If You Are Married

Text of Talk Given to Dunwoody Toastmasters, 2000

Stanley E. Hibbs, Ph.D.

 If you are married, if you ever have been married, or if you ever plan to get married, I hope my remarks today will be helpful.  Iím going to talk about how things go wrong in marriages and how counseling works to make things right.

      Would you all agree with these three statements?   1. The decision to get married and whom we marry is one of the most important decisions we ever make. 2.  Our relationship with our spouse is the most important single relationship that we have.  3. As important as marriage is, most of us did not receive any training on how to be happily married.   

    No wonder our divorce rate is so high.  And no wonder that so many couples who remain married are unhappy. 

    In my 22 years of practice, I have talked with thousands of these unhappy couples.  When I ask them what the problem is, both of them blame the other.  The husband will say that they donít have enough sex, that the house is always a mess, that sheís always nagging him, and that she spends too much money.  She will complain that he is too critical, too controlling with the money, he never listens to her, and all he thinks about is sex.   

     As I sit with these two frustrated and hurting people, I have to remind myself that there was a time when they were madly in love.  There was a time when they couldnít bear to be apart.  And there was a time when there beloved could do no wrong.  How did these two lovebirds get to this point? 

     Hereís what the experts say.  No matter how rational and mature we try to be, we all enter marriage with unrealistic expectations.  If we want unconditional love, we will expect that our spouse will always be loving and giving and will never be selfish.  Good luck with that!  If we crave admiration and respect, then we believe that our spouse should always praise us and never criticize us.  Good luck with that too! 

     Often we seek to complete ourselves by being attracted to someone with traits that are just the opposite or ours.  Unfortunately, after awhile these opposite traits start to annoy is.  As the old saying goes, opposites attract, and then they attack.  Often the same trait that we loved at first drives us crazy now.  When he first met his bride to be, he saw her as so spontaneous and free.  Now after 5 years, he sees her as a flighty airhead.  Originally, she saw him as sensible and stable.  Now she sees him as boring and stuffy.   

     Adding to the problem is the strange way we go about choosing mates in our society.  We go on dates.  We get dressed up, put our best food forward, and have fun together.  We engage in pleasant conversation, we listen intently to what our date has to say.  We are always agreeable.  Itís not that weíre lying but itís close.  About the time that I met my wife to be, I was trying to learn how to cook real meals.  So I invited her over for a home cooked meal.  I prepared all of these wonderful dishes from scratch, including homemade soup.  Based on this night, she might assume that this was something I always did and that I would continue to do it after we got married.  Good luck with that!

      So we go on dates and we play.  And based on how well we play together, we decide to get married.  But marriage is work.  We have to divide the labor.  We have to decide how weíre going to talk with each other.  We have to manage money, and children.  Our playtime doesnít necessarily prepare us for the work of being married. 

      So even in very good marriages, the excitement of the beginning often turns into a period of disappointment.  This isnít what I thought it would be.  You arenít what I thought you were.  Often this disappointment turns bitter and both partners essentially go on strike.  Their attitude is ďYouíre not giving me what I want, so Iím not going to give you what you want.Ē 

      Itís at this point that they might come to me.  I explore their options: 1. Stay married but do nothing about their problems so nothing changes.  Sometimes they mature out of this. At 5 years, the majority say they wouldnít marry the same person again.  At 30 years, most say they would.  2.Get divorced.  This has not proven to be a good solution.  Take the same problems with you.  3. The road less traveled, stay together, but commit to a process of growth and change to really improve the quality of the relationship. 

      Of course I hope that they will choose number three.  Working with couples who have made a strong commitment to grow and change is some of the most fun and rewarding work that I do. 

      So how does counseling work?  In itís simplest form, itís learning how to really listen with empathy and respect.  Itís learning how to show our spouse that we really understand them.  Itís learning how to sincerely apologize for having hurt the person we love and itís forgiving the hurts that have been done to us.   

     So I have talked briefly about marriage, what can go wrong, and what can be done to make it right again.  If youíre married, I hope your marriage is a happy one.  If not, I urge you to never give up trying.  Read books on marriage, go to counseling if you must, take care of the most important relationship that you have. 

 770-668-0350 ext.-224