Entries in intimacy (2)
I seem to be seeing more-than-the-usual number of articles or books promoting the idea that an affair might be an effective cure for a disappointing marriage. These writers suggest it might be just the spark needed to reignite romantic or sexual passions you've been missing. Is there any validity to this claim?
Let me be clear about two things that are absolutely true: (1) affairs do produce heightened emotional and sexual experiences and (2) many marriages do become stronger on the other side of an affair. But that's not the whole truth. Any counselor who specializes in affair recovery will also tell you that (1) the heightened affair experiences pull a person away from their spouse rather than toward them and (2) affairs tend to damage marriages rather than save them.
Yes, it's possible for a couple to find their way back to even greater trust and intimacy in their relationship, but the path is hard and full of pain.
Much of my work is with couples trying to recover in the aftermath of an affair. Many of them would tell you honestly that their marriage is better now that it ever has been, but none of them would call the affair a "good thing." (You can read some of their stories at AffairHealing.com.)
Affairs lead to better marriages like heart attacks lead to healthier lifestyles. They can be great motivators for change, if you survive the damage. But they are best avoided, since neither survival or positive change are guaranteed outcomes.
Consider the expectation of two couples at different stages in their relationship.
Couple A, together for six months, drip with affection as they dream of a lifetime together. When asked Do you think it will ever be difficult to love each other? they looked perplexed, perhaps even offended. Are you kidding? We're in love. Nothing could be easier.
Couple B has been married for a while. Over the years, they have become adept at managing the business-of-life. But now they're partners more than lovers, bored in their familiarity. They wonder what happened. Why doesn't love seem natural anymore?
Why the change? Does love come with ease, or with effort?
It comes with both. The beginning of a relationship seems easy because powerful attraction-forces are working in overdrive. (Remember when it took more effort to stay apart than to stay together?) It feels like magic--the inspiration for countless music and movie romances. But real intimacy is only discovered when we move beyond that initial connection to something deeper. And getting there requires a willingness to work.
What if you don't feel like working at it? What if you just want love to be easy? Then here's what you're likely to end up with in your marriage: efficiency without intimacy. You and your spouse can organize your expectations and efforts in such a way that you give proper attention to all required duties (bills, schedules, work, house, children, etc.) while seldom connecting on an emotional level. This is the result of just continuing to do "what comes naturally" in your marriage.
Do you want something more? Stop hoping for magic. You have to work at being intentionally intimate.
Let me suggest just a few things to get you started...
- Risk honesty. Tell your spouse you want something more in your marriage. Be careful to describe the relationship you desire rather than focusing on the current disappointments of your marriage. Don't insist on change (the surest way of not getting it). Instead, open a door of invitation and let them know you'd like them to join you.
- Focus on your change. You probably have no problem identifying all the way you spouse disappoints you. But you really have no power to change him/her. You can only be responsible for what you do. So spend some time figuring out ways you can more effectively move toward your spouse in ways they appreciate, and then work on doing those things. Even if your spouse's reactions disappoint you at first, determine to keep making the effort. If you're not sure what to do, try using an Emotional Needs Assessment tool to help you establish some goals.
- Offer complements more than criticism. How do you react when someone criticises you? Does it make you want to change? Probably not. Criticism won't change your spouse, either. You can be honest about your hurts and disappointments, but spend more energy pointing out what they get right rather than what they get wrong.
Beginning love is like swimming in the shallow water of the ocean. It's easy, safe, fun, and splashy. But those who find the treasures are the ones who make the effort to dive deep. So, take a deep breath...