Post 3.5 - The New Itch

You may have heard of something called the Seven Year Itch. It's not just a Marilyn Monroe movie. I am starting to wonder if it hasn't morphed to become a different time length.

It may be a function of a midlife crisis, or it may be something else, but I am noticing a pattern.

I know a lot of married people who are becoming a lot of separated and divorced people. The problems of each specific couple vary in description, but it comes back to a communication problem that appears to have been ongoing. Issues have been ignored until they can be ignored no longer; the two people have finally accepted that they have differing priorities, or more commonly, they can't live in the restrictive way they've previously accepted.

And it's happening in the 15-25 year range, which is what I think really makes it feel strange. One would assume that if you made it that far, you'd figured out how to make things work, despite such differences. Which also makes it all a bit scary, too.

I am not saying that anyone doesn't have valid issues, either. The problems range from the mundane to the serious, from the simple and interpersonal to the complex and greater community -- family, in-laws, work, you-name-it. I guess my problem has been understanding how the communication broke down to reach these points. And I'm hearing from men and women, straight and gay -- it's all over the map.

And as an aside, I find it intriguing that people should be seeking my advice as I've been single for four years!

I spoke in an earlier post about life expectancy and how that has changed over time, and how our relationships have been struggling to keep up. I think that plays directly into what I've been learning here. So here's some advice if you feel a conflict coming or feel you need a change, or your partner approaches you with such issues.

  1. People evolve over time. I know that I am not the same person that I was when I was 15, or 20, or 25, or even 30. (Let's just stop there and say I'm over 30 :-D). People necessarily want different things at different times in their lives, and you have to be ready to accept these kinds of changes and growth in your partner, as well as in yourself. Even if you don't like to hear about it. It doesn't have to kill your relationship, either - if navigated correctly, it can even offer a chance to grow even closer.
  2. If you have deprived yourself or your partner of something as a condition for your relationship, it is going to come back to haunt you. Regret can easily become resentment, so you have to be ready to talk about it and do something to fix it. And it can be anything -- how much you travel, your level of education, where you live, how much time you spend with friends or who those friends may be, even how often the two of you go out as a couple. I am amazed at how many couples fall into this category, and further amazed at how quickly people admit to having given something up -- as if there is some cosmic scorecard being kept somewhere and making one's self unhappy on purpose is worth extra points. Setting everything else aside, the only thing we know for certain is that we have this life -- there is absolutely no reason it should not be as happy and fulfilling as possible for everyone.
  3. You can't phone in the sex. Well, unless it's phone sex when one of you is traveling, I guess. But my point is, you are with a thinking, feeling human being who has agreed to share his/her life with you. It doesn't mean every sexual event has to include a floor show, but your partner is not just a battery-free sex toy. Remember that this person is suppose to be someone you love, not someone obligated to service you just because they are lying next to you. Make it worth their while, mmmkay? And conversely, if you're feeling underappreciated or not having your needs met, say so -- your partner can't help to fix the problem if s/he doesn't know about it.
  4. You and your partner are not stuck with each other. I am not advocating that anyone split up, but if you're being an ass, you're going to get what you deserve. If your partner is being an ass, then s/he needs to be called on it and pay the piper, too. Don't feel bad about that.
  5. Decide what is a dealbreaker and what is not, and be honest with yourself and your partner. Your partner can't be blamed if you've agreed to do something you really don't want to do if you don't speak up for yourself. I'm not advocating that anyone be miserable, but if you're going to be miserable then it's a dealbreaker. At the same time, be practical and be realistic about your expectations, and make sure your dealbreakers are not silly. And most importantly, if it's not a dealbreaker, stop whining about it and forget it. You have an agreement, accept it and don't try to manipulate things.
  6. Children are not pawns. Do not involve your kids in whatever problem you're having, even if it is a parenting issue. As adults, you work out the parenting together and your own communication issues. It's not the kid's problem and they shouldn't be involved. And don't play your kids against your partner. Ever. Remember that your partner is your child's other parent, and their relationship with your partner is completely separate from your relationship with your partner.
  7. If you must speak to someone about your relationship and what to do, your parent is NOT a good choice. I hope this is self-explanatory. Your mother or father may be your "best friend", but they have a relationship with your partner, too. Your parents will always see you as their child, and will likely side with you just because you are, instinctively and automatically making your partner the villain. This may or may not be the truth, and ultimately not helpful to your situation. Don't underestimate your parents' ability to hold that against your partner or the effects of having that relationship poisoned. Forever.
  8. Communication needs to be ongoing, not just when you can't take it anymore, but don't be a nag, either. Nobody likes a whiner, so you have to choose your battles. By the same token, sometimes it is best to have some distance from an event to really discuss it rationally. My advice, quite seriously, is to set aside one evening a week to discuss where things are. Not a bitch session, because you should also bring up things that are really working or that have changed for the better. One formula I learned as a counselor was to start with something positive, then discuss the negative, then make sure to end on something positive again, even if only to remind as to where the conversation started. It shouldn't be something that you dread doing, but something that gives you a place to discuss the good and the bad and to reconnect. Some weeks there may be nothing negative - which is the goal and even better. 
These are just a few points, and I'm sure I could think of more the longer I sit here, but I hope you see where this is going.

And I hope it gives you some ideas if you feel your relationship is experiencing a weak spot right now.

N.B. I wrote this post late last week, but coincidentally, on Monday (May 9th), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced they were separating after 25 years of marriage. Again, in my 15-25 year range. If I had just posted this sooner, I could have saved them! :-D It's also been interesting to see some of my opinions reinforced in the panel discussions about their split, in terms of communication, my previous statements about monogamy ("Monogamy is monotonous!" - Joy Behar), and how this is something of a surprise and out of the blue. Cool. :-P

Until tomorrow, hasta la vista. :-D

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