Marriage is the legal, religious and/or spiritual joining of two people. Typically, these two people are driven by love, romance and desire to be together. But love is the easy part; cohabitation and long-term relationships offer more challenges. The longer you are with someone, you not only get to know them better (oftentimes much better than you wanted or planned to), but you also learn a lot about them — what makes them tick and what gets under their skin — as well as yourself. And sometimes, things can go sideways and even downright sour.
Here are the top ways that marriage can actually make things worse for you and for your significant other.
You let go of friendships: People believe that once you are married, you need to let go of past relationships and focus on your marriage, but that's not healthy. Part of what your partner fell in love with is the person you are and that includes your individual experiences, hobbies and interests, relationships and opinions. By sacrificing friends, you limit your exposure to people who have indirectly helped guide your thoughts. This can end up limiting your personal growth and stagnate your relationship.
You fight dirty: If you know the little things about them, you hold a lot of power in an argument. In relationship terms, it's called "going for the jugular" – meaning: you say or do the precise thing that is the ultimate insult/dealbreaker/gotcha and thus "win" the fight. But the aftermath is often worse that the fight itself.
You withhold sex/love/emotional support: When dating, passion and love are free flowing. But after marriage and a few years of real and/or imagined slights, resentment can build, resulting in lots of "I'm not in the mood" or "Well, I guess you need to work that out" statements to your significant other. The result is not only the start of emotional and physical disconnection for the couple, but the withholding of that intimacy is also rooted in manipulation. In essence, abandoning your partner's physical or emotional needs leads to separation and establishes habits of non-communication and hiding instead of sharing and honesty.
You let yourself go: As couples exit courtship, sometimes they don't feel the need to maintain their physical appearance. Many cite poor hygiene as "no big deal" with statements like: "Who do I have to impress?" These actions and statements send a direct message to your partner that you don't value them, and you don't value yourself ... not to mention the health issues that accompany poor exercise and diet.
You stop going the extra mile for your spouse: When first dating, men and women have their heart and soul invested in the little things: texts in the middle of the day, love notes in lipstick on the mirror, flowers. Once in the relationship, couples might curl up on the couch, cook dinner together and have spontaneous sex. Then comfort creeps in, spontaneity and romance wane, and the little things get left behind as "unimportant." In truth, it's always the little things that count.
Awareness is key to stopping these damaging cycles. The bottom line: Saying "I love you" is one thing, but actions speak volumes, and what your partner does need to back up his or her words. Stay connected, don't get comfortable and keep putting effort in to your actions.
This week's links:
1. What does it really mean to "let go"? Check out my love definitions on Facebook.
2. Are you love-challenged? Tell me your story and e-mail email@example.com a chance to be on TV.
3. How do you keep a long-distance relationship great? Check out my nine tips.
What's up and what's down:
Up: USA’s “Satisfaction”: I just participated in a panel for the advance screening of summer’s hottest TV show and talked about marriage, monogamy and infidelity.
Down: Phone addiction: It’s summer! Put down that phone and enjoy the world around you instead.
Charles J. Orlando is relationship expert and author of the bestselling book series "The Problem with Women... is Men®." Find out more about Charles on his website, or visit him on Facebook for real-world love advice.