Editor’s Note: Columnist Luanne Austin will be taking the month off. The following is a column from 2005.
Has the romance gone out of your marriage?
If so, you’re among the 93 percent of married people who feel that way. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
“I believe women want to be understood and cherished more than they want anything else in their relationships with men,” says Bobbie Sandoz-Merrill, who has a master’s degree in social work and writes a marriage column with her husband.
Sandoz-Merrill, a therapist, and her husband, Tom Merrill, a clinical psychologist, have hit on a truth that few marriage books and seminars address. They believe the first thing to break down early in marriage is the vow to honor.
“Instead, they replace honoring with a very different, yet culturally sanctioned, marriage experience that is … touted as a time filled with ‘challenge,’ ‘disappointment,’ ‘hard work’ and a decline in sexual attraction,” say the Merrills.
They say this “lowering of the bar” is dangerous to the outcome of a marriage.
Couples who are smart enough to realize that the cultural norm is not inevitable can plan ways to keep their marriage vow to honor and cherish each other.
“Inloveness is a gift of the gods, but then it is up to the lovers to cherish or to ruin,” writes Sheldon Vanauken in “A Severe Mercy.” The “killer of love,” he writes, is “taking love for granted, especially after marriage. Ceasing to do things together. Turning ‘we’ into ‘I.’ ”
Courtship is a time when men feel free to let the woman they love know how much they value her. But as they plan for marriage, the couple is warned to brace themselves, because the first few years of marriage will be the hardest of their lives.
The Merrills ask why.
When Sheldon Vanauken and his wife, Jean, were first in love and discussing their marriage, they decided to treat each other throughout their marriage as they did when they fell in love.
“It seemed to us that one of the great separating things was the gender points of view: girls brought up to think like women, boys like men,” writes Vanauken.
So they began and continued an effort to understand each other’s “very different” points of view.
“Inevitably our closeness was deepened, incredibly deepened, by our doing so,” writes Vanauken. “Our thesis that, if one of us liked something there must be something to like about it which the other could find, was proved again and again. And sharing was union.”
The Vanuakens found a way to honor each other that would last a lifetime. So, did the Merrills.
The Merrills found themselves in the cultural pattern of growing apart. Then Tom Merrill met an older man who honored his wife daily for her willingness to spend her life with him. When Merrill shared this with his wife, she also felt awed by his commitment to her.
After marriage, men are usually the first to withdraw honoring and switch to a different set of behaviors, write the Merrills. This could be because a man has less need of assurance of being loved, whereas the woman needs continual assurance of being valued by the man she loves.
A local counselor I interviewed some years ago told me that early in his marriage, his wife said he did not listen to her or care about her anymore. She felt like that, she explained, because he did not respond when she talked to him. Not even an “oh?” or “mmm hmm.” He didn’t think it was necessary to do that, but she took his non-response as not caring.
Often, because of a woman’s need for attention and to be cherished, “she begins to fight to get this back,” the Merrills write.
In his book, “Kosher Sex,” Shmuley Boteach writes, “What men and women seek most in a relationship is the feeling that the person they are with is absolutely devoted to and interested in them, and energetically passionate about them. This causes people to gasp, and draws them closer to one another.”
And you know what that means, guys: wild, passionate sex.
Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com or www.facebook.com/rural pen.