by Donald A. Cadogan, Ph.D.

Jim and Judy had been married for ten years. They seemed like the ideal couple to their friends. But secretly, both felt a growing dissatisfaction with their marriage. They had begun fighting about little things, such as Jim "always" coming home late, or Judy "never" cooking what Jim liked. But the problems continued, despite their arguments. So Judy and Jim slowly withdrew from each other. Both felt they could no longer communicate, and a pattern of silent brooding developed. Jim and Judy's plight is not uncommon. In fact, one of the most frequently cited causes of marital disharmony is communication failure, i.e., the inability or unwillingness of spouses to talk to each other about their interpersonal difficulties. This failure, in turn, plays a major role in the breakdown of many marital relationships and contributes markedly to the nation's fifty-percent divorce statistic. Many couples, like Jim and Judy, spend much of their marital life attempting to deny, suppress, or overlook serious marital dilemmas, with the hope that the quandaries will go away by themselves. The result is often a gradual loss of awareness of the issues that divide them, and with it a diminished ability to discuss and resolve these crucial perplexities. But the problems remain, just under the surface, building resentment as the years go by. For Judy and Jim, the causal agent was disappointment over marital roles. Left unresolved, this frustration led to years of gradually increasing, but veiled, hostility. Unfortunately, resentment like this frequently leads to the development of other difficulties. And these new problems are often quite different from the original, causative issues, e.g. marital role unhappiness. In this manner, marital partners can easily mislead themselves as to the real source of their concerns. Tragically, however, attempts made at this time to discuss their differences are often fruitless. Jim continued to be late no matter how Judy complained because his lateness was the symptom of a totally different issue. And the failure to settle this dispute tended only to foster a further unwillingness to discuss other marital difficulties. HAPPINESS ZONES There are certain key marital zones that are basic to a relationship and can generate either marital contentment or unrest. Clinical evidence indicates that family problems will more likely be resolved if discussion is focused on these basic areas rather than on (or in addition to) the pain produced by them. It is important to note, however, that exploration and discussion of these realms will more effectively lead to problem resolution if couples make an effort to understand and accept their mates' feelings, and minimize any tendency to react defensively. Each zone is presented with a rating scale to facilitate discussion. Rate your partner's behavior on the scale from one to five. A rating of one represents complete dissatisfaction or unhappiness with your spouse's actions with regard to each area. Five represents complete satisfaction or happiness. Remember, you are rating your partner's behavior. You may find it helpful to complete the inventory separately, then discuss your answers with your spouse. 1. COMMUNICATION - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) Communication is listed first because it represents the basic tool for understanding discord in all areas. Good communication requires a willingness to expose both feelings and thoughts. It also requires a readiness to listen as well as to talk. Jim and Judy's need to be heard had become so intensified that, paradoxically, it became harder and harder for both to listen. There is a skill to listening that includes a non-defensive openness to what you are hearing. In other words, admit when you are wrong, and save your explanations until after your spouse has completely finished speaking. You may discover that excuses are unnecessary. Effective listening is also an active process in which misinterpretations are minimized. This can be accomplished by restating or feeding back to your spouse his/her statements in your own words. If your partner agrees with the feedback, you are communicating. Lack of communication can also be a problem of another sort. Part of the joy of marriage comes from discussing life's experiences with one's spouse. Love is indirectly, though strongly, displayed in this way. And feelings of specialness usually develop. But sensations of separateness and emptiness can also grow when little sharing takes place. With Judy and Jim, the steady withdrawal from each other resulted in few personal disclosures and mounting feelings of aloneness. 2. TRUST - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) Trust is often considered the most important zone in marriage. It is upon this area that much of the relationship is built. But trust is a twofold issue. It requires a willingness to trust as well as a desire to be trustworthy. There are a great many people who think it is wisest not to trust anyone, including their own spouses. They believe they can best avoid being "taken advantage of " if they remain suspicious of everyone and everything. Now obviously, some people cannot be trusted. And it is also true that our chances of being deceived are greatly reduced if we remain always distrustful. However, this incurs a high price, for with it we can never have any close, intimate relationships. And since we would be unable to relax our suspicious vigil, we would also feel constantly on edge. It was fortunate for Jim and Judy that they did trust each other. When Jim would tell Judy where he was, she would accept his statement at face value. He cherished her trust and did not abuse it with deception. Close relationships require the belief that our partners will not take unfair advantage of us or exploit us. And maintaining a close relationship requires the ability to give our spouses the benefit of the doubt in situations where the facts are not clear. Regrettably, when marital trust has been violated it is not easily restored and takes time to return. But after a reasonable period of trustworthy behavior by one spouse, the decision to trust must again be risked by the other. 3. HOUSEHOLD RESPONSIBILITY - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) This is a broad area that includes the readiness of spouses to do their fair and agreed upon share of household chores. It also refers to the acceptance and fulfillment of negotiated marital roles. In some marriages there are clearly defined lines separating male from female duties. In other relationships, marital equality is expected with regard to sharing and interchanging household obligations. Either style of marriage can be satisfying as long as both partners agree. Research has indicated, however, that marriages can be most satisfying when marital role patterns, or family responsibilities are complementary, rather the symmetrical. In other words, each spouse would have separate, primary tasks depending on individual abilities, rather than both performing the same duties, or interchanging roles on some scheduled basis. This does not indicate, however, that couples should not help each other perform their various jobs, or even take over for the other on occasion. It is important to note, however, that although complementary roles usually work well, the feeling that each partner is of equal importance and value in the marriage, regardless of their contribution, must also be maintained if resentment is to be avoided. Jim and Judy's biggest problem was in this area. They had different concepts about what a husband or wife should be. Each saw the other as not performing their "proper" duties, and believed it stemmed from lack of respect or love. This discrepancy could easily have been negotiated if Jim and Judy had known it was the source of their discontent. Household responsibility also includes compatible personal and household hygienic patterns. An individual's degree of cleanliness is often a fairly stable characteristic. Although some measure of change in this area is possible through discussion, often much has to be accepted and adjusted to. 4. SEX AND AFFECTION - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) Sex and affection are actually two very different entities. But contentment with one fosters enjoyment of the other. Sexual pleasure in marriage is clearly enhanced when the partner is perceived as sexually attractive. The development of any physical or behavioral characteristic that diminishes this desirability must be discussed. When affection is lacking in a marriage it is often because it has become linked with sexual intercourse. Spouses who wish to be affectionate, but who are not in the mood for sex, sometimes inhibit their desires for affection in the fear that it will lead to sexual activity. However, when couples allow for free affection without sexual follow-up, they take the pressure off both areas. 5. TOGETHERNESS - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) For many happily married couples, their spouse is also their best friend. Thus, much of their recreational time is spent together. They enjoy each other's company and share many interests. However, when there are many dissimilar recreational interests, problems can arise. For example, Jim enjoyed fishing, but Judy did not; and she declined all invitations to join him. Sometimes they felt guilty when he would go alone, other times angry. But usually they felt lonely and dissatisfied. Resentment began spreading into other areas. Such problems, however, can be held to a minimum in at least two ways: First, allow some time apart for the gratification of different interests; and second, develop pastimes that can be mutually enjoyed. Judy and Jim solved this dilemma by making separate lists of their preferences, then comparing the lists for similar entries. Since they had never discussed this issue before, they were surprised to discover so many compatible areas. There are some couples, however, who have a great need for independence and separateness in their marriage. Although there are a variety of valid reasons for this need, it goes against the popular "ideal" of togetherness in marriage, and many couples find it difficult to discuss this subject. To avoid building resentment, it is important to ascertain the degree of togetherness desired by both partners, followed by negotiation of differences. 6. FAMILY AND FRIENDS - 1 2 3 4 5 (circle one number) Some couples are content to limit their primary social involvements to each other. Again, no problems need arise if both agree. However, we humans are basically social animals, and most of us feel the need for meaningful contact with people outside the marriage. For many, social needs are met through involvement with the extended family, or through friends. Unfortunately, dislike of in-laws or mate's friends is a common occurrence in marriage and can be the source of serious problems. This is especially true when one spouse insists on frequent contact with these "undesirable" others. In discussions of this issue, it can help to remember that in marriage, primary loyalties belong to the marital partner. It is also true that socialization needs vary widely. In some marriages there is such a great disparity between spouses in the desire for human contact that long-standing discontentment is experienced on both sides. Again, acceptance of these differences, as well as negotiation, are often the best answers. Let's look at Jim and Judy's relationship once again. Unfortunately, Judy and her mother-in-law frequently clashed. Jim's mother was a strong woman who was dominant in her own marriage. She also attempted to control Jim and Judy's lives. Jim had become used to his mother's behavior and accepted her this way. Judy, however, resented her intrusions and soon wanted nothing more to do with her mother-in-law. Eventually, Jim accepted his wife's concerns, and separated from his parental family. This was a difficult decision for him, but Jim knew it was in the best interest of his marriage. The zones presented here have been limited to those areas in marriage that are common sources of hostility and resentment. Frequently, the simple act of discussing these issues serves to resolve them. However, individual needs vary, and you may find other zones that require focus in your marriage. If you are honest and fair, and make an effort to understand your spouse's side of an issue, you need not fear open discussion of any of these zones. Most of the trouble in marriage comes not from discussing or even arguing about problems, but from avoiding them. Cadogan

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