And They Lived Happily Ever After . . . Or Did They?

ImageWe all have our own expectations of what makes a great relationship. While there may be a few women holding to the position that marriage is not for them; for the vast majority of us, marriage still represents that ideal which is the pinnacle of commitment. Yes, any two people can decide to live together in a house but I guess a public promise of love, unswerving devotion and fidelity is as good as it will get for most of us.

For many, marriage is superior because it signals a willingness to be held legally accountable for how we feel about the one that we love. To top this off, we usually spend enough money and work enough romantic symbolism into our wedding ceremonies to last a lifetime; or so we think. Very often, we hope that these will be enough to sustain the ideal of what we think a great marriage relationship should be. But this is usually where our problem lies; our expectations don’t usually match our individual realities. This discrepancy can actually push us at least to a lifetime of disappointment or at worst, towards the divorce courts if we’re not careful.

While not shooting down the idea of having standards or marriage goals, many of our idealistic expectations represent our childish or immature beliefs about what our marriages should look like; all the time. Without necessarily articulating it, we expect that “true love” will always bring with it fulfillment and easy transitions. Because we’ve been sold on romance, ά la the fairy tale and Hollywood, we’re often not prepared for the grueling reality that marriage is indeed hard work laced with its fair share of the mundane. But this is where fantasy ends and commitment kicks in. Whether or not we are living happily every day, are we prepared to stick it out for the long haul? Because this is where the commitment we made at the altar is actually put into operation.

When the sex is fresh and new and regular, when our partner is still bending over backwards to please us and when he/she still looks really sexy and well-kept, commitment is not so much an issue. We’re usually enjoying our happiness on auto-pilot and can’t imagine another life; of course we imagine we’re really committed! When change comes to our marriage, however, as it invariably will, this is when we have to decide daily to live the commitment we promised.

Practically, this will involve re-framing how we see the changes which come, as well as revisiting how we respond to them. For example, our partner lets himself go physically and begins to take our unswerving attention for granted. How should we respond? The easy way out may be to ignore his sexual advances, fume inwardly even as we give in or worst yet, check out the new cute guy at the office.

While these responses may be very human, knee-jerk reactions for many of us, none of them speak of commitment. Firmly and clearly communicating to our husband what we need from him, is going to be critical at this point. In another popular example, a husband may enjoy his new wife’s sexual and emotional availability for a season. When baby enters the picture, however, he experiences a significant change as he seems to be no longer the centre of attention at home. He can choose to sulk, spend more time with the boys, have an affair to ensure his needs are met or he could ditch his self-centred attitude and pitch in to ensure his wife gets adequate rest.

Again, this is where our understanding of commitment should influence behavior. Commitment is not about settling for any old thing in marriage but involves our active efforts to make the relationship work, as opposed to kicking it to the curb at the first sign of trouble.

Since I’ve been married for quite some time, I’m convinced that “happily ever after” is an individual reality born out of how we choose to handle our unavoidable marital challenges. If we do want to stay married, learning how to operationalize commitment is not an option. The following eleven tips should help us to gain some perspective on the issue of living out our marriage commitment in practical ways:

  • Accept human imperfection in both yourself and your spouse and see it as a gateway for personal development and change
  • Choose loving confrontation when unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your relationship; this means that talking about how you feel is always critical; decide from the outset that you will not choose easy escape routes like emotional detachment or affairs
  • Protect your relationship from negative external influences (friends, family, cohorts) who encourage you to bail out at the first sign of marital stress
  • Set realistic goals for your marriage and work together at making them happen
  • See love as a choice, not a feeling that is based purely on sexual chemistry or attractiveness
  • Choose significant moments like birthdays, anniversaries or any day for that matter, to relive the memories of how you met, got engaged or got married; keeping alive the magic of your early relationship is still significant to the health of your marriage but understand that while this may be a tool to enhance your commitment, it should not be the basis for it
  • Develop relationship loyalty by actively demonstrating that you and your spouse are on the same team; practice “having each others back” instead of competing
  • Never neglect your sexual relationship; keep this “one-flesh” reality of your relationship going to demonstrate how exclusive and set apart your relationship really is from all others; this means actively working to make your sex better
  • Strive to demonstrate a “higher-order” love that is unconditional  and loves “in spite of”
  • Never share your  marital challenges with someone you feel sexually attracted to; this represents the antithesis of commitment and loyalty
  • If you sense your relationship  is becoming unglued and you both seem unable to handle it on your own, choose a reputable counselor, coach, pastor or therapist to help you get your marriage back on track

How To Be An Irresistible Man (and live to tell the tale)

When it comes to understanding the tango between a man and a woman there is still a lot of mystery out there. We all know that sexual chemistry can be powerful and we know that the pull between a man and a woman can be so strong that it can appear to defy good reason or even common sense. But what exactly makes a guy so sexy to a girl and what is it that draws a man to a woman like a moth to the flame. Of course many of us will claim to have individual tastes and preferences when it comes to looking, shopping around or even praying for our mate.

Some of these items on “the list” may have been born out of what we noticed about our parents’ relationships. If the qualities in our Dad for example were good and gentlemanly, we may think that we want to have a chivalrous guy just like Dad was. If the opposite was true and our Dad was a cad, we may also look for a guy who is the exact opposite. Then there are the fairy-tales, the romantic comedies, Romance novels and our best-friend’s “perfect” love life which convince us that these are the exact qualities we want in a partner.

These external motivators say nothing for the deeply entrenched hormonally-based feminine needs which we girls also have. We seem genetically predisposed for tenderness, intimacy, love and a strong sense of security. So how do external expectations and internal leanings combine to influence what exactly we are looking for in a guy? I believe that they mesh quite nicely with our own personality preferences to emerge a set of expectations which for the ordinary guy out there may seem quite lofty and unattainable.

Very often we get seriously connected to a guy or even marry him when there’s still a whole lot to be learned about him. That’s just the nature of relationships. Even when this is true, we still have a very innate sense of what will make us deliriously happy and fulfilled. Not that all of these traits will ever be found in any one man, but you can’t blame a girl for wishing.

If a guy is interested in understanding what will fulfill the woman who is willing to spend the rest of her life with him, then the following really long list may actually be worth the read. Here goes.

A woman’s relationship list can be quite lofty.

While this daunting list is not exhaustive by any means, most women desire a man who will:

  1. Make her feel like she’s the only girl in the world (Rihanna does have a point!)
  2. Expose himself to her emotionally (yes guys vulnerability IS the new sexy)
  3. Have great physical attributes to expose when the time is right (No skimming on the Gym)
  4. Speak words of love without shame or embarrassment (added bonus for deep eye contact)
  5. Act the gentleman both publicly and privately (You know that hand in the small of your back? Sooo sexy!)
  6. Know how to take care of her sexual needs before his own or at least be good at practicing
  7. Be a good provider (that is allow her to spend his money, while hoarding her own)
  8. Know that in the bedroom it’s not the size of the boat that matters but the motion of the ocean
  9. Play fair in recreational activities (that is let her win games)
  10. Play hard in the bedroom (literally)
  11. Take care of his health and hygiene
  12. Spend his money wisely (on her)
  13. Lead with integrity and confidence (that is no bullying, no sulking, no guilt trips, no manipulation)
  14. Acknowledge, praise and appreciate her strengths
  15. Share everything (critical decision making, baby duties and house chores)
  16. Understand that one of the key attributes of a leader is the ability to serve (you know, massage her feet, paint her toe-nails, kiss her ahhh . . . )
  17. Be a great father
  18. Take the marriage covenant seriously by practicing sexual and emotional fidelity (no secret Face-Book accounts, cybersex or actual sex with other women)
  19. Refrain from telling her she doesn’t look great (especially at that time of the month, when pregnant or when bloating due to PMS)
  20. Tell her how sexy she is (especially when he’s NOT about to get it on; when he’s all hot and horny it doesn’t really count)
  21. Refrain from comparing her to other women, especially his own mother (a huge biggy)
  22. At least try to anticipate her needs (know when she needs a good hug, a pat on the shoulder or some serious sex)
  23. Practice the love and loyalty he expects in return
  24. Pay attention to his softer, gentler, more vulnerable, spiritual side while maintaining manly confidence and strength
  25. Acknowledge God (most men who do, tend to have a fairly good take on how to really treat a woman)