Chapter 9: Coping with typical solvable problems
There are some “hot topics” of contention in each marriage, and one must remember to go beyond “lip service” to the notion that a marriage takes “work”. Once the issue at hand is indeed deemed to be a solvable issue, one must actually get to effective coping with it. Six common marital stressors and possible coping solutions are discussed in this chapter:
Stress and more stress:
Task: making the marriage a place of peace.
Issues include: i.e. bringing stress home from work. i.e. wife gets angry at husband for not doing groceries, so she is left without food after a long and crappy day at work, or comes home in a negative mood, it is likely not personal, and must not be taken as such. Solutions include: regular discussion sessions to speak of what has to be done, creating a break between work and home, and in that time, so some soothing/calming activities (i.e. as outlined in chapter 8), and regular whining sessions where each can complain about any catastrophes while the other is supportive.
Relations with the in-laws
Task: establishing a sense of “we-ness” or solidarity between husband and wife.
Issues include: a person may be placed in a loyalty conflict between a family-of-origin member (i.e. parent) and spouse. The spouse and the family of origin member may want to be more, or try to compete with each other. Each side may think that the person does not love them enough because of the other, and thus the competition and the loyalty conflict.
Solution: there is no solution to this except the partner who is being “fought” over establishing the fact that s/he is now an adult and had established his own family, which has nothing to do with more or less loving. Any intrusions into the marriage should thus not be accepted or colluded with, by this person. Family-of-origin may protest at first, but they’ll have to get used to it.
Money, money, money
Task: balancing the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes.
Issues include: balancing pleasure and security. If disagreements over how money is handled goes beyond the newlywed stages of the marriage, it may be a sign of bad negotiation, new life-cycle stage, or a perpetual (unsolvable) problem, as underlying are the deeply held values of each of the partners.
Solutions: need to budget together, and also be firm on the items which you consider non-negotiable. Steps include:
- itemize your current expenditures;
- manage everyday finances. i.e. compare essentials to your income and assets, in order to manage everyday finances based on your means and essential needs.
- Come up with a plan of who pays what and how
- Separate lists and plans for each of the partner to be compared to try to meet both sides’ “essential” needs.
- Plan your financial future (+i.e. look for common ground between the partners in order to proceed).
The task: fundamental appreciation and acceptance of each other.
Issues include: sex has a huge potential for embarrassment, hurt and rejection. Therefore, couples often try to speak and negotiate with each other about it, but in very vague, indirect, imprecise and inconclusive terms.
Solutions: learn to speak about sex in a safe way. Lovemaking with a critical partner ends up usually being quite short (and sucky). One must remember that his partner’s sexual preferences in not a reflection of one’s own attractiveness. Learning about the other gender’s anatomy helps sex too. One can give room to the partner’s fantasies, if the relationship gets that strong, but one can also say no if requested actions are not wanted. More intimate partners had better sex, regardless of the partners’ individual personalities.
The task: creating a sense of fairness and teamwork
Issues include: the more house-orderliness oriented person will feel disrespected and unsupported if the other is oblivious to that person’s home-orderliness. Resentment may kick in. sometimes, men do not appreciate [due to socializing] that women do so much of the home chores and may over-estimate their own house-work.
Solution: men are to do more of the house chores. Women tend to more into those kinds of men, and actually sex life improves too. In such cases, women’s heart-rates during arguments is lower, and thus less likely to begin an argument harshly. Also, if chores are unevenly balanced (i.e. the man do all the hard work + woman only do the mindless ones), one of the partners is bound to feel resentful. Similar issues can be spoken about when it comes to finances and child-rearing. One can do a “who-does-what” list with two boxes beside each chore: now and ideal.
The task: expanding your sense of “we-ness” to include your children
Issues include: the move from couplehood to parenthood is a difficult one. Marital satisfaction reduces (usually first by the wife, and then the in the husband as a response). Reasons for this reduction in marital satisfaction include lack of sleep, lack of feeling appreciated, added responsibility, juggling motherhood with a job, economic stresses and lack of time for other things. Mothers tend to feel intense affection to the newborn. Husband may develop resentfulness at the wife for not having time for him, her tiredness, and preoccupation with baby. The husband may live his baby, but he wants his wife back.
Solution: husband must accept the new family constellation – this will allow him to accept his new role not only as a husband but also a father. Some people give bad advice: work on your marriage too [i.e. seesaw between marital and parenthood positions, such as spending time away from the newborn]. Instead, what is of essence is not to balance the marriage and parenthood, but rather to transition together and in an integrated way into the new situation. Some tips include:
- Work on the marital friendship – before babies comes along
- Don’t exclude dad from caring for the baby – mothers sometimes tend to take over or assume a supervisory role, and chastise the father if he does not do things her way. Some men tend to withdraw and let the mother do everything – at the expense of the father later truly feeling and being excluded. Some men may envy the mother-infant bond, and it would be good to have the father also take part in nursing of the child, if not physically, then at least with doing things around the breastfeeding.
- Let dad be the baby’s playmate – even before the baby is able to walk and talk (despite some fathers’ having a harder time doing so before the baby is able to walk/talk).
- Carve out time for both of you (the couple).
- Be sensitive to the father’s needs: i.e. because of the overwhelming parenting needs of young infants, when mothers do much of it, the fathers may intellectually know the reason why the mother is immersed in the child-caring, but will still feel left out. It is important for the wife to acknowledge this, and for him to not withdraw [i.e. into a further sense of exclusion].
- Give mom a break – husband can change his work schedule or something else that will allow the mother to take her well-deserved breaks, as she has been immersed in child-caring.