According to Deanna Bryant, love is a choice, and thus, so is marriage and staying married. But how do we keep choosing love as we get into the latter stages of marriage? In this episode, she joins Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen to dig deep into the challenges faced by couples in mid-life and beyond. Deanna is the host of Revive Your Midlife Marriage Podcast and a Relationship Coach for midlife couples. She discusses strategies on how to stoke the fire of intimacy and, on the other end, how you know when to end a marriage. Deanna also debunks misconceptions and myths about marriage and shares her thoughts on red flags, infidelity, alternative relationship/marriage structures, and more. Tune in for realistic relationship advice that could help you rekindle that spark.
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Examining Marriage: Restoring Intimacy In Mid-Life (And Beyond) With Deanna Bryant
When I first heard of our guest, it was one of those things when you start to dive into someone’s work in the world, their purpose and mission. Sometimes you see the name of their brand or website and you go, “That’s interesting. I need to know more.” Deanna Bryant, our guest, has a unique brand called Revive Your Midlife Marriage. First of all, I am not married, although I am approaching midlife, but nonetheless, it sucked me, and then I thought, “What is this about?”
The very first impression, Deanna, when I was going through your work and digging in, which we have so many wonderful subjects to talk about with you, was the idea of defining intimacy in our lives. I feel like that’s one of those words with so many different meanings and connotations, depending on who you ask. What is intimacy to you?
In years prior to digging a little bit deeper into my own emotional life and relationships, my instantaneous association with the word intimacy was around sexuality exclusively. I’m curious, Deanna, with your work, and personal definition, what’s your frame around intimacy? What does that mean to you? Can you educate us about maybe some of the deeper layers of what that means?
Sexual intimacy is part of intimacy but sexual intimacy will only happen if there is intimacy outside the relationship or outside the bedroom. Intimacy, to me, is a connection that involves regular communication. Every relationship, self-help book, every show is going to talk about communication but it’s more than talking. Communication is about learning how to speak your truth in a respectful, kind, compassionate manner and to listen from a place of neutrality and curiosity.
When that communication begins to build, then there is an intimate connection that also happens. It’s about couples giving a 100%. It’s not 50/50. Each person has to give 100%. Now, will there be times that one partner can give less than the other? Yes, that’s where that give and take come in. It’s give and take. Its communication. It’s understanding that your partner has a perspective that may not be the same as yours, and that’s where the acceptance comes in. I can’t change you. I don’t need to change you. We are in this, and chances are you marry the person that is going to trigger your own growth.
Intimacy is about an ongoing connection. It is not a one-time thing. It is not when things are going good. Intimacy can be about an argument or a fight. If you look at those situations as learning to know your partner better in the conflict, loving each other anyway, being respectful with your argument, that builds intimacy, too.
There is a lot that goes into intimacy, even sharing your needs. I don’t believe we can meet all of our partner’s needs but we can be cognizant of what they need from us and be willing to give some of those things even if it’s not a need we have. If your partner needs more time together, and you are one of those partners that thrive on getting time out, then there comes together. Intimacy is built by the give and take there. Those are some of the things I see as intimacy.Sexual intimacy will only happen if there's intimacy outside of the bedroom. Click To Tweet
A lot of why questions are coming up for me as I listen. I’m a big why person, and I’m curious why you were drawn to this work, and perhaps as part of answering that, I’m curious why people struggle so much with these things. As you share them, they make sense. Some parts of what you share feel like common sense, some feel like, “That makes sense now that I have heard it.” Why is it that people struggle so much with something that makes sense once you hear it?
I believe we don’t have the skills to do those things. We know communication and intimacy are important. We know there is a give and take in a relationship. We understand that we need to accept our partners and love unconditionally but who teaches us how to do that? There is no training before coming into a marriage for those skills. What happens is we know what we should be having and doing but we don’t have the playbook, so we are lost, and we don’t know how to get there.
We are talking about relating to our intimate partner and communication. We look at finances, maybe a certain element of spirituality and self-care care. It seems like this is one of those subjects that is a critical foundational element of having a balanced, joyful life as a human being that, to your point, is never taught to us. I want to make sure we get back to Whitney’s first question, which was, “How have you got into this?” I don’t want to leave that as a hanging indent. First of all, how had you got into this?
If I look back and think about my parents, aunts, and uncles, I didn’t necessarily have to be gracious about it. The healthiest examples of what intimate, connected, loving relationships look like. If I think about the difficulties I have had in my intimate partnerships, a lot of it has been undoing the patterning or the things that I observed and thought, “That’s how you conduct yourself as an adult in an intimate relationship.” Realizing as an adult, “Those things are not working.” It’s a two-part question, how have you got into this, and how do we undo a lot of these subconscious patterns that we have imprinted from childhood on what a relationship should be?
The way I’ve got into this was, in 2016, we celebrated our twenty-year wedding anniversary. At that point, we went through a major marital crisis. It was a matter of, “Do we throw twenty years away or do we figure it out?” I didn’t know what I wanted. My husband didn’t want to throw twenty years out and I was like, “I don’t know, maybe I’m done.” We decided to reach out and get outside support.
That outside support was sitting in a room and learning how to talk to each other. We sat across, we didn’t have somebody sitting there telling us what we needed to be doing but he allowed us to talk. It was like a mediator. We were able to work through some of our issues, clear up the old stuff, learn new patterns of communication and ways to nurture our relationship.
What happened is our relationship was restored, and now we are enjoying something better than ever. I was teaching English at our local university. I decided, “I wanted to do something different.” I went back to school and got my coaching certification. When I thought about, “What am I most passionate about to decide what my niche was?” It was midlife couples because the demographic of midlifers, there is more divorce in the midlife demographics than other age groups.
I thought, “What if I could help other couples learn some of these skills to be able to sit together and learn how to talk about some of this stuff?” That’s how I launched this. The second part of what you are talking about, I call those family of origin stories. It’s what we are bringing in from our own homes into the relationship. A lot of times, we are bringing in different life skills based on this family of origin stories.
What I find is there are fewer healthy marriages out there than healthy. Most of us are coming from families or our parents have either been married or divorced for me. My parents had been married and divorced several times from several different people. Here I was, having no clue of any skills about how to have a healthy relationship, so I come in clueless. Now my husband came from a background where his parents were married until the end. They had a terrible marriage until the end.
He had no idea how to have a healthy relationship. Not only that. We didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship with ourselves or with others. You bring that together. You’ve got two people that are clueless about how to relate to another person inside their lives, especially as much time as you are going to spend together with your spouse.
Those old wounds that we bring in from childhood have an effect on our marriages because if you have an old wound that you have not worked through and your spouse does something and that triggers you, that old wound and pain is going to come up. It’s going to cause a problem for you, and you might start putting somebody else’s head on your spouse because you are saying that other person hurts you. You get into all this stuff. One of the reasons I suggest and have couples do when they are with me is let’s talk about your family of origin stories. Let’s talk about what it was like for you growing up.
You would be surprised that we may tell the surface of our lives but we don’t get into the real details. There’s some shame around it. We think, “If I tell you every little detail, you are going to see my family differently.” I believe in talking about that and also those triggers from our childhood that may be triggered now in the relationship. If we don’t share that with our spouses, they are not going to know that that’s a hot button. Let’s don’t go there. Family of origin stories is huge in marriage, and healing those origin stories also is a part of helping a marriage.It’s not 50/50. Each person in a relationship has to give 100%. Click To Tweet
I was going to piggyback on this, Deanna, to bring up this idea. As we are diving into a deeper level of vulnerability in this sharing, maybe we have never done with a partner before. We are exploring this style of communication and acknowledging some pain and trauma from our past, whether that is our childhood or previous relationships. I had this idea that, “I’m choosing wrong. It shouldn’t be this hard and difficult.”
I had this Hollywood romance novel Disney approach of like, “It’s supposed to be butterflies and rainbows. It’s supposed to be easy.” There are a lot of coaches and relationship experts saying, “It should feel easy with the right person.” I had this narrative that I have carried for a lot of years, “If it’s challenging, uncomfortable or bringing up trauma to be looked at and healed, that’s a bad thing because it should be easy, Disney like a rom-com.” I’m wondering how much you see that in the people you work with? How much undoing culturally needs to be done with these expectations? How often they derail potentially great relationships because we are like, “This is too hard. I’m getting the hell out of here?”
I agree that culturally, we have the wrong idea. Have you ever been around those couples that have been married for a while? They will say, “He has been my best friend for twenty years.” I’m thinking, “Have you never wanted to kill him? Have you never wanted to smother him in his sleep?” That’s the real part of being married. That’s the issue.
We are getting a lot of messages from even couples. We know that it’s easy because no one wants to say what the hard stuff is. No one wants to admit, “I don’t even know if I married the right person or I don’t love him now.” We have those thoughts and feelings. Sometimes marriage is boring and makes you angry. The truth is there is a myth that even though we think we don’t believe, we do somewhere in the back of our mind that if you marry your soulmate, it is going to be a beautiful marriage.
I assert you can marry your soulmate and the person you should be with, and still, it will be hard as hell. I have not met many people that have been married for any period that it hasn’t been one of the hardest things they have ever done but we don’t talk about it or we go around acting like everything is great and wonderful. I remember even telling some of my friends, “My husband and I started going to a counselor.” They were like, “You are kidding me. I thought you guys had the perfect marriage.” I think that’s what we see, and that’s what we want people to think, so we are not being real about it. We are putting off this idea that we’ve got the rom-com relationship and it’s not true.
I love that you are digging into some of these misconceptions. Jason and I tend to focus a lot on how people love to share the highlights of their life. The core of this show is opening up about the uncomfortable parts of life and speaking honestly about them because that gives other people comfort and permission to open up in their way and realize they are not alone.
Having not been married, I have a limited perspective on this or only the perspective from the outside of all these ideas of what marriage might be like and what it looks like to me. I have heard so many of my friends share the hardships, and that leads me to the next part of my question, which would apply, I think to Jason as well is, what is the value of marriage, especially for someone who has never been married and is witnessing their friends open up and share the hardships? There are moments where I go, “I don’t know if I want to get married knowing all of this. Is it appealing? Do I want to go through this?”
What I have been told over and over again is when you meet the right person, then you will want to get married. Going back to Jason’s point, I’m like, “How do I know? What if I had been with a person that I could have had a pleasant marriage with but I thought, “This is too hard. I’m going to end it.” It’s hard to verbalize. I have never said this out loud before but is it possible that I have been in relationships in the past that could have been successful marriages but for whatever reason, at the time, I decided, “Let’s end this relationship?” I’ve never got to see it evolve to that point.
With all of that perspective, my definition of the right relationship has evolved. What you are sharing, I’m like, “Maybe I don’t even know what a solid relationship is.” It’s getting me to question it if that makes sense. It’s a two-part question. What is the value of marriage for someone that has never been married and hasn’t experienced the highs and the lows or the ups and downs at all? How do you know when someone is a good fit for you, for marriage, given all of these different definitions that we are hearing from other people all the time?
The value in being married is there is something special about having a camaraderie, a partner in life, someone to share the ups and downs with, to build a history with, to go through life, and not necessarily feel like you are all on your own. For me, I wasn’t ever going to get married. I was like, “My parents suck at this. I don’t even think I’m going to do this.” There is something special about the struggle. I will tell you what I mean by this. If you think about choosing to do a sport, maybe you are going to run a marathon. You have increments along the way to get you to that marathon and place of strength that you can run with the big dogs. I think marriage is like that.
You are starting and building momentum. You have to practice, work harder and go up to the next level. There’s something about doing that with your spouse, watching each other grow through the process. It’s nice to have someone that knows you on every level. The good, bad and ugly, and still loves you in spite of that. There are some good things about that. We share. It’s a partnership. However, I don’t think you have to be married to have all the things you want in life. I don’t think marriage is a requisite for being happy. There can be single people who have good friends that fill that niche. Maybe they don’t need somebody with them every day, and that is cool.
Something happens to my husband. I have already said, “It’s not that I have had a bad marriage. I just won’t do this again. It’s hard. I have loved it but I’m not starting over this mess anymore. I’m done after this one.” As far as finding the right person, I heard it so many times, “You will know that you know or you will know it when you have met them.” I don’t believe that because let me tell you this. Do you know how many men I thought I knew that I knew that was the one? I could have done that all along the way, and then a little on down the road, after a year or so in the relationship, I thought, “Maybe this isn’t the one.”There is no training prior to coming into a marriage. Click To Tweet
I also don’t think you have one soulmate. I think you could marry several different people and have a good partnership and marriage. I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are certain people that you are better suited for. Certainly, there have to be working relationships, common goals, common ideals but there’s not one soulmate in the whole entire universe. For me, when I was choosing my spouse because my parents had married for all the good feelings they felt, they married for chemistry.
I decided to take a calculated risk, so I weighed my options. Here are the pros with this guy. Here are the cons. Can I live with these cons because I know these are his weaknesses and the things that bother me? Can I live with those? Do these pros outweigh the cons? I was attracted to him. There was chemistry, but I knew already in my mind that chemistry and attraction would not do it because I had seen it not work in my own home.
I made some calculated risks with my husband. I thought hard about getting married to him, our compatibility, and what our common goals were. No doubt about it, I made a great choice but is he the only one for me? No, I think I could have been happy with other people, too. I don’t think I have ever said that to him but I would. I am an honest person but I am glad that I’m sharing my life with him. I hope that answers your question.
It does, and I appreciate your honesty. I’m sure it’s going to resonate with the readers because that honesty is so refreshing, like I said earlier, and it leads me to the next question. How do you know when it’s not the right marriage for you? As you are speaking, I’m thinking about a friend of mine who has been in a challenging marriage and has tried hard to stick through it, to work through it but some things have been shared with me and my friend that feel like red flags. Expressing that she doesn’t believe that she should stay in this marriage but she feels conflicted from several levels I won’t get into.
From the outside, it’s easy to say she should end the marriage. This is good, and she can do better, all these different things that we say. Especially from your perspective, having worked with so many people and also has been in many years marriage yourself, how does someone even figure that out? Is there a formula to figure out if you are in the right marriage? Are there important red flags to know of? Are there things that are impossible to work through and improve together?
It’s very individual to a person because what I would tolerate may not be what somebody else would tolerate or the things it’s important to me may not be as important to someone else. To say, “This is the things you are looking for,” will be different for all of us, although we can say that there are these red flags. Some of those red flags would be if you are dating someone, they have a history of cheating, they have been flirtatious with other people in your presence, and they even cheated on you during the relationship. A lot of those are signs of consummate cheaters. I would be very concerned about anybody trying to overlook or thinking that, “When we get married, they will be faithful, we were just dating or we were broken up for a few weeks.” That would be a red flag to me.
Another red flag is if there is a lot of drug or alcohol abuse in the dating relationship. I see a lot of people excusing it and being like, “They are having a lot of fun. They are wild but we are single and everything is great.” It’s a pattern that can translate into marriage, and it may be fun to have those every now and then. I am not opposed to going out and having a big time. If it’s a steady thing every day, where somebody is drugging or drinking, remember that you may be having kids, and is that going to be okay? When you come home, I want to connect with that spouse. Is that going to be okay every day with what you are dealing with? Usually, those problems progress. I would be very careful with that.
We talk about physical abuse. That’s a given. You don’t want to marry somebody that’s physically abusive but here’s what I see happen a lot. They may not marry somebody who’s physically abusive but will marry somebody who is emotionally abusive because they think that’s not as damaging. He’s got a bad temper or she’s got a bad temper.
I would say anybody that puts you down or hits you, for instance, they know something that bothers you, when they are angry, they push that button, pick red flag because you are going to have hot button issues later on down the marriage. If they are already poking you where you are hurting, red flag because it gets harder when you get married. Everybody shows their best at the beginning. I always say, “Do not get married early on in the relationship.”
I suggest 2 to 3, even 4 years of dating, so you can get through all the chemistry, butterflies, and rainbows, and see what living around this person is going to be like when they are ugly and great. You need somebody that’s going to support your dreams, to love you unconditionally, even on your crappy days. That’s important. Those are the things that matter.
This is an old-school thing but I honestly think how your spouse treats others, their family, coworkers says a lot about how they are going to treat you. If they are respectful to family members, friends, coworkers, chances are they are going to be respectful of you within the home because they’ve already got that practice going on. I wouldn’t marry somebody that wasn’t a good listener because if they don’t have listening skills, they are not going to hear a thing you say, and then you are going to be resentful of it later on down the road. Also, goals. Do you enjoy the same things together or do you overlook that you don’t because you are all excited to be together?
He golfs every Saturday. It’s so cute. He loves golf. 5 to 10 years into this relationship and maybe when you have children, is his golfing every Saturday all day going to be okay with you? Get through those years. Do we have the same goals and ideas about raising children? Do we have the same financial mindset? Those things are so important. Those are some of the things I would say about choosing a mate.
I’m glad you brought that up too because there’s this odd pressure. Jason, I don’t know if it’s as much for you as a man but I feel like as a woman, at least the way I was raised and the friends that I have, there’s this odd pressure to get married, at a certain point, I feel like now that I’m a little older. People are less impatient. They were like, “Maybe she will never get married and that’s fine.”You can marry your soulmate, and still, it will be hard as hell. Click To Tweet
There’s still some judgment there. Especially when I was younger, there was so much pressure to get married. This idea of, “If this person doesn’t propose to you within 1 or 2 years, then it’s never going to happen. What’s taking so long?” There’s all this rushing. I agree because you discover so much about a person in a relationship after that two-year mark. That, to me, has always been the turning point. I’m sure that there are a lot more to discover after the 3 and 4 years, etc.
The rush seems very odd because of that big question, “What is the rush?” Once you get married, now you are with this person and if you want to stay committed to them, what happens if you discover they are not the right person for you? You have rushed into something and now you have to go through that process of divorce, which leads me to that up question to my last one. Given all those circumstances that you shared with us, what if you realize this person is not a good fit for me? What is that transition period that you have seen with your clients and people you have spoken to? How does someone get through all the challenges of deciding to end a marriage?
Usually, what happens is when a couple comes to me, a lot of times, one partner that wants to be there and one that doesn’t, and then they begin working on the relationship. We began talking, communicating, and learning those skills. A lot of times, they leave because only 10% of the work is done with me and 90% of it is done when they walk away from me and start putting these things into practice.
If you have a spouse that is resistant to that change, who is bucking you all the way, who seems not to care or not be willing to put effort into it, you have two choices. I have said this to clients or to a client before, “You can stay in this marriage and accept things as they are and choose to be happy with yourself, and go on or you can say, ‘Enough is enough.’” There’s nothing wrong with leaving a marriage when you have somebody that is not willing to give their 100%, get the help they need or change to make the marriage work.
You can’t do this alone. It is a partnership, it is a two-way street, and one person can’t fix the relationship. I have also seen this happen, as one partner changes and begins relating differently to the relationship. Sometimes that spouse wants to get onboard. They see their spouse changing. They see them growing beyond them and want to catch up. They don’t want to be left behind. That happens too, so one partner can be an impetus for change.
If you’ve got a reluctant partner, don’t give up. Things may change. Get the help you need at least try but there is no reason and I would never suggest anybody stay in a relationship that’s a dead-end after you have tried everything. There is to try, not for the kids, not for the finances, not because you have a bunch of years under your belt. No, life is too short to stay in a bad marriage.
You talk about change, Deanna. It reminds me of a video I saw a few years back, where they were interviewing a couple in their early 90s and they had been married like 60 or 70 years. One of the questions I will never forget they turned to the husband and this is a prototypical question, “What do you think some of the secrets are to making this work? How have you stayed in this for so many decades and why have you continued to choose this person?”
I’m paraphrasing now but the husband said something akin to, “My wife has been 10 or 12 different women over the 70 years that we have been together. I have made a conscious choice to love every single version of her.” I started crying. He was eloquent and sweet in the sense of acknowledging that this woman had many different passions, career choices, evolutions and changes. He chose to love every single one of them.
It made me think about when some of us get into a relationship, those values, passions, and things that are important to us. We connect with those. She’s into basketball, Thai food and has a particular spiritual or religious belief or whatever it is. We get excited about, “You feel that way, too. That excites me.” As a person evolves and changes, if one is prone to seek that out, it can shake the other partner’s sense of safety and stability because it’s like, “I thought you were into that. I thought that’s who you were.”
It’s an interesting thing to think about loving all the different versions of a person, even though we don’t know what that person is becoming or how they are going to change. I’m curious, Deanna, how do we cultivate that sense of acceptance, curiosity and also encourage that partner to seek out those things even if they challenge our sense of who we think they are? That’s a deep one, I think.
It comes down to loving unconditionally and love as a choice. It’s not a feeling coming. I hear people say, “I love him but I’m not in love anymore.” What that tells me is, “I was in lust to start with but now that I don’t feel lust, I don’t feel in love.” Love is a choice. It can be a feeling. It can be a lust than excitement but it is a choice coming down the road.
Also, I think that if couples understood that, who they married if someone made sure we told everybody before they get married? Who you are married to now and who you will be married to 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road is going to change because you are going to change. That is a natural evolution of the human spirit. We are all going to change.
What I have heard with couples is that you’ve got somebody that’s open to change. They are always looking for new experiences. They are exploring, growing, and then you have maybe somebody who is set in their ways and stuck. That’s where the disconnect happens a lot of times when you have a stuck partner that doesn’t change. That’s where you have to say, “I can’t fix this person but I’m going to continue to grow and evolve. If we can’t work this out, then we have other options.”
I do think we have to love each other through all the phases because we change. If we have children, we change. Our children get older and there are lots of chaos and chaotic schedules. That’s going to stretch you and change you again. You are going to have teenagers. That’s going to nearly kill you, so you are going to change again. You are going to be changing constantly because life does not let us stay the same.I don't think marriage is a requisite for being happy. Click To Tweet
We will grow, we become, and if we can choose to love, I love that story. If you can choose to love all the different parts of your spouse because you love their essence deeply, then you are going to get through a rich experience with your spouse. That’s when the years looking back become rich. When you can say, “I knew her when I met her but I have watched her grow and develop. Who I have now is even better than it was before.” It’s a choice to love throughout life. I have been going through menopause. If my husband didn’t choose to love me now, we would not be married because it is not a nice phase. It isn’t but there’s always that light at the end of the tunnel.
You talk about the difference between lust and love. I think this is such a juicy and interesting topic because perhaps you can confirm this, Deanna. One of the alarms that may be couples go through is you get a certain number of years into something and like, “I don’t want to rip this person’s clothes off anymore.” This must mean that I’m not in love anymore. This leads to a larger question of your work, which is if people perceive that is gone, that’s a terminology maybe they would use like, “I don’t have the desire to ravage this person. Our sex and spark are gone.”
As BB King said, “The thrill is gone,” this is something that has persisted in human intimate partnerships for Millennials and I’m wondering when people approach you or maybe if you want to speak to your own experience, you have this perception of, “The spark is missing. The thrill is gone.” What are some of the factors that I suppose contribute to that feeling? The things that couples experience and moreover, I know it’s a very individual thing but some ways people can revive or reignite that in their lives.
We go through phases of that. We are not going to want to rip each other’s clothes off. We are not going to go from 0 to 60 in a nanosecond and have sex in every room or car and everything for the rest of our lives. It’s not going to happen. Does that mean you can’t have passion in your relationships? A lot of times, we equate passion with that spontaneous sex, sexual energy, dying to get near them. That’s a false sense of true passion. That’s fun.
We all love that but in reality, that will not sustain a long-term marriage but for those couples who think the thrill is gone, here’s what I have seen happen. They have a loud everything around them like kids, building careers, chaotic schedules, keeping the house up, and all of these things before the relationship. It’s what I call intimacy atrophy. We have stopped working on the core of our relationship. It’s something that was very important to us in the beginning and we have allowed all of these other things to take precedence.
The thrill will be gone because the bottom line is, if you don’t keep stoking a fire, it’s going to go out and be cold ash before long. I think that’s what happens a lot of times in a relationship. There’s no nurturing of this passion and excitement. There are several things that I have clients do to go back and get those feelings of love and passion back together.
I have them make a list of their fondness and appreciation for their spouse but it gets them back to, “Why did I marry them? What is good about this partner?” I have them make a list of everything they love about their partner and I’m talking details such as, “I love the way he smells. I love her soft skin. I love the way he laughs. I like his worth work ethic.” Everything you can think about because it’s going to fill you with those loving feelings that maybe you have forgotten about because, after a while, we are looking at all this negatively.
It’s that shifting your mindset or everybody tells you now, when you start feeling low, make that gratitude list. That’s what you do in your relationship. When you feel like you are going sideways, make that fondness and admiration list. The other is to get back to doing the little things that used to matter in the relationship. You have been married a while. You sit on the couch far apart. You don’t necessarily snuggle up anymore at night. You are not holding hands. You might do the quick hug upon leaving the house but how about a five-second hug?
We are kissing on the cheek, kissing on the mouth but we are not really kissing. Not going on special date nights or couples get into the routine of doing the same thing on date nights. It’s almost boring. We are going out to eat. That’s what we do all the time instead of being creative about the things they are doing to nurture that passion and excitement in the relationship. It’s got to be an intentional effort to keep the passion alive in the relationship. Is it going to be that feeling of passion you had at the beginning? No. It’s going to be richer and deeper but you’ve got the fuel, the fire. It’s not going to happen naturally because you married each other and fell in love.
It has to be intentional, even sitting down once a week, talking about your relationship, and putting together Saturday mornings, where you have coffee together and chit-chat. Maybe there’s an issue, goals or we talk about what’s going on in our week. Those are the things we are missing that we have to get back to nurture that passion and excitement in the relationship.
This makes me think about maybe one of the most uncomfortable elements of marriage, which is infidelity. I imagine this comes up often enough. I don’t know statistically how many marriages involve cheating or unfaithfulness? It’s common enough because it seems like that to me from the outside. How do you navigate that when you are working with somebody that’s facing that issue in their marriage?
It’s more common than I even like to consider. It happens so much. It’s because the relationship hasn’t been nurtured unless you happen to be with a spouse that is always being unfaithful. I believe that a lot of times with the couples I work with if one partner has been unfaithful, there is something unhealthy in the relationship. There’s something that’s not happening in the relationship. There are issues, unresolved issues, lack of intimacy, something is going wrong.
Probably even bump up affairs to the fact that now because of social media, we are having more emotional affairs, which are as damaging because people are getting involved. They are sharing their stuff. They are being closer to someone else on social media than they are even their spouse. We have that dynamic, too. It is the worst betrayal that you can imagine in your relationship because what happens is you begin to feel like there’s something wrong with you. “I’m not enough. They don’t love me, respect me, care about me. I’ve put all my time into this relationship and this is my payback.” It affects your self-esteem and self-worth because it’s such a terrible betrayal.
The cheating partner has got to understand that if they have left an extramarital relationship, they have asked for forgiveness. If they have felt terrible, if they have said everything they know to say to make things right, if they are going to counseling with their spouse, that spouse is not going to be done dealing with that just because the cheating partner may have put that behind them. The cheating partner is going to have an easier time shutting that down and moving on than the partner that has been betrayed because they are curing the brunt of the emotional pain and baggage.There’s nothing wrong with leaving a marriage when you're with someone who's not willing to change to make this work. Click To Tweet
The partner that has been unfaithful has got to have a lot of patients with that spouse that is hurting and be able to say, “I’m sorry, I have hurt you,” as many times as you see is necessary. Some of this is you’ve got to suck it up. You have done a lot of damage. You have placed a lot of crap on your spouse and you’ve got to suck it up and affirm them as many times as it takes.
What I find is it takes years to move past an affair. It does not happen overnight. The spouse that has been cheated on is going to have trust issues that are not going to go away overnight. They are going to want to look through the phone and emails. They are going to want to know if you say you are working late, are you working late? Especially if an affair has happened at the office or outside of it.
There’s going to be a need for the unfaithful spouse to give their spouse greater access to their lives and maybe they have before. I know a lot of people are like, “That’s crossing my boundaries. I’m not going to do that.” You have broken trust and if you are wanting to build that trust back up, be an open book. You owe that to that partner.
For the partner that has been cheated on, I would say, “Don’t hold it over their head forever. They have done what they have done. You are going to continue to have periods of grief, which involve anger, denial and pain. You are going to go through all of those things and it’s going to be cyclic. Give yourself some grace. Don’t expect yourself to heal from it overnight. Also, don’t keep beating your spouse over the head with it and expecting them to pay for it for the rest of your marriage.” That’s why I always think you have got to get outside mediation for this thing. I don’t know any couple that has been able to heal from infidelity without getting outside help. It’s impossible. It’s too emotionally charged.
This brings up a question, Deanna, about the nature of the containers of our relationships. I have certainly seen a lot more friends, acquaintances, and discussions in culture about, are we, as human beings, biologically wired for monogamy or is it a social convention that has been imprinted upon us and we just see that as, “That’s what we do.” Do you see the rise of a lot of unique structures with open marriages, open relationships, polyamory, and so many different forms of that?
I have different friends, and the nuances, agreements, and communication are unique to that container. I suppose the first question is, do you believe that humans are biologically wired for monogamy, or is it may be a patterning or social imprint? Is it both? Do you work with any clients that are exploring alternative agreements to their relationships? If so, what have you seen with those?
I have not had any couples that are in a different than a monogamous relationship. I can’t speak to that. I do know that there are couples with open marriages. Again, I have not dealt with those but my thoughts on those are I do believe there is a social construct to that. For me, I don’t think I could think outside that box. “Is that a social construct or is that me? Am I that person that says it’s us or it’s nothing? I probably am.” I don’t think that I could do that but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I have family members and they live very alternative marriages. They are very happy. It is working for them and I would never criticize what they are doing because it’s not the norm.
I remember there was a point in my life when I was very narrow-minded and it was because I had been brought up in the Southern Evangelical Church. I thought very differently about what marriage was, what the marriage relationship was, and what the role of a wife and a husband was. It’s crap but I believed some of those messages. Now, it’s to each his own. I will be honest in the Evangelical South where I live. I’m in the Bible belt. If you are doing that, you are probably keeping it quiet unless you are in one of the big cities because it’s the way it is down here.
We don’t have overalls on and go around barefoot drinking Busch Beer all the time but we are a more conservative area. I don’t see that as much as I think, probably in the larger cities you would see. The couple that I was speaking to in my family over there in Washington, is a very progressive place. I don’t live in a progressive place. Maybe that’s why I don’t see more of that happening. To each his own, if that works in your relationship, if an open marriage works for you and your spouse, as long as you are both okay with it, hats off to you.
One question I wanted to get to you, Deanna, that has been in my Rolodex on my brain is how many frameworks and systems of relating to each other are out there? We have things like The 5 Love Languages. We have things like Attachment Styles.
That’s not relationship-related, but Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies.
As Whitney said, “It’s not necessarily exclusive to intimate partnerships.” We have Enneagram, horoscopes, and we have all this stuff of like, “Here’s a framework of understanding yourself as a human being.” Especially the horoscope thing. There’s a meme out there that I see text exchange between a mom and a son. The son is texting his mom. It’s a screenshot that says, “Mom, what was my birth time?” The mom responds, “You stay away from that girl.” We have all of these human relating frameworks.
I’m wondering, Deanna, do you think that they can be beneficial or do you feel humans can get so attached to like, “He’s Cancer and he’s an Enneagram five, so it isn’t going to work.” This helps us understand and relate to ourselves in each other but maybe if we get too attached to it, it can limit our options because that person doesn’t fall under all these categories that are going to work for me.
I don’t think we should attach to one thing. I think there’s a little bit of psychology and understanding. There’s a little bit of knowing about the family of origin, systems, families, and how they affect the relationship. If you want to know horoscopes or Enneagrams, those will help, too. The thing about it is there’s no shortage of understanding people and relationships anymore. To say that, “I don’t understand my spouse. I don’t know how to have a good marriage in this day and time.” It’s like saying, “I can’t see the sky.” It’s everywhere and it’s all around you. There are so many resources. There are a lot of things.Life is too short to stay in a bad marriage. Click To Tweet
When I work with clients, I give them a reading list that they can begin reading and on my podcast as well, I always reference books that would be helpful for couples to read together because I don’t think one author one way is going to work for everybody. Each marriage is unique and different. One may speak to you as a couple and one maybe not. Enneagram may be a little too complicated for you or it’s very involved.
I know that a lot of people are like, “It’s too much information.” I think it’s a great thing as well. It’s a mix of a lot of things and I don’t think it has to be about relationships. The self-help industry is huge but also understanding ourselves as individuals. Getting to work through our own issues are some of the things that are important to know and begin to work on as a partner, not about the relationship but working on yourself and finding out, “Who am I? This is my Enneagram. Now, it makes sense I am the way I am.”
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all. Here’s what happens, though couples believe that if you are married, it’s going to suck, hard, and going to be that way. Married life is hard. Just stay single, don’t get married, so people buy into it. They think marriage being like this is that’s married life and they let it go instead of going, “We could have a better marriage now than we did in the beginning. There’s an idea. Let’s look for the solutions. Let’s find some good books on this and read them together.” That’s the solution. Find what works for you.
A deep spirit and willingness to experiment is what I’m taking away from you, Deanna. The unique pieces of the puzzle are going to vary so much from couple to couple, person to person, and having a spirit of curiosity and experimentation is what I’m certainly taking away from this. As we get close to the finish line with you, Deanna, I wanted to know a few of those book recommendations. We always love to give the things that you find most beneficial. Are there any authors, teachers or specific books that you say, “This has impacted my life and I want to share it with the readers now?”
I tell you one author that is good. It’s John Gottman. He started years ago, I believe in the ‘70s, researching what makes a marriage work. He did intensive physiological studies on how couples were emotionally dealing with their heart rate during conflict or conversations. He did all this research for years. He has a book called What Makes Love Last, which is a good one and The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work. Those are two good books. In fact, anything he has written is good.
I study at their school on Relationships and Helping Couples. I found his books and research. It’s backed. It’s not somebody whose opinion it’s backed by his research, which is helpful and it gets very practical tips for couples. I suggest The 5 Love Languages. I think that’s great. You don’t have to get the Enneagram book and know the insides and out but doing a surface perusal of your personality types is good.
On that note, for you, dear reader, we want to guide you to Deanna’s wonderful podcast. It’s Revive Your Midlife Marriage Podcast, speaking of resources. You have so many wonderful episodes on your website, which is also ReviveYourMidlifeMarriage.com. I’m looking at your podcast post and your resources. There’s certainly a deep wealth of soulful information.
Deanna, you have shared so many wonderful perspectives here and you bring so much heart and soul to feel your heart and your work, which I think is so important when we are talking about mending and healing intimate relationships. Check that out, dear readers, if you felt her presence and her spirit here and you want to work with her or if you are going through a challenging time in your relationship. It has been an absolute pleasure, Deanna, having you. You immediately make me feel comfortable. I’m sure Whitney feels the same way. You have a certain presence that is comforting and warm. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom with us.
Thank you so much for having me. It has been truly a pleasure.
- Revive Your Midlife Marriage
- The 5 Love Languages
- Attachment Styles
- The Four Tendencies
- What Makes Love Last
- The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work
- Revive Your Midlife Marriage Podcast
- You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For: Bringing Courageous Love to Intimate Relationships
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
- The High Conflict Couples
- Silent Agreements
- I Hear You
- How Can I Get Through to You
- The Dance of Anger
- Making Marriage Simple
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- If you really knew me, would you still like me?
- Questions for Couples Journal: 400 Questions to Enjoy, Reflect, and Connect With Your Partner
About Deanna Bryant
Deanna Bryant is the host of Revive Your Midlife Marriage Podcast and Relationship Coach for midlife couples. Having been married 25 years, she understands the difficulties couples face in a long-term marriage. She and her husband faced serious challenges in their 20th year of marriage and came to a crossroads. Like most couples, they didn’t have healthy relationship skills and were floundering around trying to make the good marriage that they hoped for.
After this experience, Deanna retired from a career as an English teacher, went back to school, and became a coach. When considering what her niche would be and who she would serve, she found her passion for midlife couples. She launched her business and podcast as a result. Link to website, social media, and podcast can be found at linktr.ee/DeannaBryant.