THE THINGS "EVERYBODY KNOWS"

January 20, 2022
When I was a kid, my mom used to subscribe to "Woman's Day" and other women's magazines. She would leave these issues in the bathroom. Sometimes when I would go in to use the bathroom I would pick up one of these magazines and read an article. If you know anything about women's magazines, they are all about creating better relationships. Some of the articles are better than others, but that is the common theme.

From these magazines I learned certain things like:

1. Civil and loving communication about your differences is essential to a good marriage.

2. Sexual attraction and the romantic "spark" naturally ebbs and flows during marriage. If you don't have the same feelings you had when the relationship was new, you can put the spark back in your marriage by intentionally focusing on date nights and time together.

3. The subsiding of romantic feelings does not mean you married the wrong person.

4. Having a good marriage requires work.

5. Keeping secrets from your spouse creates mistrust and contention.

6. Yelling and screaming damages relationships.

7. There are problems in every relationship. That's part of life. Love means working them out together.

8. If something is important to your spouse, making it important to you will enhance your marriage.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I grew up thinking these were basic things everybody knew. If people were having problems in their marriages, it must be because of some bigger and deeper incompatibility. Then I got married.
For the entirety of my first marriage, my former wife obsessively questioned whether she had married the wrong person because we didn't always want the same things and didn't always feel the romantic spark. She believed that, if we were meant to be together, we shouldn't need to communicate so much. Sometimes I found myself thinking in an exasperated way, "Have you never picked up a woman's magazine? This is not the kind of stuff that should wreck a marriage."

Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify that I have since learned that the world was not as simple as I had once believed. As Shakespeare said through Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and Earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy." While my former wife may have been ill prepared for our marriage in our twenties, I now realize that my own preparation for marriage was not perfect either--despite getting a university degree in family science.

But the thing I want to drive home is that a relatively few people know the things I thought "everybody" knew. You can't usually find them in TV sitcoms or movies. You can't find them in romance novels. What sells on screen and in novels is the dopamine high we get when we are newly "in love" that tells us that a relationship is "meant to be." It is a lot less exciting to discuss how you are going to handle it when you have both had a tough day and feel exhausted and someone has to fold the laundry or do the dishes. It is less exciting to talk about how you are going to intentionally put the spark back in your marriage, when that flowed so easily in the beginning, but may have stagnated amid children, bills, and the pressures of maintaining full-time employment and a household.

Cathy and I started this community because great relationships don't just work because they are written in the stars. They work because the people involved are intentional about their relationships. We believe in magic and romance. We love that. But the only way to maintain those things is through intentional effort in the right direction. Often, that involves managing your own exasperated feelings about the fact that your wife has never picked up a women's magazine and learned the things that "everybody knows."

I also want to say that this subject is too important to be relegated to "girl talk." To a great extent, the quality of your primary relationship will determine the quality of your life. That is just as true for men as women. In fact, I would argue that it is even more true for men. Typically, women recover from divorce faster and report greater satisfaction with their lives after divorces than men do. As a society, we have tended to see men as having a low emotional IQ and not being interested in relationships beyond sex.

Men, I love sports and the outdoors as much as the next guy. But those things do not determine my happiness nearly to the extent that my relationship with Cathy does. It is important for men to become educated in how relationships work and what it takes to make them work in the long run.

Women, please don't relegate this subject to "girl talk." If you want men who are sensitive and have a high emotional IQ, then really listen to them, even when they are expressing fear and insecurity. Men need to be involved in this conversation.
Sometimes, I feel like it is pulling teeth to get men to engage in this group. A recent post asking for the feedback of men was quickly hijacked by women. I deleted it and started over with clearer rules. Thankfully, by tagging 100 men in that post, we were able to get a number of good responses and the women who commented on those later were thankful and respectful. When we did a similar exercise asking women for their feedback there was no necessity of tagging 100 people. We got plenty of comments just by making the post.

We need to involve more men in this kind of conversation. Women need to be open to the possibility that men might have good ideas about improving their relationships that they had not previously considered. We need everyone to acknowledge that men have important things to say and legitimate feelings regarding relationships.

Our society is producing men who are ill- equipped for marriage because we have made them increasingly irrelevant in marriage, child rearing, and family life. We have even come to view those things as feminine--when they are really just human. That is, unfortunately, not something that "everybody knows."
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