We married in August 1999, both aged 20, we dated two years before marriage. Tom is a cradle Catholic, Anna raised Lutheran. Not much premarital counseling due to our mixed faith marriage. In year five of marriage, we vacationed with Anna’s two girlfriends to Maui. At the time, they were both single. We brought our 15-month-old with us.
During the trip, Anna was preoccupied with our son. There were a couple of times during the trip that Anna was unable to participate in activities due to the baby, but Tom and Anna’s friend spent all that time together. Towards the end of the trip, in a small condo that we were all sharing, said friend was showering, yelled for Anna with door jarred, Tom went running to see what he could do. Says he saw nothing. It made for a very awkward remainder of the trip. The incident was never dealt with fully, but Anna was very hurt. Tom would not discuss or admit to anything at the time so it was not discussed any further. Anna converted to Catholicism after 10 years of marriage. Most recently, Anna read Tom’s phone text that he sent to a coworker friend about having a good shift because he was able to walk the airport concourse and look at all the pretty women. This has brought so much pain back to Anna tied with the event from 13 years ago. Anna is having a very hard time trusting Tom.
Tom and Anna,
Thanks for your question, your story pains me. Married couples have a special relationship; we are attached together in a way which can be very beautiful; nearly heaven on earth. In your case, Anna’s sense of attachment screams out in pain instead of feeling secure, valued and loved. You are not cruel, Tom, but it seems clear that you’ve not been trained to understand how to create a strong, vibrant and secure attachment nor have you been trained to heal your wife’s’ wounds. We won’t have the opportunity to deal with all of that in this reply but I hope to get you started in the right direction.
One part of our marriage union, our sexuality, has the power to bind us beautifully or to keep us strangers who aren’t bound spiritually. Many men, walking through an airport would consider it their right to look at the many women in that environment. Is that harmful? Is it a form of infidelity? It is not my job to sit in judgment, rather I’ll offer some observations. Tom, what I know is that Anna feels violated by your texts to your workmate; that might be reason enough to change the behavior; maybe Anna wishes that those attentions were directed to her. I would also point out that when we walk around ‘stealing glances’ and fantasizing, we are really working against our own long-term happiness. Instead of securely attaching to our mate, we become mired in a drama-laden, dreary marriage. As a man who’s tried it both ways, I can tell you that given the choice between securely attached and drearily married, I’ll take the former. Consider this:
When you met, presumably sometime before the age of 20, part of your attraction to each other was, no doubt, in part physical. Our initial physical attraction is part of our built-in system to help us find and attract a mate. Then life happens, it becomes complex; we are called upon to work hard (men and women) while less time and energy is spent in maintaining that early physical beauty. Obviously, for women, childbirth creates enormous physical strain and is often accompanied by a change in physique.
For these reasons, nature provides us with a system which, if we are faithful to it, will bond us as partners from limerence to life’s end. Our nature knows that we will be 20 only once and that we will change greatly along the way AND that it must provide a bonding mechanism beyond our youth and physical beauty. How does this work?
Here’s an outline:
1) We must be lovingly sexual on a regular basis to take advantage of our nature. How much? Probably a couple times per week but it’s less about frequency in the absolute and more about the quality of our sexual experiences.
2) Sexual love and desire grows(!) in a healthy, monogamous marriage. It doesn’t take gimmicks or tricks. If we are fully engaged, body, mind and spirit during our sexual acts with our partner, our sexual desire for only our spouse will grow. Some tips: Take your time, get yourself prepared physically, mentally and spiritually. Don’t just turn over at the end of a tiring day, make it an event, enjoy each other. Give yourselves 100%, engage all your senses and don’t allow any part of the rest of the world or life’s worries to intrude.
3) To fully experience this, we must never do anything which will defeat our natural mechanisms. This includes, fantasizing, flirting, pornography, sex outside of marriage AND any activity within marriage which demeans and/or dehumanizes our spouse. If you do any of these things (and more, of course) we won’t experience the growth of our monogamous desire. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Men, this is where we fall so often. Those harmless looks and fantasies prevent us from creating the beautiful lives we deserve.
That’s a great start; there will be more work to do. You may need so outside help with pain from existing trauma; please do whatever it takes to set your marriage on the path you both deserve.
ALSO: I’m giving you a link I’m calling Marriage Basics I. It comes from a series of marriage tips I’ve previously published. These first 6 tips are designed to build upon each other weekly. Try dedicating some time daily and weekly to energize and revitalize your marriage. Don’t Settle!
Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist