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How dating turn-ons can become marital turn-offs
It is very common for couples in marital counseling to express disbelief and anger about problematic issues in their relationships that they never saw coming. In fact, they often say that they had expected a very different partner due to the traits they saw when the met and that were manifested during the time they were together before marriage. They often wonder how things could have changed so much and how they could have been so wrong about what they thought they saw in this other person.
In my role as a couples' therapist, I have seen a clear pattern that explains this problem and frames the answer to these questions that couples often ask. Simply put, the very qualities that attract one person to another often contribute heavily to the issues that are at the root of their relationship and marital discord down the road. How can this be, you ask? The following "attraction" qualities that later on contributed to marital unhappiness and discord are great examples of how this can happen. Do any of these resonate with you?
* The extremely confident guy
His strong self-esteem got your attention immediately. He always felt confident in what he shared and was always assertive in sharing and making his point. He knew what he wanted and went after it, period. A real take-charge kind of guy.
Now, after several years of marriage, you are having trouble getting heard. It seems that his opinion is the only one that matters. He always has to be right, which makes you always wrong. Now his take charge attitude feels like a need to always be in control. Why didn't you see the downside before saying I do?
* The always fun/way laid back guy
From the start he made you laugh, was easy to be, with and things just never seem to get to him, no matter the crisis. You loved his calm and laid-back temperament, especially after growing up with a Dad who was anything but. You envisioned a life of fun with your best friend by your side.
Now you have been married for 5 years and have two young children. Your priorities have changed along with so many other things. You often put in very long days at work and often feel like the designated adult when you get home at your second job. When your family is confronted with problems to solve and fires to put out, you are usually doing most of this all by yourself. Now you wish your spouse was not so laid back--that he could be serious and step up when issues arise and handle them without you requesting, nagging, and/or pouting to get him to act. You long for a partner who has a serious, grown-up side, and one you can count on to have your back.
* The guy who keeps you on your toes/on the edge
When you were dating, before life got complicated with marriage and commitment--you and your spouse had so much fun together. It was never boring due to his spontaneous and unpredictable personality. Every day was a new adventure, and you imagined a life together that would never lose its excitement and that sense of newness. He was a bad boy who was into you--what could be better than that?
Now that you have been married for a couple of years, you have grown frustrated with your husband's spontaneity. For him, a commitment is making weekend plans on the Tuesday before. His unpredictability has led to arguments about him not following through on something, just because he wasn't in the mood or made a last minute decision to use the time doing something else. His inability or unwillingness to have discussions about your future goals and plans has left you feeling completely alone in financial and lifestyle limbo. You never have fun together anymore due to all the stress and resentment caused by living this way and wonder how you didn't see the red flags that must have been there all along.
* The strong woman
You were attracted to her assertiveness. She wasn't afraid to step up and express her opinion and take charge when needed. You have always admired strong women, so this was a turn-on. It was also nice to know that she would be a competent and strong partner and mother--and would not always be turning to you to be the strong one or to handle every difficult decision or situation because she was unwilling or unable to.
Ten years and two kids later and your relationship feels like a huge power struggle. You often feel resentment when she "tells" you what you should or should not be doing, makes unilateral decisions without consulting you--and often leaves you feeling emasculated after a stinging criticism of how you handled something. You frequently feel disrespected and minimized in the relationship. You find yourself thinking about what it would be like to be with a certain co-worker or female acquaintance who sweetly defers to you and seeks your input in meetings and conversation.
* The devoted woman
She was always team you, and you loved the attention and admiration. You were her hero, and you loved playing the part. It was nice to be looked up to and it was a real boost to your self-esteem. She let you know right from the start that you were the center of her universe. The thought of going through life with such a devoted partner made you feel like the luckiest guy ever.
Then after marriage, you began to feel a bit stifled. Your wife had the expectation that you would do everything together and not continue with your own individual friends or interests. From the day you got married, you felt as though you had to report in and reassure her if you were going to be out late or had a sudden change of plan at work. Your old friends complained at first that you were so unavailable and made snide comments about how marriage had changed you. Over time, the strain has driven a wedge between you and a number of people you once felt very close to. You feel torn about loyalties while at the same time feelings that your wife?s expectations are unreasonable. You feel as though you have lost yourself and her behavior is pushing you away.
* The compliant, laid back woman
She was always so easy to please. One thing you always loved about the relationship was how easy it was to be together. She never tried to place expectations on you or to manipulate or control you in any way. Given your past relationships, this was so refreshing. Control freaks were not your thing and you knew this would never be an issue in this relationship.
You have now been married for over four years. Her laid back style has become a sore point. It's as though she never has a strong opinion, never wants to make a decision, and isn't assertive when the situation calls for it, so you often feel as though you have to step in a handle things. You envy guys you know who are married to high-powered women, who have successful careers and are active in managing their daily lives and in planning for the future. You feel a lack of intellectual stimulation and challenge as she never has anything exciting or new to bring to a discussion or to your life together. You find yourself fantasizing about strong women you know and what it would be like to be with them.
Though it appears counterintuitive; it's common for people to come to a realization after marriage that the very same traits that initially attracted them to their partner are now contributing to marital discord. Therefore examining your attractions to someone and taking a hard look at the expectations you attach to them before saying I do, is a great way to help you correctly assess your rightness or wrongness for someone and whether you would be a compatible match for commitment and eventual marriage.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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