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Marriage Counseling… For a Happy Marriage?

Spouses who rate their sex life as above average are ten to thirteen times happier than those who say their sex life is below average.  Happily married individuals who undergo coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive after fifteen years. Married men earn 22 percent more than their bachelor counterparts.

We all know that a happy marriage is a good thing.  But how, exactly, to have a happy marriage is a difficult question to answer.  And how to have a happier marriage is even more vexing.

Did you know the average couple is unhappy for six years before attending therapy?  One couple, Elizabeth and Dan, decided to bite the bullet and hit up counseling before problems emerged.  They were happy – but could they be happier? 

Elizabeth said that, one day, she realized that she viewed her stable marriage to Dan like “waves on the ocean… a fact of life” and understood how ridiculous this attitude seemed.  In her New York Times piece, Married (Happily) With Issues, Elizabeth wrote:

I’ve never really believed that you just marry one day at the altar or before a justice of the peace. I believe that you become married — truly married — slowly, over time, through all the road-rage incidents and precolonoscopy enemas, all the small and large moments that you never expected to happen and certainly didn’t plan to endure. But then you do: you endure. And as I lay there, I started wondering why I wasn’t applying myself to the project of being a spouse.

As Elizabeth and Dan set out to improve their marriage – first through the help of psychology books – they soon realized that they weren’t sure what a great marriage entailed.  Some guides suggested that a happy marriage meant always agreeing. As they worked through their first self-help book, it seemed like they couldn’t agree on anything. “This was the fear, right? You set out to improve your marriage; it implodes,” she observed.

Next, they attended a marriage education class, saw a psychoanalyst, and even attended a sex class.  Each attempt to improve their marriage took them one step forward – and sometimes, two steps back.  As intimacy grew, Elizabeth felt herself retreating. Counseling made them nitpick at each other.

Elizabeth came to the conclusion that:

In psychiatry, the term “good-enough mother” describes the parent who loves her child well enough for him to grow into an emotionally healthy adult. The goal is mental health, defined as the fortitude and flexibility to live one’s own life — not happiness. This is a crucial distinction. Similarly the “good-enough marriage” is characterized by its capacity to allow spouses to keep growing, to afford them the strength and bravery required to face the world.  In the end, I settled on this vision of marriage, felt the logic of applying myself to it. Maybe the perversity we all feel in the idea of striving at marriage — the reason so few of us do it — stems from a misapprehension of the proper goal. In the early years, we take our marriages to be vehicles for wish fulfillment: we get the mate, maybe even a house, an end to loneliness, some kids. But to keep expecting our marriages to fulfill our desires — to bring us the unending happiness or passion or intimacy or stability we crave — and to measure our unions by their capacity to satisfy those longings, is naïve, even demeaning.

Elizabeth and Dan’s journey is now a book entitled No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better.

Additional Source: Generous Couples Have Happier Marriages, A Happy Marriage Can Boost Health and Survivability, The Benefits of Being Married

Photo Credit RicLatham

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