In so many years doing marriage counseling here in Nashua, I have routinely asked couples, "What attracted you to him?" "Why did it become serious with him, compared to other guys you dated?" "How did she seem special compared to women you dated but didn't commit to marry?" "Yes, other than her looks, what really enamored you about her?"
What I see, again and again, is how the same basic personality qualities that made that man or that woman seem very special in the early stages of the relationship now seems to be a main theme in their marital difficulties. Of course those personality traits are framed in a different way later: in a more negative way tinged with frustration, disappointment, and hurt feelings. Yes, yes, I could joke about it: "Love is blind ... And marriage restores vision!" However, I believe there's a lot more to it. We could talk or blog at great length about the significance of this, of what can be learned from it about the man, the woman, and the marital interaction patterns, and ideas for helping them through their impasse.
For example ...
In the summer of their romance: The woman says that she was so impressed with "How he has a head on his shoulders, he's a thinker." "He knows what he wants in life and he accomplishes what he sets his mind to." "He's responsible, and he puts responsibilities first. He's not out playing, not out with the guys." "He's the marrying kind of guy. He'd be a great husband and family man." He, in turn, recalls how "She's so passionate about life." "She's open and you know what she's thinking and feeling; You don't have to read her mind." "We had so much fun together, like she could breathe enthusiasm into things we did," "Just so sweet and nice to me..." "She's so in-tune with feelings, she'll be a great mother. She's like my other half..."
But in the winter of their 'business as usual' hectic married life: The woman says, "He's always in his head and I don't know what he's thinking. He's a clam." "It's always what he wants." "He's set in his ways ... rigid ... controlling." "He worries about money, about paying the bills, and we just don't have fun." "Yes, we get all the chores done, then do them all over again..." "I'm so lonely." He, in turn, says "She is so darn emotional, she's all over the board with her emotions." "Does she have a problem?" "I don't know what to say or do. I just can't please her." "All I hear is what I did wrong, what's bothering her." "I worry about paying the bills and she couldn't care less. I feel like I'm alone in it." "She seems to have no respect for me."
Of course it's not only the adjectives that have changed. Along with the change of adjectives often are building resentments that become more entrenched and 'automatic' over time. These can lead to negative cycles in communications, affection, and intimacy, and to an overall loss in happiness in the marriage. A major goal of marriage counseling is to become aware of the "why's" and "how's" of these negative cycles, and to work on restoring those earlier feelings of pleasingly complementary rather than clashing personalities.
[Photos by C. Hindy]