Life has changed remarkably since World War 2. Until then marriage was seen as a contract far more binding than it is now. The reality was that once they were married, most women had few opportunities to be independent and to fulfill their needs and dreams outside the home. Society had a very clear view of what was acceptable, and this was generally based on what worked well for the children and the husband.
It isn’t very long ago in real terms that married women were not encouraged to have independent means. Once you were married work opportunities were significantly limited and the man was expected to be the provider. Women received a fraction of the pay that men got for doing the same job. Divorce was frowned upon by society and in particular the Church (who had significantly more influence than they do now). Divorce made women a social pariah.
When a marriage wasn’t working – whatever the reason, women were expected to suck it up, to accept the “will of God” and to make the best of even the most loveless or abusive relationships.
Fortunately, circumstances have changed, and women have a far greater range of choices.
Does that make things easier?
In one way it is easier for people to end a marriage than ever before It has been my experience that couples have found this to be a double-edged sword. As the pressure to stay together has diminished the pressure for the marriage to match up to the individual’s perception of what a good marriage should be like has greatly increased.
Why? The answer is complex, but I think there are some key reasons:
Expectations of marriage have changed. So many young people, particularly women appear to believe in the fairy tale “Happy Ever After”. Expectations that everything will be perfect are unsustainable. Many marriages are failing within the first year – almost before they have had the chance to succeed.
Many of the clients I see have an unrealistic expectation that marriage will be perfect from the outset and are disappointed when they run into challenges. Once the razamataz of a big wedding is over unless there is a commitment to make the relationship work – and it does need a great deal of commitment and work to create a loving, inter-dependent relationship – many marriages falter.
So many of the couples who come to me for help to save their marriage are using the same words but speaking very different languages. Misunderstandings and mixed messages create disharmony and unhappiness, much of which could be avoided with more effective communications.
Think about what “love” means to you. Does your partner think the same? What do you do to show your partner you love and cherish them? What behaviours do you need to feel loved by your partner? You’d be surprised at how different these can be. It is only when this is articulated that a shared understanding can be created.
Because in this world of ever more complex technology to create the opportunities to communicate so many people fail to take the time to really talk (and just as important to listen) to their partner. Many spouses spend significant amounts of time on their laptop or on social media. They may be in the same room, but they are in reality engaging with the gadget and not one another. Using the off button, having a time embargo or gadget free nights have been proven to help enormously.
Time - Too Much or Too Little
Lack of time is another great challenge, especially when there are children and the mother works. So many women find they are forced to work when they have children in order to help pay the bills. By the time the practical day to day stuff has been dealt with there is no time left to spend on nurturing and supporting the relationship between the partners in marriage. Exhaustion and frustration lead to anger and very quickly relationships deteriorate, often past the point of no return.
Too Much Time
Unless the relationship has been nurtured and both parties have grown and matured it is difficult for marriages to survive happily in the long term. Once the children grow up and leave the nest it is easy for the cracks to show and deepen. Without a friendship and at least some shared interest many marriages falter. A growing number of divorces are happening as one partner retires. What has been bearable because work filled so much time, becomes untenable as couples have much more time on their hands. To add even more pressure there is usually a reduction in finances.
Creating a regular time to be together and to really connect with one another may be tricky to find but pays enormous dividends in sustaining and developing a lasting and loving relationship.
When was the last time you went out on a “date” with your spouse? When did you last tell one another what you love and like about them?
Marriage may be hard, but it is worth working at making it a success.