It is not unusual to find me at a social event or friend’s wedding in a corner surrounded by women and men whispering, laughing, and staring intensely over their chilled cocktails. It has become such a familiar accordance that my husband just rolls his eyes and asks me what drink he should bring me next. When people hear what I do for a living, they are instantly intrigued and want to know what advice I can offer and what my secrets are. I am not a surgeon or specialist who can fix their bodies or extend their lives, but I can offer them the hope of a more harmonious existence with their spouse; for many, that may be the essential piece of the life puzzle they are missing.
I am a Licensed Marriage and Sex Therapist, and my job is to not only save marriages but to help couples have a thriving, loving sexual connection and to be married in a better, more enriching way. I help couples create a love map of who they want to be, how they want to love, and what type of family experience they want for their lives. The goal is to navigate the various stages of the couple’s life cycle with grace, empathy, and compassion so that they can enter the ‘golden years’ together, ready to take on that next chapter!
The fact is most married people are struggling. Not because they are not trying or because they do not want to have satisfying relationships, but because we have never taught individuals the skills necessary to be careful partners. In a world where 51% of marriages end in divorce, my job is to be a teacher, a love guide, and a therapeutic coach and to disseminate the skills necessary to couples so that they can be married BETTER! I teach couples the basic tenets of marriage. This means taking responsibility for communicating your needs to your partner, becoming intentional in your interactions, and prioritizing your partner’s needs as highly as you do your own. We explore how to use these skills as a reference point when interactions begin to turn negative.
We explore how to create structure in the marital landscape so that each partner’s emotional and physical needs can be met without resentment.
Couples come to me with the age-old complaint that they no longer have a “connection” in their relationship, and the once passionate exchange that attracted them to one another is no longer present. Women craze an emotional connection through conversation, support, and emotional intimacy. Men, conversely, need to feel appreciated and desire more sexual intimacy. The main issue is that couples are missing each other. They do not realize how to create the moments necessary for emotional intimacy, which leads to physical intimacy. Each partner needs to be present enough through honest conversation to explain what it is that they need. Couples must learn to be engaged, active listeners instead of waiting for their turn to speak.
Unfortunately, the pandemic only widened the gap between couples by limiting our ability to be discrete, have couple mystery, and have our much-needed personal space. For two years, the idea that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was not a possibility. Instead, we had to live in small apartments on top of one another with limited interaction with the outside world. We were compelled to be our partners “everything,” for many couples, this ask was too much. The amount of pressure was crushing and uncomfortable-so many couples crumbled. The lack of space and autonomy created a recipe for couples to be even less courteous and even less loving. We took each other for granted. Couples forgot to prioritize each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The goal for most couples is to be with their partners for a lifetime. They crave longevity, want to be known, and long to be heard in a way no one has listened to them before. To be that for another person and to have those needs met takes patience, dedication to the process, and empathic understanding. A partnership where both partners can grow together through each stage of marriage as friends, lovers, and companions. It is not something that you can forget today, tomorrow, or next week. It’s something that you must practice each day.
What does it look like to live a lifetime with a partner?
It means that you are traveling through each life stage together and watching them experience some of their greatest joys and some of their greatest losses. Statistics show that most individuals meet their partners in their mid-twenties, which is a drastic difference from who the two of you will be in your fifties. Our twenties are often filled with adventure, travel, and a lack of adult responsibilities. Sexuality is usually easy and takes minimal effort because of the newness of your partner and the lack of stress involved in each partner’s life. Our thirties become another story. This is a beautiful but demanding time for couples as they navigate weddings, buying homes, having children, and childrearing. The couple must navigate all the new career and family challenges while trying to understand who they are as individuals in this new adult space.
As we move into our forties, couples regain their autonomy, and the busy family hustle begins to quiet once again. The babies that were being raised start to grow into teenagers and want to become independent. The children move away from the family, and the couple looks inward again for the first time in a long while. If the couple has maintained a connection through healthy open communication and daily intention with one another, this transitional period can go smoothly.
The couple can move seamlessly into their ‘Golden Years’
This can and should be a new beginning for couples, where they once again have the time and can create the attention to focus on each other. Evening dates, travel, and romance can be the new focal point, and the couple can once again have that unique and special time they had when they first met. That is what establishes the hope for longevity in a marriage.
The key to creating a thriving marriage is understanding the complexity of being a couple. If we want the forever experience, we must commit to learning how to communicate effectively and with vulnerability so that our partners can understand who we are and what we need. We need to be able to talk about what’s not working and not be afraid to broach the subjects of sex, money, in-laws, and parenting; it all comes up, and it must be addressed with a measure of love, empathy, and compassion.
We need to start investing in our marriages and investing in our nuclear relationships. If we want a better world where individuals have sensitivity, kindness, and respect, we must start in our homes.
Happy marriages create thriving children, which makes satisfied families, which makes collective communities.
Article written for Expert Profile Magazine, Wellness Edition Summer 2023