Couples, marriage

Embracing “How are we Even Married?” Moments in Marriage

69304027 - woman and man on a boring bad date at the restaurantI was at dinner with my husband the other night when I heard a song by Led Zeppelin playing in the background.  “Play ‘Name that band with me,’” I urged.  He looked up, “Is there music playing?  How do you even notice that?”  I could tell he was stalling.  “Come on, play with me,” I pleaded.  “You know I don’t care who sings what and I’m terrible at that game,” he resisted.  I played the game constantly with my youngest son, who shared my obsession for recognizing songs and bands.  “You’ll know this one, come on, just listen to it.”  He leveled his gaze at me and guessed, unblinking, “OK—Depeche Mode.”

It took me a speechless second to process whether he was serious.  I couldn’t tell, based on his deadpan expression.  My mind floated back to when we first met.  He knew Depeche Mode had been my favorite group, and he made it clear he despised their music.  On rare occasion, he would barely tolerate it for me.  Once, I answered the phone and heard “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” blaring on the other end.  I was certain it was the one friend I had found in my neighborhood who shared my love of 80’s alternative music.  I was shocked to find out it was my husband.  He finally responded to my “Hello-Hello-Hellos,” yelling over the music, “This is Depeche Mode, isn’t it?  You love Depeche Mode.”  “Yeah,” I hesitated, “but you hate Depeche Mode.”  This was weird.  What was he up to?  “I don’t mind fun Depeche Mode,” he said.  “I just don’t like that dark crap.”

My mind shot back to the present task at hand—making sense out of the fact that my husband had really just said out loud that a Led Zeppelin song was sung by Depeche Mode.  “For real?” I clarified, “How are we even married?  That’s your real live guess?  Are you trying to hurt me?”  He shrugged, reinforcing his disinterest in the song’s artists and silently asserting that if I was going to make him guess, he was going to come up with the worst guess possible.

I prodded, “Come on, LISTEN to the voice—you know that doesn’t sound a thing like Depeche Mode—it’s not even the same genre.  Just guess!”  “OK—AC/DC,” he conceded.  “Phew—OK that’s closer—you had me worried.”  He shrugged again, “You know I don’t care about that.”  “Yeah, I KNOW,” I snapped, irritated at his lack of effort.

Even though these moments seem trivial, they can be momentarily disconnecting.  How could he care so little about something that had always been energizing for me?  “Hey,” he interrupted my reverie, smiling, “I still love you even if I’m not as passionate about music as you are.”  He sensed my disconnect and was reaching out for reconnection.  I slid my hand across the table, “I know,” I responded as he took my hand, “Plus, I still have decades left to influence you.”

In my experience with couples, most of them can be fairly mismatched in many of their interests.  Sometimes it can feel distressing in contrast to the resonance experienced by realizing shared pursuits.  There is a natural attraction for people who like what we like.  We feel understood at some level.

It’s important for couples to know that dissimilar interests aren’t bad.  As long as couples agree about major life decisions and have common long-term goals, having different interests can enhance the marriage.

In short, EVERYONE has “How are we even married?” moments.  If my husband were writing this post, he would probably mention that I don’t share his same fascination with slalom water-skiing, among other things.

Later that week, my son and I were driving in the car with my husband when “Shake the Disease,” shuffled on from my 80’s playlist, and my husband remarked, “THIS is Depeche Mode, right?”  “I don’t know—isn’t this Led Zeppelin?” I called over my shoulder to my son in the backseat.  “No, it’s definitely Depeche Mode,” my husband interrupted, “See,” he offered his hand to me, “I do pay attention sometimes.”

In that moment, I felt authentic gratitude for my husband’s efforts.  I knew that at the core, he really had no personal interest in music and was trying to connect again.  In this instance, our dissimilar interests highlighted my value to him.  He was attempting to understand something that mattered to me and only because it mattered to me.  It was a perfect example of how differences can actually be used as a source of attachment security.

And that is one of the great reasons to be married.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_nicoletaionescu’>nicoletaionescu / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

 

Couples, Family

March Madness and my Mom’s Magnanimous Matrimonial Model

basketballMarch Madness is an annual holiday at my house.  My son sent out a family text reminder yesterday to everyone to set up their brackets.  My husband has trained all 7 of his children to care about basketball (or die).  It has been a source of fun and frustration in my home for years.

When my oldest son was 13, my husband quietly hung a poster-sized photo in his room.  The photo was one his own father had taken of him making a shot at a state championship basketball game a few decades earlier.  He waited.  After several days with no response from my son, my husband asked, “Did I see a picture hanging in your room of an amazing athlete shooting a basket?”  My son, unimpressed and teenagery, replied, “I don’t know about that, but there’s a picture of some weirdo wearing basketball shorts that are too short.”

The culture permeates every aspect of family life.  In a recent family charades game, my husband picked out a slip of paper and started gesturing wildly, jumping with a hip-contorting sideways motion, arms over his head.  Everyone in the room looked confused, except my youngest son, who yelled out, “Larry Bird!”  “What the heck?  How did you get Larry Bird from that?” I asked.  My husband looked surprised that I wouldn’t know.  “That’s his shot…he’s famous for it,” he explained, sparing me the word, “OBVIOUSLY!”  “Oh….Yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes at my future daughter-in-law, “How did I miss that?”

Until my husband tore a ligament in his foot about a decade ago, and was completely grounded for over a year, basketball was his main escape.  He was either playing, coaching or watching.  I think he had more fun coaching his son’s championship team than winning anything himself, even though I have accused him of trying to relive his glory days’ state championship game through his children.  It’s one of the few things he gets intense about.

My son of the championship team walked in the door from a game his father coached, tattling, “Mom, dad  got kicked out of the game.”  “Really?” I was shocked.  My calm husband is not someone who typically gets riled up…unless it involves basketball…and he’s “had it up to here with the horrible calls.”    He’s completely okay and understanding with anything his kids do…unless any of them have “an ugly shot,” which is unforgivable.  He will say I’m exaggerating.  I say, ask his children.   Once, when the kids wanted to go see a movie with a Disney actor playing the part of a basketball player, my husband refused, because, “There’s nothing more painful than having to sit and watch an actor who doesn’t know how to play basketball pretend to be a basketball player.”

I should have known.  I had a foreshadowing the first time I told him I loved him, 6 months after we met.  From a few weeks after we met until March Madness 1987, he was at least weekly declaring his love and intent to marry me, but I had no interest in getting serious.  Finally, after a lot of internal struggle, because I liked him but didn’t want a long-term relationship, but couldn’t stand the thought of losing him either, I sat down next to him on the couch in his apartment and haltingly said, “I’ve been thinking a lot…and we have a lot in common….and we want the same things for our future and family…and I guess what I’m trying to say is….I think I love you.”  He sat staring straight ahead at the television set, which was broadcasting a very important basketball game.  I said, “Hello?  Did you hear what I just said?”  He glanced at me and gestured toward the TV, “Did you see that dunk?!!” He asked.

“OK, see you later,” I said, standing up to leave.  He grabbed my arm, laughing.  “Wait.  It’s just taking a minute to sink in.  You’ve been rejecting me for months.  I’m not sure I believe you.”  Over the years, “Did you see that dunk?” has become a tagline for one of us to recite if we feel ignored.

I know from marriage therapy experience that I’m not the only wife who is a basketball widow, at least during March.  My mother is gone now, but she set a great example for me that I have not taken to heart.  When my husband says, “Why can’t you be more like your mother?” he is referring to my mother’s ability to talk sports with him every time we visited.  She always knew what was happening in the sports world, and it was rather impressive, especially considering her age.  My husband used to sit and talk sports with her like she was one of his buddies.

Except I’m not her.

My mother told me that if she wanted to have a conversation with my father, she needed to be able to sports speak.  She read everything she could and paid attention.  My father had season tickets to the Dodgers, and it dominated a large part of my childhood.  I remember being at the 1977 World Series, heart-broken when Mr. October led the Yankees to victory in our home stadium.  Despite the exposure and my mother’s consistent chatter about various players in the news, I never quite adopted her authentic enthusiasm and motivation to be sports literate.

However, I think my mom’s attitude was a great example for marriage.  Instead of whining that my father cared more about sports than her, she tried to speak his language.  My father loved my mother.  He was devastated when she died.  He did so many things for her to make her life better, and I’m certain that her willingness to take part in his interests motivated him to meet her more than half way.

In a culture of individualism, I don’t think my mother’s philosophy is very popular.  I can imagine a rebuttal, accusing my mother of “losing herself,” for someone else, or the more egregious “forfeiting her identity completely.”  However, my mother didn’t lose anything.  She gained a trustworthy companion whose joy was her own and vice-versa.  She secured an enduring connection with her romantic life-partner.

Maybe this will be the year that I follow my mother’s example and really learn basketball speak.  I made a deal with my husband that I will…but only if he brings back the short basketball shorts…along with the Larry Bird move…and a slam dunk.

It’s a small price to pay to see that winning combination…and the look on my son’s face.

Photo credit: Copyright: antoniodiaz / 123RF Stock Photo

Couples

The Netflix Gateway to Betrayal

netflixLate last Friday, my husband and I had a rare free evening at home so we decided to try to watch something on Netflix.  I suggested, “What about that series we started last fall that we stopped watching?”  and immediately saw an almost imperceptible guilty expression flash across my husband’s face.  “You Netflix cheated, didn’t you?” I accused.  “I might have,” he confirmed, trying not to laugh.  “How could you?  When?” I demanded.  “While I was spinning,” he admitted.  “How much did you watch?”  My voice was getting shrill.  He looked away and mumbled, “The whole thing.”  “You really watched the entire rest of the seasons without me?  We were only into the second season!”  I was starting to sound like a crazy, desperate person and I knew it, but I really was feeling a little betrayed.  “OK Lor, when is the last time you actually stayed awake for anything we started to watch on Netflix?  I don’t think you saw one entire episode.  I always end up watching it myself with you asleep next to me.”

True.  But it was the principle of the thing.

The term Netflix cheating was coined in 2013 after a survey showed that 51% of people admitted that they would watch a Netflix show ahead alone that they had previously agreed to watch with their partners.  Many of those reported that they would hide the fact from their partners and would re-watch it with fake emotion to hide it.  A smaller percentage said they would feel guilty enough to confess.  Netflix has used this information to their marketing advantage, dramatized in this 2014 Commercial. 

One company jumped on the bandwagon, suggesting a set of commitment rings that link to a streaming service that won’t allow access to a certain series unless both partners are together.  While that sounds extreme, I have seen couples controlling enough to actually want to pay for that kind of service.

Just last month, in an expansion of the clever marketing campaign with the tagline “Watch responsibly,” Netflix released data collected in a recent survey showing that Netflix cheating has tripled since 2013.  They have continued the spoof with an ironic Michael Bolton video encouraging partners to apologize for the betrayal.  They went so far as to actually create entertaining  cheating profiles.

Sharing media with partners has been associated with greater relationship quality and may be particularly important for couples who are separated by geographical distance.  According to research, media sharing can be a way that partners develop and maintain a joint identity.  Sharing activities deepens interdependence.  It’s a way of establishing “we-ness.”

So, why is Netflix cheating even a thing?  Why would a partner feel betrayed by a spouse watching ahead?  Like everything else in therapy, it’s a triviality that can be representative of something bigger.  While Netflix cheating is a tongue-in-cheek phenomenon, there is some truth to the relationship risk of duplicitous watching ahead.  As a marriage therapist, it makes perfect sense to me why people would be legitimately upset.  If a partner Netflix cheats it can send a message that “You don’t matter to me,” or “I don’t care about sharing this with you.”  It dilutes that concept of “we-ness,” and invites uncertainty into the relationship.  It makes a partner more unpredictable.

I have to give my husband credit—while he has Netflix cheated before, he has always had the common courtesy to refrain from revealing spoilers.  Also, since he falls into the small percentage of cheaters who feel guilty enough to admit it, I should admire his honesty.  That being considered, he’s out of town and I have nothing better to do than to watch the next episode or three of our current shared series.  He really should have signed that pre-viewing agreement I suggested the other night.  In the interim, I have just enough time to perfect my look of surprise.

References:

Let’s stay home and watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships (2016) by Sarah Gomillion , Shira Gabriel , Kerry Kawakami , and Ariana F. Young, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, DOI: 10.1177/0265407516660388.

http://www.multivu.com/mnr/61735-netflix-survey-more-than-half-of-couples-consider-stream-cheating

https://media.netflix.com/en/press-releases/netflix-cheating-is-on-the-rise-globally-and-shows-no-signs-of-stopping

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Holidays, Humor, marriage

Halloween, Happiness and a Holstein: A MOOving Memory

This story seriously never gets old for me

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

cow Copyright: tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

The current trend in Psychology to study “happiness,” has resulted in consistent findings that making memories brings more enduring happiness than accumulating material possessions.  In our family, there are few holidays that evoke more lasting memories than Halloween.

I love Halloween.  However, I definitely prefer the kinder, gentler Halloween of smiling Jack-o-lanterns and friendly looking ghosts to the gruesome displays of zombies, open wounds and scenes from the dark side.  Mostly, I have enjoyed dressing my kids up in costumes and watching their excitement at being in character for the day.

Before I had so many kids, I used to sew my kids’ Halloween attire, because I thought that’s what good mothers did (I know—and I regularly thank the high heavens that I dodged the Pinterest bullet, which was non-existent in my young mother days).

One year, in a pregnancy-induced nausea fog, I managed…

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Couples, Couples Therapy, Holidays, Love, marriage

Escaping a Zombie Marriage Apocalypse

19126152 - zombie bride and groom full makeup on their wedding day

Last year, my husband and I took our youngest children to the local amusement park for a “Frightmares,” event.  The fun zone was transformed into a Halloween fiesta, complete with spook alleys and wandering zombies mildly harassing the visitors.

At one point, we were standing in a loooong noisy line for the chance to wander aimlessly in a strobe-lit, gory, cacophonous wonderland.  I engaged my husband in conversation and noticed peripherally that a zombie about my size with ironic cheerleader pigtails was lurking about.

While I was talking, I saw my husband looking over my shoulder and I realized that somebody was screaming in my ear.  I glanced at cheerleader zombie and turned back to my husband, asking, “Has she been screaming at me?”  I resumed my conversation with him as she determinedly fixated on getting a reaction.  Eventually, she got right in my face and roared, “YOU CAN’T IGNORE ME.”  That little outburst elicited amusement on my end, as I laughed to my husband, “She has no idea who she’s dealing with, does she?”  My husband agreed and instructed the zombie with, “She has 7 children with 5 boys, and that has been way scarier than you are.  She has developed superhuman powers for tuning out noise.”

In this case, the more the zombie tried to get a reaction from me, the more resistant I became, until she gave up and went away.

Just like so many marriages.

Usually in marriage, there is one partner (often the female) who will raise the volume in an attempt to signal to her more withdrawing partner that something is wrong in the relationship.  Unfortunately, that withdrawing partner (often the male) in response to the escalation, will get better at disconnecting and numbing, shielding himself from the pain of being a disappointment.

Anyone trying to get a partner response without success experiences distress.  It’s less distressing to get an angry, bitter response from a partner than no response.  Couples quickly develop circular patterns of one becoming more aggressive as the other defends while exiting the conversation.  Over time, defending partners learn to become numb to the negative escalation in their spouses.  Upon getting no response, the aggressive partners give up and retreat and eventually burn out on trying to get any connection at all, leaving the couple at a stalemate.

What to do if you think you have entered the zombie apocalypse zone in your marriage:

  1. When things aren’t escalated, ask your partner what impact you are having on him/her in these difficult moments. Odds are that you think you’re not having an impact when you are actually having a very negative impact.  People who look calm in the face of relationship distress are often physiologically aroused (heart rate, skin conductance, etc.) and working very hard to regulate emotion.  I have asked many calm looking men what’s happening as they hear their wives express emotion about the marriage, and a common response is, “I want to get away.  I want to get up and walk out that door right now.”  They often have difficulty even labeling emotions because they are so practiced at escaping negative emotion.  We start socializing men to disconnect from vulnerable emotions when they are boys and then we criticize them throughout their adult lives for being so good at what they have been taught to do.  It’s very confusing, and really not very fair.
  1. Tell your partner more about how it has helped you when he/she has been responsive.  I maintain that it is easier to get people to do more of something than less of something.  If you tell a spouse to “stop doing that,” there may be lingering confusion about what is expected.  Sometimes in a distressed marriage, even if responsiveness increases, it isn’t recognized or trusted and is subsequently rejected, leaving those partners hopeless and helpless about change.
  1. Try to tell your partner in the moment when you are experiencing responsiveness.  If you can tell a partner, “What you are doing right now is helping,” it provides a powerful example of what it is you are asking.
  1. Increase clarity.  People often unfairly expect partners to know when they are needing connection.  It would be nice if spouses could mind read and predict moments of high emotional need.  They can’t and it’s a crazy-making, unfair expectation.

While Halloween has become in many ways representative of what we fear the most, the iconic symbols shrink in comparison to the fear of failing in our most important relationships.  For most of us, losing connection is the real stuff of which nightmares are made.

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