to Marriage by Dr. Alan Singer

Here is my 3rd and final column describing the couples I surveyed who are celebrating their 30th Anniversaries. It was published in the Home News Tribune on December 17, 2008. Robin and Michael refer to marriage as "an evolving state". Is that a good thing? Read below and I invite you to post a comment.

Nine New Jersey couples who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this year responded to a survey I conducted. This is the third and final column devoted to their responses. I asked each couple what they wanted more time for. Responses included: we want more time together, family vacations and watching our grandchildren grow up. In the fast-paced, two-career family paradigm that is so prevalent, what couples want is more time together. But, two comments concern me. Susan explained, "I wish I made more time for myself and my husband, but in my life, everyone else came first." And Heather stated, "Once the kids were born, we never made time to be alone, just the two of us." Whoa! Red flag!

When couples have a child, they tend to put their marriage on the back burner. That is one reason that researchers have found that marital satisfaction tends to decrease with the arrival of each child. After life-with-a-newborn settles into a routine, couples must dedicate themselves to nurturing their marriage as much, even more than nurturing their children. Children need their parents to have a strong marriage first and foremost; to be Super Mom and Super Dad comes second.

These couples believe that the institution of marriage has changed in 30 years and not necessarily for the better. Susie and Barry: Divorce is less of a stigma. Larry and Judy: People give up too easily and get divorced without trying to resolve their problems. Linda and Leonard added, "Marriage is not a toy, that if you don't like it you find something else; It's a lifetime commitment." Professor Bill Doherty (University of Minnesota) in a lecture delivered in 2001 refers to marriages today in the context of our consumer society where everything is temporary: "New is what sells — the past is meaningless. Only the future counts. Will my rewards be there in the future and am I getting enough out of this relationship?"

Last are several responses to the question, what is the most important thing that you learned about marriage? Most important to Linda and Leonard is, "The effect of being loved and showing love can only make you a better person." (Research supports them on that.) Suzie and Barry go a step further: "Love is not enough to sustain a marriage; you have to work on maintaining the love and the relationship."

Robin and Michael learned that marriage is "an evolving state." That response intrigued me, so I asked them to elaborate. "Nothing in life stays the same; it changes each day with each new experience and the challenges that life presents." They added, "As we grow and mature and are molded by what life brings us, it necessarily affects marriage. The hope is that your spouse helps you through those changes and that your relationship is flexible and can accommodate change."

In a 1998 lecture, psychologist John Gottman similarly describes the importance of "shared meaning." He contends: "Everyone is searching for the meaning of life in this journey of ours. The idea of creating this meaning together with someone else in a family is very key in building this friendship in marriage using the narratives, metaphors, symbols, roles, goals, and rituals that make life meaningful. This has a great impact on friendship in the marriage and on buffering transitions in the marriage, such as partner-hood to parenthood." Thank you to the nine couples who participated in this survey and Happy Anniversary!

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site www.FamilyThinking.com


Noah Wolfe said...

I like the line:
marriage is 'an evolving state.'
Too true.

Thanks for the post.