January 20, 2005
January 20, 2005

Shelf Life

Most marriages in America are contracted because we love one another and want to spend every moment together. Men and sometimes women make the mistake of putting their spouse on a shelf, only to take the loved one down when it fits into the cramped schedule.

Men feel the need to fulfill the role of provider. However, most women also fill that role. Since the love interest is secured (for both of them), other items can become the obsession, such as: sports, computers, children’s activities and climbing the ladder to success for self-respect, and for security for the entire family's upwardly mobility.

Now caught in the web of their own making, the adoration falters. So many couples tell the counselor that there is nothing that can be done to undo that maze. Easy answers are not applicable. Yet when there is an emergency (illness or death of a family member) everything can and does go on hold.

Your marriage is an emergency. Ignoring each other leads to loss of interest, affairs, and divorce. Find time for dates. It does not have to cost money. Neither has to travel to see their partner. Turn off the TV/ Computer or whatever, and share the day, discuss your desires, future fantasies of life, or how to discipline your children, or better yet how you can find more quality time together. List your interests. Compare them and pick those which you both enjoy doing together. If there is no money for movies, plays, sports functions, then share them on T.V. Yes share. Don’t just watch TV, but make comments on the movies, news, etc. about your views on life. If this results in a power struggle to insist that one of you has all the answers to life, be aware that we are all different. Look for commonality among your differences. How can you each learn from the other?

My husband was laid back and had a wonderful sense of humor. Just as many couples find that what attracted them to each other becomes a bone of contention; it bothered me that he had no wish to improve the beauty of out home. My personality is more the A type. I am always working towards improvement in my life and my home. In order to not become a nag, I had to accept that if I wanted something done ASAP, then I needed to do it my self. (My husband was an air conditioning mechanic and promised me he would put in central a/c. I am still waiting after a 32 year marriage and his decease of almost 13 years). Obviously I am limited with my expertise to helping people not completing anything electrical. Acceptance of another’s personality is crucial. However, I did learn to see humor in every day affairs. I can thank him for that.

You might wonder what household jobs have to do with putting someone on a shelf. It is that each of us prioritize what is important in our lives. Unfortunately what is important to one person, may be considered ridiculous to the other. When we do not make our spouses needs a top consideration, the spouse feels less respected. Yet, I have seen this carried to extremes where the spouse is demanding constantly and the individual can not possibly stretch him/her self any further.

Health must be a consideration. If a spouse is unable to conform to the other’s wishes whether in bed or otherwise, compromises, and creative approaches are needed.

All of these issues can be overcome as long as each keeps the other off the shelf. Don’t let the dust settle. Dust him/her off. Start a fresh new approach. Dance in the kitchen, Play darts in the play room, bring back sing-a longs if you like music. Got the idea? Go with it!

Each person needs to role play what he believes the other one is feeling and thinking. It always helps to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Then express your thoughts verbally so that your partner knows you really do understand how s/he feels. Most women are able to do this easily while most men find it very difficult. Practice improves it. Imagine how you felt at some time in your life when you had been ignored. Then be aware that other people feel the same way. Now verbalize these emotions so that your partner can be relieved of the tension that builds when one feels misunderstood. Did you ever have a really difficult day and someone said, “Wow. You look blown away. What happened?” Suddenly the day doesn’t feel all that bad as you shared your experiences. This communication process is called “active listening”. It works with spouses, children, teens, friends, and strangers. It makes life run more pleasantly and smoothly.

Take your partner off the shelf. Take your communications skills off the shelf. Dust them both off. It will lighten up your life.