Marital problems are a big reason why people seek therapy. And some couples wait far too long before getting counseling, according to Rosemary Adam-Terem, a clinical psychologist who specializes in women’s and couples’ issues.
Half of marriages end in divorce, and the failure rate is even higher for second and third marriages, she said. "Often their marriages have faded over the years, with a decrease in communication, loss of emotional and sexual connection. They are overwhelmed by stress from family, responsibilities and finances."
Marital satisfaction takes predictable dips over the natural course of family life, Adam-Terem said.
"The first major dip occurs when children are preschool age. Things get better through early to middle childhood when the kids are more independent but not yet challenging the parents," she said. Then adolescence hits, causing another dip. "Many people lose themselves in the business of parenting, working and managing the mortgage or rent. They forget to nurture each other and grow apart," she said.
Adam-Terem, who has been married 33 years, said that even with her education and training as a couples therapist, it takes hard work and commitment to nurture her relationship with her husband. "We maintain a good marital friendship and care about each other," she said. "We support each other in our own and shared goals. We have fun doing things together but also get time apart."
MORE ADVICE FOR COUPLES
Communication is key
» It’s OK to complain, when justified, but avoid put-downs or blaming.
» When facing criticism from your partner, don’t get too defensive by countering with, "but you …" Own up to any responsibility for the problem.
» Listen when your partner wants to talk. Try not to jump in with a quick-fix solution that can minimize the importance of your partner’s concerns.
» Show you are interested in your partner’s life and ideas; ask about how the day went; find out the details but don’t "grill."
Intimacy is essential
» Although sexual intimacy is important, partners should also should be confidants and best friends.
» Stay emotionally connected; don’t take your spouse for granted.
Remember the love
» Look for the positives in your partner – you’re probably underestimating the good to be found.
» Practice acceptance and forgiveness of your spouse’s flaws (and your own).
» Find some way to express your genuine appreciation; show affection; be kind.
» Have fun together, share interests, try new things.
» Reserve "couple time." It doesn’t have to be a romantic dinner out; try a sunset picnic at the beach, a hike in the forest, a concert or movie.
Source: Rosemary Adam-Terem, 947-5676
To find a marriage therapist, visit the Hawaii Psychological Association at www.hawaiipsychology.org.