Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WWMD?

Never in a million years did I think my marriage would experience a lull, but apparently no one is immune to relationship ebbs and flows, not even us disgustingly cute couples. Despite having a life filled with activities, projects, careers, and friends my marriage became staler than week old bread. Even with jam packed social calendars our personal interactions were boring, focusing on the mundane transactional activities necessary to run a home and care for two small dogs. Our marital problems did not stem from anger, hatred, unhappiness, or shattered illusions of marital grandeur but our becoming more like business partners and roommates than lovers. Friends dealing with crises such as abuse, neglect, adultery, and bankruptcy in their own marriages left me feeling selfish even thinking our marriage had issues let alone talking about it. After whining to a few friends, letting go of the fear they would think I was a colossal failure, I quickly realized I was not alone.

It is pretty cliché actually, but in hindsight the fun in our marriage took a nose dive about seven years after we moved in together. The honeymoon was over, the glow of young love extinguished by the realities of day to day living. The Seven Year Itch is loosely defined as the propensity to become unfaithful after seven years of marriage and honestly, things were itchy. The infidelity we used to “scratch” that itch was not dalliances with other people. We began cheating on each other in other ways; spending too much time at work, focusing our energy on the dogs, watching increasing amounts of television, replacing intimacy with food and wine. Reading and ironing fast became the top activities occurring in the bedroom. At first I thought these changes were a sign of strength and maturity in our relationship, demonstrating our ability to live independent lives, free from the co-dependence prevalent in many marriages. It didn’t take long to realize our relationship wasn’t maturing but deteriorating; our passionate romance turned into something more boring than C-Span. While we didn’t lose that loving feeling, that lusting feeling was certainly lost.

How did this happen? As a childfree couple we hit a point of stability that most couples with children don’t hit until much later in their marriages. We have established careers, a dream home, two dogs, and plenty of stamps in our passports. There is no obvious personal ladder to climb, which is odd and unusual in a culture that constantly focuses on “what’s next.” We don’t have a little human's progression and growth to focus on as a supplement to our own marital advancement. After confiding in some friends who are mothers on the lull in my marriage, the universal reaction was how they blamed their own marital lulls on raising babies. They also expressed how little time they had to even focus on issues with their mariages since they were so busy raising children; at least I had the time and energy to acknowledge and address the seven year itch.

Until recently I laid blame for the marital monotony on my husband; he stopped paying attention to me, looked right through me, put everything else in life ahead of me, ignored my “advances,” and stopped taking me out on dates. My interpretation of what was happening left me miserable and paranoid, feeling grossly unattractive. My self-confidence was shot; if my husband didn’t find me attractive, who would?

Then I had a friend turn the mirror on me and ask why I wasn’t blaming myself for the missing wow factor in my marriage. The obvious answer is I never blame myself for anything and think I am always right, but after much consideration I realized that maybe I was a little guilty. We both let increased responsibilities inside and outside the home come before our relationship, we both took each other for granted, and we were both going through the motions. I allowed monogamy to become monotony. I turned into something that I swore I would never become; a wife. I allowed myself to become a boring, nagging, unhappy, cranky, wife. If I didn’t want to be that person anymore I had to do something about it.

One friend pointed out the difficulty in balancing the desire for stability with the need for excitement in a relationship. Another friend mentioned her struggle balancing getting comfortable with letting herself go. How can two people remain romantically connected when they spend much of their day dealing with household management and high-powered careers? Is it possible to inject mystery and passion into a relationship between people who routinely witness each other plucking unwanted hairs or sitting on the toilet? When people say marriage is hard, these are some of the struggles that make it hard. How do you get wanton attention from a person who watches you floss your teeth and pick your zits?

After 7 years of marriage and 10 years together I had honestly forgotten what it took to “catch” the eye of a man in the first place. Every suggestion I got, from playing hard-to-get to picking fights to spark “make-up sex,” seemed like silly games teenagers play. Isn’t the reason to get married to stop playing games? I’m also married to a man who HATES games, who would assume hard-to-get equaled uninterested and whose reaction to a fight is to shut down, not rev up. Can this marriage be saved? Yes, but it wouldn’t be by playing games, it would be by finding the very thing I had that attracted my husband to me in the first place; sexy confidence. I forgot how to be sexy and lost part of my confidence because of that.

It is always important to have a role model, a person who personifies a goal. So who could serve as the role model for developing sexy confidence? Marilyn Monroe, the original object of attention in “The Seven Year Itch,” is one woman normal men find universally sexy. WWMD, “What Would Marilyn Do,” became a personal mantra. Marilyn would never wear sweats to bed. Marilyn would strap on stilettos rather than sneakers for a night out. Marilyn would wear thigh highs and lipstick when scrubbing the floors. Marilyn would never hide her personal assets behind frumpy clothes. Marilyn would flirt, seductively smile, light candles at dinner, drink champagne in the bathtub, and keep men guessing. She would strut her stuff and not care if anyone noticed… although she knew they did. Although Marilyn didn’t get the guy in “The Seven Year Itch” she was the object of his desire and that is a much more fun role than playing a wife, in the movies or in real life. If watching paint dry is more exciting then your marriage try asking yourself “What Would Marilyn Do” although I hope this marital plan to spice things up works so well you’ll someday be asking yourself “What Would Michelle Do?”

23 comments:

Serafina said...

We recently celebrated our one year anniversary, so we're relative newbies to the marriage thing. :) I appreciate the insight into keeping things hot as the years go on. I've never seen the Seven Year Itch, but I'm definitely going to add it to my Netflix queue! BTW, totally LOVE your shoes in that pic. :D

joy said...

WOW Michelle. Gosh. I'm speechless. I hope the plan works, I really do. Cause I'm envious of your marriage. I'm the single gal trying to catch a break! But it seems like maybe the grass is always greener.......so many people seem to envy my 'dating' lifestyle and I just laugh!!!

John said...

I would blame Facebook.

Ken said...

I hope it works; I'm sure it will be fun.

There are other ways to keep the interest of a man. A new kind of question, a new answer, an unexpected laugh, undeserved tenderness or forgiveness, pausing in the middle of a busy intersection.

Ultimately, he's got to work at it as hard as you do.

The sex follows naturally from the surprise and delight of unexpected discovery.

Regardless of what you try, the commitment to improving your marriage is the best thing in your favor.

Your husband is a lucky man!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Serafina, congratulations on celebrating your first wedding anniversary, it is a huge milestone and a major accomplishment. And thanks for noticing the shoes, I got more compliments that night on the shoes than the dress.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Joy, us married people like to keep the dirty secrets from the singles so you won't be afraid to join the club. It's kinda like mothers who don't talk about the dirty diapers, the 2 am feedings, the crap all over the walls.

Actually... it is quite taboo to admit issues because people automatically think the relationship is doomed, or we must have married the wrong person, or a host of other things. Being single is hard (as much fun as I had I would not want to enter the dating scene again). Being married is challenging and requires attention (I hate saying work, it has such a negative connotation). Ironically our biggest issue was our relationship always came so easy to us that we never gave it the care and feeding it needed. We're good... but there's always room for improvement!

david said...

Wow. Judging by that picture, I'd say you're on the right track. Guys love stuff like that.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

John, facebook, this blog, the dogs, the house, the gym... so many things could be blamed. But let's focus on the number one thing getting in the way of marital bliss; working. Seriously, the job thing always gets in the way of everything I really want to do...

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Ken, thank you for your wise words. Familiarity breeds contempt and it is important just to keep your spouse surprised and guessing to evade the contempt.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

David, *blush* Thank You :-D

nursedude said...

I have been married for 24 years. Our toughest year was the first year. Money was really, really tight, between my Air Force basic training/tech school and my wife's basic training and tech school, we saw each other maybe 5-6 months out of the first 12-and not all of the concurrently. I remember after a really nasty argument on the phone over money(or lack of it), I almost thought about cashing it in. Two things kept me from doing that. The first, was looking through a book of pictures when we were dating in college...it just struck me that I really did not want to go through the process of sorting out through different women for a future "Mrs. Right II". It seemed that for less effort, I could really try to make the marriage work. The second thing was that I really did not want to hear my mom say "I told you so"...you see, my mom thought that I could have done better.

Over 24 years, there are ups and downs. I don't believe in people staying together who loath each other-like my in laws- but marriage does take work and a lot of growing and self examination to make it work.

husband said...

As the other half in this post, I feel I should weigh in as well.
It isn't comfortable to shine the light on personal issues on the not-so-anonymous internet; especially coming from a Minnesotan-Lutheran-Scandinavian (I suppose that last qualifier is redundant) background. Issues are kept inside the walls of the family home. You don't air your dirty laundry for all to see.
On the other hand, it does highlight that all couples, even fabulous ones like us (modest, aren't we?) hit bumps in the road, find ourselves stuck in ruts, and can end up unhappy. What it also highlights that these bumps/ruts aren't the end. They are challenges that everyone must face along their journey and the true test of any relationship is how the couple reacts to those challenges. Instead of letting life events drive distance between us, we're pulling together... growing, evovling, and it's working.
And yes Ken... I am a lucky man.

KidfreeKaye said...

Michelle-

I'm kind of going thru what you're going thru now, only I see it a bit differently. I have been living with my guy for 10 years (although we're not married), and it has been fresh and blissful until about this year.

First of all, we both used to work at offices and be excited at the end of the day to come home and see each other. Now, we are both working out of the home (although my office is in the quest house), and are seeing too much of each other. Although I'm still totally attracted, I don't think he finds me as sexually exciting as he used to (although he does make an effort.) I am still in good shape, although I wonder if it's because I can no longer hide my aging body at 47. (My skin's not as young, there are wrinkles, and yes, sags in some places.) At over 50, he's no spring chicken either.

But in spite of all this, we are more in love than ever before. We respect each other more, care about each other's health & happiness more, and feel thankful we have each other to grow old with. We too are CHILDFREE, so we're all we've got.

Occasionally I still dress Marilyn-esque to go to fancy parties, and his face lights up like it used to. But I think that with the time and daily drudgery, "sexual excitement" naturally wears down over the years. And it's OK, as long as we accept it. I'd rather have the friendship and long-term love that we have, that so many of our friends with children are missing, and so many of my single girlfriends are longing for.

Incidentally, I am writing a book called "Kidfree & Lovin' It" and have an online survey that over 2,500 childfree around the world have taken, and would love you and your husband to take it too!

Just click on this link to take you there, and you can remain anonymous if you like:
http://tinyurl.com/Kidfree-Survey

Thanks, and enjoy! (And remember how lucky you are to be in a loving long-term relationship.)
KidfreeKaye
www.kidfreeandlovinit.com

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Please extend the interpretation of this piece to include much more then just sex. While sex is part of “the glue that holds couples together” (I can’t remember what relationship guru uses that phrase) the desire to feel wanted extends well beyond the sexual. I am incredibly appreciative to the strength of our friendship and partnership. As strong as that friendship is, and it keeps growing, I still possess an inherent need to feel wanted and needed, which isn’t limited to or defined by “bedroom activities.” While it is nice being “one of the guys” and appreciate that level of our friendship, I (like many other women I know) want to me more then just one of the guys. We want to watch football at the sports bar AND have romantic candlelit dinners.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

For those “lurking” who have additional stories, advice, wisdom, please share a comment. I am struggling at how to respond to the nearly 200 emails on this from people around the globe who find themselves at this “comfortable” point of their own relationships, who have worked through and built stronger bonds, and who have given up. I am by no means an expert on this topic, I’m just not afraid to talk about it.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Nursedude, KidfreeKaye, and others, thank you for sharing your own relationship struggles and triumphs. I do think it is important to “air our dirty laundry” a bit to let other couples, new and well-established, know that it is normal to have ebbs and flows and working through the hard times strengthens the bond and moves the relationship to a new level. Many people throw in the towel without taking the time to work through the issues for many reasons; it’s hard, the grass might be greener, stubbornness, lack of support, etc. etc. Romantic partnerships are hard at times, but more then worth the energy devoted to building them.

Anonymous said...

this is one of the most insightful things I have heard someone say about relationships, especially those of us in long term ones. Even with the baby, we are promising to remain human and make sure to focus on us as a couple and not just a business partnership (which is also what we often did)

I am glad you wrote it as I think what you wrote was accurate about life. I think it reflects a maturity in that relationships evolve with time - I am not sure I would want what I had at 20. For one, and not to be TMI, but I think sex gets better as we get older even if the frequency is not the same. And marriages should on some level be like a business because the best businesses have stability, common sense and teamwork. My wife and I went through a bad spell that luckily we got past before she was pregnant. We are both independent too and finally found a way to be more respectful of the other's ways. I think the key for us was that neither of us ever violated the the trust of our marriage. Therefore now the partnership remains strong.

Britgirl said...

Explosive... I waited a while before replying but I was thinking of your post ever since I read it. My hubs and I this year celebrated or fifth wedding anniversary and I can hardly believe it's gone so quickly. Considering we are an Internet couple (a la Match.com) there's not a day when I just marvel that a) we met, b) we became great friends c) fell in love and d) we go so well together. Considering I moved my life over from London to Toronto, I had a lot invested. We married relatively late too, so were both set in our ways a bit.
But you make such excellent points... and I always bear in mind that as a couple, childfree or not, the relationship has to be looked after. Recently I've been working additional hours... in that I've started a side business doing copywriting. If we had kids I could never do it. At the same time it does seem I am working all hours sometimes. I won't do all those hours for my day job though... and for my side biz my deadlines are often self-imposed, but as it's a new business the pressure's there.

My husband understands, but still nags me to go to bed on time...which I never manage to do. sometimes even the thought of a roll in the hay makes me tired ;) But it's on my radar. We set time aside to just do stuff, go out, do things as a couple.Plus we both have things we do separately...In addition to being at home together most evenings we do make sure we find ways to just focus on each other. We still give each other really sexy compliments and the great thing about having no children is the total sponataneity (that's as much as I'll say on an open forum about that).

But as you say, it's not just about sex, it's about being friends lovers and partners and a team. And it is about realizing you just can't let things drift or take marriages for granted.

Anyway, enough of my rambling - I wish you the very very best (both you and your husband) in whatever you do and every success.

Oh - and about the work... if you've identifed it as the culprit, either cut it back or change your job. We often see parents that do this for their kids without a second thought. Your marriage is just as important and just as valuable. G'luck ;)

Britgirl said...

I wanted to add another thing... It's pretty hard to get your sexy confidence back on your own, especially when you're part of a couple. I'm not talking dependent but interdependency. Your husband has to help you find it and get it back and reassure you that you still have it and that you are the most important person in his life. And I would hazard a guess that this reassurance would be a two way thing so each of you would help the other.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Husband,

Aren’t Minnesotan, Lutheran, and Scandinavian all redundant?

And if anyone is the lucky one, it’s me.

:-*

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Britgirl-

I cannot help but quote the comment you made on childfree
marriage
:

"How many times have we heard that people wanted out of a marriage but only stayed because of the children? Or that they would be nothing without the children? Or that the children are their life? I think many also “hide behind” the fact they have children… intentionally or not. Childfree people have no hiding place."

So incredibly profound and true; you can only “hide” behind excuses like homeownership or dog visitation rights for so long. We often hear people saying they stay together for the kids. We also hear people exclaim “at least there was no children” when childless/childfree couples divorce. There seems to be less of a support system for the childfree; people almost care less whether it’s workout or not because there aren’t children involved.

Without children a couple has to find other reasons besides “the kids” to work through the tough patches that ALL relationships fall upon. We know what our reasons are, the very reasons we got married in the first place, and sometimes it takes a little rough patch to recall what brought you together so long ago.

As for work, it’s not “the” job getting in the way, it’s jobs in general. Oh to be independently wealthy to spend time reading together, writing together, working out together, playing with the pups together, etc. etc, etc….

Anonymous said...

Chelle,

Just stumbling upon this entry now and wanted to thank you for your honesty and strength to post. As a woman currently struggling with many of the same marital roadblocks, I was wondering how your marriage is faring years after this original post...

Wade & Chelle said...

Anonymous, I'm glad you asked. We're good, really good. Happy, healthy, caring, supportive, and in love. We made it a priority to focus on each other more. We go out on at least one date a month, kiss at least once per date, hold hands, listen to each other's stories, and remember to have sex (sad that that's one of the things that disappears when life gets busy). We also started being a bit more selfish; giving ourselves good me time, supporting the other's hobbies and interests, encouraging each other to see friends. You never get the "newness" of a relationship back, but we got to the point where we really embrace the comfort, love, knowledge, and respect that comes with spending 10+ years by each other's side. All the best as you find the path that brings you and your spouse back to where you need to be.

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