Decade after decade, I work with the unhappiest of marriages: lonely couples living parallel lives, bitterly attacking each other in public, having clandestine affairs. Last week I was deeply touched as Art, a distinguished businessman with white hair and deep brown eyes, wept quietly. After five years of intense psycho-therapy for each partner and the couple, Jan, his wife of 39 years had announced that she was finally strong enough to leave him unless he made her a top priority in his life. “I will leave you if you keep putting me last. Mark my words because you won’t hear them again. You barely come home, then you are gone again to a board meeting. You want it all and no life has it all. Pick your poison: either modify your career or say goodbye to me.”
Art blanched, clearly trying to resist her words. But the determination in her face forced him to take her seriously. “Actually, I would give anything to grow old with you. I want to lie next to you each night until I die. I can’t believe it has come to this.” Tears forming in the corners of his eyes, he reflected, “I would give it all up for a real marriage. You have raised our children while I have been at work. You have made us a beautiful home. You have cared for my mother to let me get to the top of my field. Now it is our time for a happy marriage and I may have ruined my chances.”
Jan closed her eyes to block out the pain she saw in the face of the man she loved. “If you mean it, make me a priority before I am not here to care. I love you more than anyone other than our children. I want nothing more than for you to take me in your arms, but you have not done that for 4 years. So I have convinced myself that being single is better than this. At least if I am single I can find a boyfriend.”
The most crucial skill for human well-being is knowing how to love. Maslow, the psychologist best known for creating a hierarchy of human needs, ranked the need for belonging and loving as second only to the need for human health and safety. Loving well is essential to human happiness. Most of us are aware of a pulsating, demanding human drive to create the sense of well-being provided by a human partner. There is no adult love equivalent to sexually seeded love between adults, which is so powerful that it has the capacity to both augment and plunder human well-being. The way we love our partners, our children, our parents, our friends and our pets literally predetermines our own sense of physical and emotional well-being.
Here is a little quiz to help you know if your marriage is in trouble. This little quiz to help you see if you are on the road to a deeply troubled marriage, was developed by Drs. Whisman, Snyder and Beach. It is solidly researched so you can take the results seriously. Simply answer the questions below with “True” or “False.”
1. I get pretty discouraged about our relationship sometimes.
2. My partner often fails to understand my point of view on things.
3. Whenever I’m feeling sad, my partner makes me feel loved and happy again.
4. My partner and I spend a good deal of time together in different kinds of play and recreation.
5. My partner has too little regard sometimes for my sexual satisfaction.
6. There are some serious difficulties in our relationship.
7. Minor disagreements with my partner often end up in big arguments.
8. Just when I need it the most, my partner makes me feel important.
9. Our daily life is full of interesting things to do together.
10. Our sexual relationship is entirely satisfactory.
To score, give yourself one point for each “True” for #1, 2, 5, 6, and 7, and one point for each “False” to #3, 4, 8, 9, and 10.
Warning sign: If you score more than 5 points, your marriage is on a rocky road. Art and his wife each had imperfect scores of 9 items each, a sure sign that professional help was needed.
To consider: What constitutes a happy marriage? How many of us live in happiness? What did we do to get there? It could just change your life. For the better.