Til death do us part

In this series I have been exploring traditional marriage vows; in this the last installment, I explore the final words uttered before “I do” – ‘Til death do us part’. Like all the other vows we make, we’re usually pretty sure we mean them when we say them, right? Yet, before the big day that promises us ‘forever’, what is supposed to be the very best day of our lives, one of the items on our to-do lists is PRENUP. The words ‘Community of property’ are used in the context of explaining that is absolutely not what we want! Out of community, that’s the way. The other option is too risky…, protect assets…, protect each other from debt… There are many different reasons for this decision to be made, and perhaps it really is the best option in this day and age, for a multitude of perfectly valid reasons. But the reality is that a prenup is preparation for divorce, for in case things go wrong.  It’s a pretty sad commentary on what marriage means today, the fact that no one you consult with will recommend community of property.

 

This post is not a commentary on prenups, though, so let me get to the heart of the matter. Divorce is no longer uncommon. No longer taboo. It’s simply the done thing. Yes it’s hard, it hurts. No one likes getting divorced (Except maybe Ross, from Friends). Yet it is all too common. There are plenty of people who will say if the marriage is tough, if you don’t have feelings for that person anymore, if either of you have changed too much, or even if you’ve met someone else, just get divorced. Move on. Don’t be unhappy. We live in a time of instant gratifiaction, of self-actualisation. Life’s too short to be unhappy. Yes, it is. Life is short. You absolutely should be happy, I’ve even written other posts to that effect: https://www.abbygreen.co.za/always-make-your-own-sunshine/. But your happiness isn’t all that matters in the world, and the day you promise to love someone else forever, you acknowledge that fact.

Having said this, of course there are certain marriages that are simply toxic. A marriage with infidelity or abuse (emotional or physical) should come to an end. No one should have to stay in a marriage characterised by these, and if you are in such a marriage, seek assistance to get out of it https://www.abbygreen.co.za/individual-counselling-in-centurion/. But most people who get divorced these days are not doing it for these reasons, and for me that is so sad. There are legitmiate reasons for a marriage to end, but in my experience, people throw in the towel when hard work is required to keep it going. A marriage should not constantly be hard work, but it involves effort, especially when times get tough; when one person starts feeling that their partner is not meeting their needs, or that their feelings have changed.

As I’ve explored previously, feelings are fickle – they are wont to change over time, because people change as they grow, age and experience new things and new life stages. But in a marriage, ’til death do us part’ means that when feelings start changing, when you start getting bored or wondering if this is what you really want, don’t just wait for something better to come along, or for something to change; make the change. Put in extra effort with your spouse – plan a romantic weekend away, reconnect, invest time in the relationship, seek counselling, look at yourself and see how you can improve on the relationship from your side. Give it your all, really be able to say that you fought for it. I guarantee your spouse will see the effort and make one of their own.

 

Sometimes it’s the accumulation of past hurts that leads to the feeling of challenges being insurmountable. Something, or some things, happen that cause us pain, and we battle to release our partner for what transpired, what they said or did, or didn’t say or do. We are, after all, only human. If this is what is causing an emotional disconnect, resolve to express how you feel once and for all, and then DECIDE to forgive, and release your partner. We hold on to things because often we are justified in doing so. But love is not supposed to keep a record of wrong, so let it go. Work on what you did to contribute, change behaviours that were problematic, and ask for forgiveness where you need to. And then extend your own forgiveness freely.

My final word on the matter is this: Marriage can be hard – life is hard, we all know that. But when you commit to someone, really mean it. Be prepared to ride the waves, to weather the storm, to survive, and to thrive, together. It’s tough, but it’s rewarding, and to be able to sit together one day and look back on a life well-lived, a love that survived the test of time, and something worthwhile that exists because you fought for it… Well if you can think of something better, do let me know.

 

Don’t give up until you have tried absolutely everything. Stop asking why your partner is no longer making you happy, and ask when the last time was that you made your partner feel loved. Don’t look for the easy way out. Be careful not to fall into temptation because someone else seems to offer what you think you need. Fight for it. When you say ’til death do us part’, don’t let it simply be words you repeat. If it was worth loving once, it’s worth fighting for, forever.

 

 

 

Forsaking all others…

In this, the penultimate installation of my ‘Wedding Vows’ series, I explore infidelity.

This is the vow that I see broken most often in my couples counselling, and the result of it is really heartbreaking. We pledge to forsake ALL others. Friends, family… these all move down the priority list to make room for our spouse at the top. This new arrangement often meets with resistance, because not everyone involved in a couples’ lives change just because they are now married, and obligations, responsibilities or even habits that existed before still do – the change comes from the couple, not necessarily those around them. I have explored the familial applications of this promise in a previous post (https://www.abbygreen.co.za/blood-is-thicker-than-water-right/) and so I won’t go into too much detail again – except to state that the promise made to one supersedes the familial tie to the others.

Having mentioned the above, the rest of this post is going to focus on what it means to ‘forsake others’, how to keep that promise, and the terrible consequences of breaking it.

Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce, because it represents a break down of trust. Trust, once broken, is very difficult to repair, but it’s not impossible. One of the determinants of whether it can be overcome or not has to do with the motivation behind it – is this a pattern of behaviour for the perp? Or has it resulted because of some deficit within the relationship? In my experience, these are the common causes:

 

Some people just cheat. Why? They may not respect the covenant of marriage, and what this particular bit of it means. They may not respect their partner, and so feel that they are entitled to seek things elsewhere. There are many different reasons why, but when it’s simply a pattern, and the perp keeps on doing the same thing over and over, asking for forgiveness (or even blame-shifting) and then doing it again, my advice? Accept it, or leave. It’s that simple. Someone who persists in the same behaviours without ever showing real remorse, and without a real attempt at change, is not going to change. For many people, simply seeing the pain their indiscretion caused the person they love most will be the best deterrent toward that type of behaviour in the future. If this isn’t the case with your partner, then don’t be surprised if it keeps on happening. A ‘mistake’ repeated again is not a mistake anymore, it’s a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

The other scenario that I see is not/less deliberate, and so the prognosis is generally better – there is something missing within the relationship, a vulnerability that makes one of the parties susceptible to temptation from outside the relationship. Sometimes it’s emotional support or connectedness, sometimes it’s intimacy… Either way, the absence of something, through not being dealt with properly, leaves a gap easily filled by anyone willing to put in the time and effort to fill it – even if the effort is just temporary. This kind of situation can be avoided simply by improving your communication skills; come and see me for help with this https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/ . If you are experiencing a drought of any kind with your partner, emotionally, physically… learn how to communicate with them properly. Your respective needs will be met, your bond will be stronger, you won’t be tempted to seek fulfillment elsewhere, and you’ll both be happier for it.

Finally, there is simply best intentions going too far. All is fine at home, this isn’t a pattern, just something that started out innocent and then ended up being something more, without intent ever having been there. In these cases, the perp will most commonly come clean with their spouse, unable to bear that their good intentions (or total lack of any intentions at all) have led to a terrible betrayal of trust, and the heart-rending pain it caused their loved one.

In all of these scenarios, trust being broken seems insurmountable at the time. But the good news is that it can be overcome, with guidance, commitment and, more importantly, honesty. This is no time to spare feelings, because things that come out at a later stage shake the core of relationship again, and then we have to start all over again, again. The sad thing about infidelity is that most of the hard work has to come from the person whose trust was broken – they have to choose to trust again, knowing full well what the choice has, and can cost them again, should it be misplaced, again. They have to choose to take their partners’ word for it, to not check the phone, messages, pictures…

 

Trust takes time. Consistency. Love.

 

And most important, it takes forgiveness.

More on this later.

To have and to hold

I am embarking on a new series that explores the vows we pledge to our partners when we take the plunge into marriage. I don’t use the term ‘plunge’ lightly, because for most people, marriage is not simply something we rush into without due consideration and considerable trepidation. However, I suspect that most of us don’t give it altogether enough thought before we do it; we consider some of what it means and what it encompasses, and although we pledge the words in front of God and our friends and family with the full intention of following them to the letter, when times get tough, and tough, and tougher, we tend to forget what we promised. That’s why so many marriages end in divorce, or worse, why so many stay in marriages where the ‘spark’ has gone out, and there is neither love nor effort in the relationship anymore.

So this series aims to explore what the vows actually mean, and how we can act them out in our marriages even when times are hard. If you aren’t married, don’t assume that this series/post isn’t for you – maybe you haven’t uttered the words, but the same premise exists in any long term relationship, and so the same applies.

Right, so the vows follow thusly…

“I … take you … to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife”

Simple so far. This expresses that the marriage is legally recognised wherever it is taking place. I also think the use of the word ‘take’ is quite important – it denotes choice, and almost implies a transfer of ownership, if you will. Like the Bible’s ‘leave and cleave’, this could also symbolise the fact that each partner is being removed from their previous state of being (single, in the care of their parents, theoretically) into one where they belong to their chosen spouse.

“To have and to hold” 

This is the section I’m going to be focusing on in this post. Quite simply, having and holding refers to the physical bits of the marriage; intimacy. Many people consider intimacy to be the physical act of sex, but it is so much more than this. While sex is the ultimate expression of intimacy, and the very closest that two people can physically be, in itself it cannot sustain a marriage. In a previous post I explored the difference between males and females when it comes to sex (https://www.abbygreen.co.za/803-2/) so I won’t go into too much detail, except to reiterate that sex is more physical for men, and more emotional for women. This is key to understanding intimacy within relationships. If one person’s needs are being met, but the other’s are not, something is missing.

Intimacy means holding hands, kissing, hugging, holding one another. Being there physically and extending physical touch, too. The hormone oxytocin is released when we do this – the hormone that creates the ‘in love’ feeling and assists in bonding. Touch means so much. Think about times in your own life when you have been feeling down, or have been with someone else who is feeling down – simply reaching out and touching, in the absence of any words, offers so much comfort. Before they can speak, babies reach out for and grasp their mothers’ fingers, simply in order to connect with them through physical touch. Studies have proven that animals who are deprived of the physical touch of their mothers end up unhappy and withdrawn – how much more do we suffer when deprived of the physical affirmation of love from our spouse?

Sex is so important in a healthy marriage, because it comprises both physical and emotional elements, and it further enforces the bond between partners. But without emotional intimacy and closeness, it can become mechanical; the same as a one night stand, effectively. You need both sex and an emotional connection in order for your relationship to flourish, but it’s important to remember that physical touch or intimacy is not simply a precursor to sex – sometimes it will be, and that’s great, but it shouldn’t be the primary motivation. Closeness, feelings of love and acceptance and being valued… That’s the end goal.

How can I increase intimacy in my relationship?

It’s very simple, really. Sit near to each other, touch, hold hands in public and in private. Flirt! Grab a bum here and there. Give a massage. Caress, cuddle. Kiss, really kiss, for no reason. Hug each other hello, hug goodbye. Just hug. Stare into each others’ eyes, trace the outlines of your partners face, mouth, cheeks… You promised to have and to hold. So hold, tightly.

 

 

‘Love’

This sculpture is one designed by Ukranian Alexander Milov, and it’s purpose is to demonstrate what’s going on inside of people when we fight. It represents 2 people with their backs to one another in what can be assumed to be the aftermath of a fight or argument. There is distance between them, yet inside, their inner children are reaching out for one another. The sculpture is entitled, “Love”.

This image is so powerful because it accurately depicts what is going on inside of us when we experience conflict with our significant other. We get mad, we fight… Something the other person did or didn’t do causes feelings inside of us that we usually express as anger. Words are exchanged, voices are raised, points are proven, the past is brought up… ‘You always do this’, ‘You never do this’, ‘[email protected]#&’… I’m sure this is a familiar scene to most. After the words have been said, words which can’t be taken back, there is distance. Sometimes it’s physical – one of us goes into another room. Sometimes it’s emotional – in the same room, but miles apart. Either way, there is distance. Now, this sculpture encapsulates the fact that after all is said and done, inside we are screaming out for closeness, for resolution, for peace. What prevents us from reaching out and grabbing it?

Several things. First, and foremost, our pride. It’s hard to swallow it and say sorry, especially if we feel we have been wronged, or that the other person is to blame and should thus be the one apologising. Two simple words. So hard to say. This is someone you love, someone you have chosen, and who has chosen you. Say the words. It’s really worth it. Even if you really weren’t the perpetrator, it’s pretty much a given that you weren’t perfect in the fight (and aren’t, in general), so be prepared to admit wrongdoing, and bridge the gap that has cropped up between you. Humbling yourself like this will hopefully prompt your spouse to do the same – but even if it doesn’t, do your part. Extend that olive branch, and work on resolving the issue together, rather than facing off against each other.

A significant barrier that keeps us from reaching out is the fear of rejection; the fear of trying to make peace and being shot down or turned away. It takes a lot to swallow your pride in the first place, but to do so, reach out, and then be met with coldness or indifference, is unbearable. To be fair, a lot of this fear of rejection isn’t actually based on our spouse rejecting us, but rather on previous experiences with rejection that have primed us for it in all avenues of our lives. If your spouse does respond to attempts at peace with this type of rejection, they are acting out of their own pain, and maybe don’t know how to accept apologies if they feel guilty. This has the potential to devastate a relationship, so if you or your partner battle with it, come and see me for couples counselling so that we can work on fixing what is broken https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/.

The most obvious thing that keeps us from reaching out is anger. Simply, we’re still mad, and we don’t want peace, because we feel we are justified. You may be feeling this need for closeness I’ve been discussing, but residual anger keeps you from reaching out. This is perfectly normal. We’re only human, we can’t just sweep our feelings away and pretend like they never existed in the first place. My advice? Take a time out. Go and sit, be alone with yourself, allow yourself to be angry… For a time. Allow yourself time to calm down, and when you feel like this anger is under control, go reach out for your partner. Actions made, or words said in anger don’t do any good anyway. So take a moment to take some deep breaths, consider the good about your spouse, and then take the plunge.

Fear of the issue simply being swept under the carpet if an apology is extended is another barrier. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t mean, ‘It’s over, let’s pretend it never happened’, but for many couples, this is what it plays out as. It’s not always easy to delve into issues when an olive branch has been extended, and things are good and cozy again, but it’s so necessary, because otherwise the issues don’t go away, they simply crop up in the next fight. So once the ‘I’m sorry’s’ have been said, resolve to have a chat about what went down. Allow both of you some time for reflection, then come back together again once that’s done and debrief, when neither of you are angry anymore, and you’re both able to think clearly. If things get heated again, take a 10 minute break, and repeat.

Relationships aren’t easy. There will always be conflict, and no one is perfect, or perfectly knows how to resolve issues when they arise. But the most important thing is to remember why you love this person. It’s easy to forget, or to simply take each other forgranted, but there is something that keeps that fire burning, and remembering what this is, especially when times get tough, is the difference between being happy together, and simply getting by.

 

The love we think we deserve

I recently read a book in which this quote featured, “We accept the love we think we deserve”. Relatively simple, absolutely profound. In these few words, so much of human nature is explained; in particular, the reason why people stick around in a situation that is bad for them.

Why does she stay with someone who beats her? Why does he stay with his alcoholic spouse? Why doesn’t he leave when everyone knows she is cheating on him? How can she stick around when he treats her so badly?

We’ve all asked these questions of someone in our lives. It seems so simple: What this person is doing is obviously wrong, right? So why doesn’t that person just leave?? We lose patience, in a way. We feel like, ‘Well if you aren’t going to do anything about it then it’s no use complaining to me or feeling sorry for yourself.’ We feel these things… But we don’t often voice them out loud, because something deep inside us tells us that we do in fact feel sorry for them. We allocate them a portion of the blame, yet feel somehow unjustified for doing so. Something inside us knows that maybe, just maybe, it’s a bit more complicated than simply leaving.

Why stay?

There are so many different ways for a relationship to turn toxic; physical abuse is something just about everyone is familiar with in one way or another. It’s terrible, horrible, soul-crushing stuff. As is emotional abuse. The latter is oft considered less severe than the former simply because it’s easier to see bruises than to see inner turmoil. However, both have far and deep reaching consequences.

As children, we derive a sense of self based on those around us; our parents, siblings, extended families, friends… What other people think of us, and how they treat us, determines how we see ourselves and thus how we behave. This pattern continues until we are adults. If someone treats us in a way that is incongruent with our sense of self, we balk. Unless it is done repeatedly, on and on, time and time again. Unless repetition shakes the very core of who we believe we are. Unless it looks like we may have been wrong about even thinking we were someone good, someone worthy of love, in the first place. Eventually, we start to believe we deserve this kind of treatment. We look inward for signs of our own inadequacy, outward for confirmation of it. We no longer question whether we deserve a certain treatment, but accept that we do, due to some inadequacy on our part, and stop balking. We become passive observers of our own lives, rather than active participants who are able to do something drastic, like leave.

We accept it, because someone has made us believe we deserve it.

Not everyone has experienced a heartbreak or the spurning of affection that can lead to this brokenness, and not everyone who has will end up manifesting it in this way – in this settling for unhealthy relationships, pain and hardship. We are all different. And of course, the perpetrators of the violence or abuse are manipulative, are able to sense this vulnerability in those they hurt and wield power over them. But simply because it has always been so doesn’t mean it always has to continue to be so. If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship, seek help today. It’s never too late to start repairing the hurts in someone you love https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/, and it’s never too late to learn to love yourself unconditionally too https://www.abbygreen.co.za/individual-counselling-in-centurion/.

Fickle Feelings

I’m sure just about everyone is familiar with this picture, or the premise behind it – your reality and mine are different; different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. Right? While it is true that our own expectations, perspectives and experiences shape our views of everything, and thus create views that are different to those of the person next to us, this premise can be flawed in its execution. The reality is that someone drew that number, intending it to be either a 6 or a 9. So asserting that one or the other is correct is not simply a matter of perspective. There is in fact a right and a wrong, because there was a motivation behind the placement of this number.

Sometimes we tend to go so far when considering our unique perspectives, that we forget that just because it’s our opinion, based on our feelings, doesn’t mean its right. When we start acting in accordance with these flawed perceptions, and refuse to budge because they’re based on said feelings, we can expect issues in relationships, yes; but we also lie to ourselves and rob ourselves of any chance we had to learn and grow. To consider why we feel how we do, and whether we are right to feel that way our not. To take control of how those feelings impact our lives, and to decide how we act or respond based on the information.

There are some who have a tendency to assume their own way as law, as irrefutable and empirically proven facts. Blaming differing perspectives is no excuse for ignorance parading around as expertise. Without having considered the circumstances behind certain decisions, no one can safely assume that their perspective is the right one.

I have found that one of the biggest problems of the human condition is that we tend to think of our feelings as an external entity that we have no control over, when in most cases, the reverse is true. We then excuse any dodgy behaviour as being the result of our emotions, ‘Sorry, but I was so angry’… Self-awareness is required in order for us to realise that hey, maybe our feelings aren’t entirely right. Maybe if we attempt to consider the position of the other person, or even ask them what their position is and why, we will see that our feelings were based on a flawed premise in the first place, and they don’t have to drag us down or make us feel bad.

Sooo are my feelings ‘wrong’?

Not necessarily. It’s true that we feel things, and that sometimes we simply can’t get over things and keep on living life as if our emotions have no control over us. Feelings are feelings. Pain is a feeling we have no control over, for example. But anger isn’t, and we can control how we act based on it. We can lash out in anger, or we can take a breather and reevaluate the situation. We can consider the other person – they too, are acting out of their own emotions, which may have nothing to do with you, and if we can attempt to understand those, we can ensure our own reactions are appropriate. This lends itself to EQ, something I discussed in a previous blog post https://www.abbygreen.co.za/eq-iq-happy-life/.

 People who act solely based on the emotion of the moment, out of the immediacy of the situation, in the here and now without considering alternatives – these are people whose emotions control them; these are people who are predictable for being totally unpredictable. There are so many things in our lives that we are totally powerless over. Take control of the things that we aren’t.

Look where all this talking got us

Communication is a recurring issue that crops up in couples counselling. There is oftentimes a big discrepancy between what is being said, and what is being heard. Why? Well, because everything we hear is through the lens of our own expectations, biases, experiences, perceptions and even our current moods. Something as simple as tone of voice used can determine the reaction of the listener. It is in our nature to defend when we feel attacked – and when we go into defense mode, we aren’t in a space to hear things the way they are being said, but rather we interpret these things in the here and now, based on how they make us feel. The result? Miscommunication.

 

Sometimes we hear what we expect to hear, rather than what is being said

We prepare for attack, when perhaps there isn’t any. We prepare to be put down, when maybe no one was even trying to. We feel guilt for wrongdoing, so we project the blame in order to protect ourselves. We assume we know what the other person is talking about, where they’re coming from, and why, without actually giving them the opportunity to express their own thoughts or feelings. We wait in silence for our turn to speak, planning all the while the words we will use to inflict the pain we are feeling; sometimes, we don’t even allow this period of silence, we simply fight to have our own views heard, and raise our voices louder in order to make our own points clearer. We are, generally, beings that are quite aware of our own failings and shortcomings. Some, we wear on our sleeves. Others, we hide so deep down in our hearts that they influence our behavior without us ever being aware of it. However, when any person seems to be saying something, to us, about us, that touches on this sore place, we react without thought. So places where our own self-esteem falls short, usually because of our own insecurities, prime us for criticism, even if none was offered.

So, how to combat this

The first, and the most important thing to do, is to take a step back when things get heated. Take a time out to gain some perspective. When conflict arises between you and your partner, take the focus off of yourself and consider where they are truly coming from: Are they really angry because you came home a bit late? Or did they just have a bad day and really need you home to comfort them? Are they not feeling prioritised in the relationship? Ask questions to make sure you understand the issue at hand and are not simply hearing what you expect to hear. Be prepared to admit when you are wrong, and ask forgiveness. Leave the past in the past! Often a small problem becomes a massive blowup because there is another unresolved issue lingering in the background throwing gasoline on it. One problem at a time. Baby steps.

There will be times when your partner is simply being oversensitive, or is projecting their own bad day or bad mood onto you. It happens. Have grace for each other. Be prepared to be the least when you see your partner needs you, and offer comfort rather than engaging your own defenses.

Of course, if your partner is overreacting, telling them so will calm them down immediately…

And then there were three

The addition of a tiny, red-faced bundle of joy is a momentous occasion in any relationship, indeed, in any family. From the moment the eyes of the new parents alight on the precious face of the child they made together, the bond is sealed, for life.

Thus begins an entire new chapter in the lives of the parents. Their previous roles as husband and wife now expand to include mom and dad. Parenthood is, of course, daunting, especially for a first-time parent. So many fears and concerns; there is little reason to believe these fears abate over time, but rather that they morph into different fears – where initially the fears encompass basic needs like whether the child is hungry, tired, ill, in need of a nappy change, eventually the concerns stretch further than that, to include fears about friends, schoolwork, peer pressure… Then career choices, choice of romantic partner… The basic needs concerns never really go away either (except for nappy changes, we hope) so all in all, parenthood is fraught with trials, tribulations, and ceaseless concern.

Why, then, do people make the decision to go ahead and have a baby?

Because all the negatives thrown in together are but in a drop in the ocean of the love, joy, laughter, the general wonderment, that a child brings with them. It is arguably the very most important thing any two people who love each other can do, and the blessing that this child represents increases exponentially with every year added to their precious lives. 

While this little gift is just that, an extraordinary boon, this new chapter does bring with it new challenges for the parents, not only in terms of their new child, but also in terms of the restructuring of their relationship that is synonymous with it. Things start to change. Mom may now be self-conscious of her body and the changes that pregnancy has wrought on it; this, coupled with lack of sleep, can lead to a decreased sex drive. Dad, having experienced none of these physical changes, possesses the same sex drive as before. So this can lead to frustration, fighting, and distance between mom and dad.

Now at this point is it important to note that the addition of baby does not downgrade ‘husband and wife’ to second position – it should still be the primary relationship, but practicalities must be observed too. Hubby can put himself to sleep, baby cannot. Hubby can take meds if he isn’t feeling well, baby cannot. Hubby can ablute without external help, baby cannot. Baby literally, physically, requires sustenance from his mother, hubby can make his own food. In light of the enormous stress that having a baby places on mom, specifically, it is entirely plausible that hubby may start to feel neglected. Fear not, there are ways to combat this. Dad, help out as much as possible. While you lack the necessary physical equipment to breastfeed, there are other ways you can provide aid:

Ask if you can assist.

Nice and easy, but effective.

Be kind.

Speak gently, be supportive. Surprise your wife with something she’s fond of, make her feel special and loved. There are certain things she hasn’t been allowed for 9 months – treat her with one of these.

Help with:

Things like sterilising; dummies, bottles, pumps… Washing, cooking, that kind of thing.

Check in

when you go to work. Just a phone call or a message to show you care. Ask about baby; there are so many weird conversations moms want to have about their babies – frequency of bowel movements, colour, consistency… Yes, it’s gross, but it’s your baby too. Showing (or even feigning, if you must) interest in this stuff will show your wife she’s not alone.

Take care of yourself.

Try to engage in things that will decrease your own stress levels (exercise is always a good option) so that you can be more patient and present with your wife and baby. However, this tip is mostly for you – it’s a trying time of your life too, so take a load off.

Now, moms…

It is very easy to get caught up in all the things that need doing for the little one, but make time, intentionally, to be alone with your husband. No one ever said leaving a baby alone with a sitter for the first time would be easy, but that is little comfort in the face of how tough it actually is; nevertheless, it’s not an excuse. Also, it does get easier… So plan a date night, and enlist someone you trust to take care of baby. Yes, in the back of your mind you will most likely be a bit stressed anyway, but be present in the moment, give your man your undivided attention. He will feel it, appreciate it, and feel loved and secure in response. Your sex-drive might well be low, or even non-existent, but plan a special night for your man, maybe even after your date night. Get dolled up, buy a new bedroom number that makes you feel sexy, and then show your husband that you find him sexy too. Remember, the changes that you see in your body, that make you feel unattractive, are something different in your husband’s eyes; they are evidence of the blessing that you bore him. Be as aware of your husbands needs as you are of your baby’s, it’s imperative.

 

A relationship is like a tree – if you don’t feed and water it, it’s going to die. Your life will never be the same again, but one day, the kids will be all grown up and gone. What remains, then, is the marriage you have watered and fed with the person you chose all those years ago. Make sure you prioritise this beloved, always and in every situation. Make them feel loved, appreciated, valued, special. Make sure your marriage is something to go back to, so that you and the one your soul loves can begin this brand new chapter together with no fear of the future.

Blood is thicker than water. Right?

This popular adage is one we all know, and have heard and applied to our own lives a multitude of times, I’m sure. However, the reality is not what this saying makes it out to be, especially within the context of romantic relationships. The adage in its fullness reads, ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’ – what does this mean for us? Well, it simply means that the relationships we form by choice are stronger, and to be valued above those that occur through mere incidence. We have no say in choosing those we share a genetic bond with, but we do have a say in those we choose to share our lives with.

Does this mean that our family relationships are any less important? Definitely not. These are the people we have spent so much of our lives with, have shared so many wonderful memories, and even trials with. But for most of us, that period of dependency and proximity ends around about 18. Our romantic relationships will, hopefully, last longer than that, right? We will share so many milestones, so many wonderful and so many difficult experiences together that we will inevitably be knit even closer together, and even the act of marriage symbolises this – each persons family candle contributes to the union, but ultimately, the lighting of the new candle is symbolic of the fact that this is a new union, separate from that of the bonds family represents. 

Expressed in our vows, even, are these words: ‘Forsaking all others…’. Ok, admittedly this language is a little bit dramatic, because we shouldn’t be casting off our families, but the principle remains that this relationship is now the primary one; even the Bible is clear on this front – that a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife (Genesis 2:24).

The starting of a new relationship brings with it the beginning of a brand new family; new traditions, new memories to be made, new trials to be shared and overcome together. Each of us brings into this relationship our own expectations and behaviours, most likely learned from our family of origin, and so it is impossible to recreate, perfectly, the environment in which we grew up. This means we create our own, new, family.

The addition of children changes things up, but even so, the primary relationship of husband and wife remains. I will, however,  explore this topic further in my next post.

Now, the role of in laws.

 

This is one of the largest issues I see facing couples, and I worry that the old misconception is some of the reason why. The distancing from family of origin that is required upon the commencement of a marital bond is very hard for some. It is understandable, of course, but no less problematic. Some couples are happily free of this issue, and more power to them! But others look upon this issue as the largest affecting their marriage.

In these relationships, there will inevitably come a time where one or more partner will be in the position of taking sides – choosing between their spouse and their family member. While it is my fervent wish that this day will never come for any of you, experience dictates it might. Now, the right course? Spouse comes first. This doesn’t have to be an ugly spectacle, but the outcome should be clear – ‘This is the person I have chosen, I have pledged my life to, and I will put them first.’ The marriage relationship is foremost, the priority, and each spouse in the relationship should rest assured that their spouse will choose them, everyday.

So why then, do in laws present a problem? No doubt they have what they think are the very best intentions for their children, but often their concern translates into boundaries crossed, and issues created. Sometimes, parents think their child would simply be better off with someone else. This misplaced concern manifests itself in the treatment of their new child-in-law, in relationships that are strained, at best. Conversations may be had, comments may be made (the sharp spikes of the ‘mother in laws tongue’ were not christened as such for nought), but ultimately, people are not good at keeping their feelings to themselves, and so spouses can be left feeling that their in laws simply don’t approve of them. Of course, spouses can be oversensitive too, and read too much into events or comments that really did not come from a negative space, but the fundamental truth is that the spouse is the priority, not the family members.

Where then, does this leave the person whose family and spouse do not get on? Of course, this is a tricky spot to be in, but I recommend every attempt at reconciliation be made. A good idea to accomplish this end may be facilitating a meeting of mediation between the affected parties, during which each can express their positions in the hopes of creating peace. Fundamentally, despite their differences, both in law and spouse share a love for their child/partner, and conflict like this ends up hurting this person most. Therefore every effort should be made to restore, or create, a relationship between in law and spouse.

Be all this as it may, prevention is always better than cure. Boundaries need to be put in place immediately, and maintained throughout the course of the marriage. These boundaries can be in the form of visitation (the in laws being overpresent is a big issue many couples face), seeking advice (many people will confide in their parents when there are marital issues – while this may seem helpful because they certainly have more marital experience than we do in most cases, no one is perfect, and this can lead to the in laws developing an unwarranted and unfair opinion of their child’s spouse), failure to distance from their parents (leaving the spouse feeling that their relationship with their spouse is secondary, or even inferior to, the one that their partner shares with their parent), and dependency (many parents become dependent on their children, especially as they age; this places pressure on the marital relationship both financially, and emotionally). It’s best to nip these issues in the bud, as far as possible.

 All told, the relationship with in laws can be a tough one, but parents are not savages, and fundamentally, most love their children, and only want the best for them. A dialogue in which their child is open with them regarding their new role as husband or wife, and clarifies their new priorities, while still assuring them of their love and regard for their parents, can be invaluable in showing them what is expected of them, easing them into their new roles as in laws and giving them the respect they deserve as parents.

Money, money, money

In times of yore, men went to work and brought home the bacon, while women stayed home and looked after the house and the kids. How wonderful those days must have been! Today, this is but a dream. It is no longer financially feasible for most women to choose ‘stay at home mom’ as a career, and furthermore, the fact that women are becoming more empowered means that we can choose to work and have career success, rather than just be designated to barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. In earlier times, getting married in community of property was the done thing, but changes have resulted in this no longer being a viable option. First of all, divorce rates are skyrocketing year by year, so couples married in community of property face sticky, messy divorces through this method. Further, community of property marriages leave both spouses vulnerable to any debts or liabilities the other may incur, especially in the case of insolvency, where both would now be declared as such. These are just some of the reasons for the movement toward antenups out of community of property, with accrual.

Right, so this may not seem particularly relevant to everyday life in general and relationships in particular, but the reality is that in more and more marriages, joint bank accounts are a thing of the past. The level of transparency that joint bank accounts provided have been clouded by separate accounts – what’s yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine. There are roles and responsibilities in terms of the everyday running of the household, and these are often split up according to who earns what, but other than that, each person is usually responsible for their own money matters.

Danger of finances

Research has shown that finances are one of the biggest issues couples fight about. Why is this? Well, the danger is that when it comes to personal finances, we don’t address the issue logically – it becomes an emotional discussion very quickly. Another big problem is the fact that we all see things differently, and so we may not always be in agreement on how to deal with financial issues. Sitting down and discussing it doesn’t always lead to resolution.

Tips for managing financial issues:

(adapted from KeyBank)

Rather than combining or separating all the finances from the get go, try having mine, yours, and ours. This provides just enough autonomy that each of you doesn’t feel dependent on the other, but ‘ours’ also means that you begin working towards a financial future together. It’s not important to commit to one way of thinking forever – reevaluate your financial situation periodically, and if a tweak is in order, don’t be afraid to try something new. There may come a day when it makes more sense to have a joint account – do it.

Draw up a budget. We are all different, and one partner may be a spender where one is saver – have a set plan for how to spend your money. Remember that it’s a plan, but don’t freak out if it gets deviated from once in a while. Keep to it as far as possible, but know that life also happens.

Invest, invest, invest! Speak to a financial adviser and get help on saving money for your future. If your car breaks down you won’t simply try fix it by hoping for the best; how much more important is your financial future/retirement?

The very most important aspect when it comes to finances is complete transparency. This includes debts incurred, any financial responsibilities outside of the immediate relationship, and even day-to-day spending. Secrets are the quickest way to cause destruction in a marriage.

 

 

Finally, plan for a rainy day. Bad things happen sometimes, so be prepared for them. Have enough saved up that should anything go wrong, you have at least a small respite.

If you and your spouse battle with finances, come and see me https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/and let’s get you back on track.