Still making the kids' lunches every day because you think you "have to?" You may not realize it, but that behavior could be springing from an outdated belief that it's somehow "your job." Although rigid roles can make things more streamlined, they can also be limiting. So give up that - and these other 10 things - for a happier and less stressful union. By Jane Bianchi, REDBOOK.
1. Once you're married, you can't have a life of your own
"A wife used to be encouraged to tend to her husband's and children's needs first. But if you do that, you'll become resentful," says Dan Beaver, a marriage and family therapist in Walnut Creek, CA. Then your frustration may manifest itself in different ways, like getting depressed, snapping at people, or smoking or drinking too much. So forget about that old-school rule, and do something every day that makes you feel happy, relaxed and/or fulfilled, whether that's seeing an author speak at your local bookstore, taking a few minutes to practice a morning meditation, or going on a green juice run sans kids. "You have to care for yourself before you can care for others," says Beaver.
2. Pouting is an effective way to make your point
In the past, married men and women often fell into their defined roles, rarely stopping to reveal their true emotions if something was starting to feel "off" for fear that their partner might not understand, or worse, would reject them for it. But now all that is changing. "I try to help couples express themselves, even if they're worried that they'll appear too vulnerable," says Cheryl Gerson, LCSW, a couples therapist in New York City. In other words, if you're scared, say that out loud to your partner. You don't have to be tough and brave all the time. "You're human. Contrary to what you may think, admitting your fears and doubts will actually bring you and your partner closer," says Gerson.
Related: Your One-Month Plan to a Closer, More Loving Relationship
3. Sexual desires should never be discussed
Once you fall into a sexual routine that works fairly well, you may fail to realize as a couple, you've likely reached only the tip of the sexual potential iceberg. It may take some awkward conversations and yes, you might risk some ego-bruising on both your parts, but human sexuality is an evolving practice that requires exploration and openness to keep growing. To minimize the chances of your partner feeling as though he's doing something wrong, or failing to satisfy you, call this new phase "an experiment," and say, "Tonight, I was thinking we could try something totally different, just for fun." Read up on practices you've never tried before, or just start from a "beginner's mind" going with what feels good in the moment - even if it's out of your usual comfort zone.
4. Seeing a marriage therapist is a bad sign
"Some couples think that if they admit that they're going through a rough patch, they're doomed," says Gloria Spitalny, EdD, a relationship counselor in Boston, MA. But the opposite is true. If you don't talk about - and try to resolve - your issues, they're only going to grow. "The sooner a troubled couple seeks treatment, the easier it is to fix the problems," says Spitalny. The majority of relationship struggles aren't about incompatibility - they're issues with communication and being unable to talk through your deepest sticking points. There's often a way to vocalize your wants and needs without upsetting or hurting the other person.
5. Husbands should be the sole breadwinners
Some guys are openly and proudly supportive of their wives' career ambitions and love to see them succeed. Other men might be supportive on the surface, but hardly realize the subtle tensions they put out there when your professional success triggers some very deep and primal ego-bruising - or what some call "emasculation." We're not saying you need to give up your job to get along - that's not even an option for most of us in this economy, and it's important to feel fulfilled by a career. However, understanding that your husband may be feeling this way, and being sensitive to that is half the battle to moving forward. Circumstances may not change - and you might not even want them to - but asking how you could make him feel better, and truly listening are the first steps forward to figuring out this tricky dance that, let's face it, with 40 percent of women now primary breadwinners, many couples are choreographing.
Related: 50 Old-Fashioned Cheap Thrills
6. Fighting means that you have an unhappy relationship
Most married folks fight every day - and by now, we know that's not a dealbreaker. But, what about when one of you says something that feels earth-shattering - like if he admits he hasn't been attracted to you sexually for a long time because of your weight, or has intense feelings for a co-worker? New forms of therapy actually suggest that this is the first step toward a major relationship transformation that can bring you much closer and to a place of even greater intimacy. Not all relationships can be saved, but experts say that when you're finally able to get totally real with one another and work on solutions from there, you'll edge toward a kind of unconditional love that's unbreakable despite what stones are thrown. It's going to take some serious facing of the music on both your parts, but if you trod very carefully, respectfully and possibly with the help of a therapist, you could emerge not only stronger as a couple but as individuals, too - and that's where life gets really exciting.
7. Your marriage should revolve around your children
Decades ago, parents tended to ignore their kids a lot - i.e. "Go outside and play. Come back in an hour." These days parenting requires more vigilance, but if you find yourself watching every move your child is making to the point that you're sort of living through them, and correcting or judging every step with constant feedback, you've gone too far to the other extreme. Your husband and children will feel this, and everyone can suffer. "I see many husbands who feel neglected by their wives. Your marriage should come first," says Irina Firstein, a couples therapist in New York City. Your original motivation is out of love and wanting to protect your brood, but many parents continue to do it because it's easier than letting go and starting to live their own lives again, where there's more of an unknown.
8. You're not allowed to talk about your job with your spouse
Sure, you don't want to bitch and moan about every single annoying email your boss sent the second you walk through the door at night, but spilling a little is actually a good idea. "You don't forget about your workday the moment you step into the foyer. You need time to transition from being in an office to being at home," says Beaver. "If you don't vent a bit, your irritation might affect the way you talk to or treat your partner in the bedroom." Just keep it to five minutes, and encourage your husband to do the same. You'll get problems off your chest, and it'll help you and your husband get to know each other more deeply.
Related: 25 Great, All-American Dates
9. A marriage is between only two people
Today, plenty families don't look like the cast of Leave It To Beaver, and we're getting used to it. Women and men often maintain friendships with their exes and develop healthy relationships with a new mate's children. But, it means there's more to juggle, and as a stepmom or the like, you'll face challenges you may not have originally signed up for. If kids are old enough, acknowledge the awkwardness to avoid it becoming that which will not be spoken. And remember, no matter how tempting, don't bad-mouth your husband's ex. Instead, bring up these issues in private with concrete examples of what's bothering you, and ideas for solutions.
10. Divorce is shameful, and if you get one, you've failed
No way! At the turn of the 20th century, only four percent of people got divorced. Now your odds are 50/50. Of course, we'd all like to have blissful marriages that last forever and ever, but the reality is, life is hard and people can change. And when couples have serious problems that aren't solved by counseling, many experts maintain that it's better to live happily apart than miserably together. The fact that divorce is now a valid option is actually a good thing, according to Becky Whetstone, Ph.D, a marriage and family therapist in Little Rock, AR. "When you know that despite everyone's best intentions, your partnership isn't a 100-percent given, it might motivate you to work harder and strive toward win-win solutions," she says.
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