Q: [Japan] My husband gambled all our savings playing in Pachinko parlors after his retirement from teaching. He drinks and doesn’t listen to me.
A: Look for the underlying issues, his lack of life purpose after retiring, his need for approval he didn’t get from his mother. Praise him when he does the right thing. Put your money in your own name and focus on changing your reactions rather than changing his behavior. Since you want to travel, I would fulfill your dream of leaving the country to help him break his gambling habit.
I realize divorce is rare in Japan, but it is a legal option if your home life is miserable and he jeopardizes your financial security. Life is too short to spend it in unnecessary suffering.
Q: My husband isn’t interested in spirituality and alternative health and my interest in them is growing. It feels like we’re growing apart rather than together.
A: Actions speak louder than words. Someone can say they’re spiritual and be hypocritical and someone can say they’re not spiritual and act in admirable ways. No one person is going to satisfy all our needs. Couples I’ve interviewed for 50/50 Marriage and 50/50 Parenting say the most important factors are being best friends, having similar values and goals, as well as being attracted to each other. Use effective communication, as he may not understand how important your interests are to you. Perhaps you could agree on what to read, learn and discuss together a little each week so he won’t feel overwhelmed. Remember to use “I feel ___ messages” rather than “You’re wrong” messages as you explain your feelings to him. Ask for a specific solution to negotiate with him for a win-win solution. Marriage was instituted when people died after raising children–usually before age 50; it may be that some of us need serial relationships
as we grow and develop, although I admire couples who keep their relationship alive over decades, in sickness and in health.
Q: We’re definitely at the seven-year itch in our marriage. Any suggestions for how to make it as a couple?
A:University of Washington researcher John Gottman developed a 95% accuracy rate in predicting whether a couple will stay together, after only an hour interview. Couples with at least a ratio of 5 to 1 positive supportive comments such as “uh huh” and “you’re right,” are likely to stay together. Contempt–feeling superior, is the single most significant sign of disaster, followed by defensiveness, criticism, and stonewalling. These negative interactions are also associated with frequency of colds. Gottman didn’t find a gender difference in who was likely to express contempt, but women are more likely to be critical and men to stonewall. If you want to stay together, focus on the positive and having fun together. For a helpful bibliography see www.stayhitched.com/books.htm. I’d add my 13 50/50 Marriage.
Q: My wife and I are fighting, I’m not sure we can make it as a couple.
A: When I’m coaching a couple, I ask them to write down the qualities that originally attracted them to each other and to list patterns in their previous relationships, including their own parents.
We repeat the familiar until we figure out a happier way to be in relationship. Pair bonding is based on the shared memories of good times, so make sure you have a weekly date to do something enjoyable as a couple. Also on a weekly basis, set aside time to listen to each other. The listener uses “active listening,” by letting the speaker know she or he understands. Don’t interrupt with your reactions or defend yourself, just reflect back what your partner is saying. It’s very affirming to feel understood even if you don’t agree. It’s important to fight fair: ask for a specific solution, listen and make eye contact, avoid blaming, sarcasm, ridicule, and bringing up other problems. Stick to one issue at a time. Get help if you’re stuck. When we get in a downward spiral of not feeling nurtured, it usually takes a neutral third person to interrupt the vicious cycle.
Q: My wife often saves up her bad feelings from her workday and dumps them on me when she comes home. She says she’s too busy during the day to vent. I’m tired of it.
A: Put a limit on complaining by setting aside 10 minutes or so when you will listen with 100% concentration and empathy. Don’t offer solutions, just pay careful attention and do “active listening” to let her know you understand. When the dumping time is over, don’t listen any more.
If she persists, take a shower, go for a walk, or call a friend to illustrate the limit was reached and now it’s time for an enjoyable evening together. Make sure you have at least one fun romantic outing a week where you go out and do something fun for both of you. Romance needs to be cultivated just like a garden needs to be tended or a car needs servicing.
Remember, bonding is based on the shared happy memories and trust-building communication, while it’s eroded by stress, such as being dumped on.
Q: [Japan] My husband spends our money on buying art and is critical of my religious practices.
A: I imagine your father was controlling too. Remind yourself frequently, “My husband is not my father. We’re both adults with the right to our own beliefs.” You don’t need to discuss your beliefs with him if he’s negative about them. Can you encourage him to find another outlet for his expensive interest in art acquisitions, such as taking an art class or collecting plants for your garden?
Q: [Japan] My husband won’t eat dinner with my son and I because the house is too messy for him; he usually eats out.
A: I realize it’s common for Japanese men to eat dinner with colleagues. Do you want to eat dinner with him? If so, as a professional you can afford to hire a housecleaner. Also, set aside 15 minutes a day for you and your son to put away your things.
Q: Our sex life has lost pizzazz since we’ve had children. Any suggestions?
A: Parents I interviewed for 50/50 Marriage and 50/50 Parenting reported that to spark romance they must leave their home; some of them go to a motel in their hometown if they don’t have time or money for a more distant weekend away. Some swap kids with another family for a 14 weekend to free up time. Scheduling a regular date night away from home helps build romance, although some couples try to do dinner and conversation at home after the kids are in bed.
Another couple renewed their spark by creating fantasy scenarios such as he’s a virginal exchange student in a foreign country; one night the daughter comes into his room to seduce him . . .. When President Coolidge’s wife asked him why they didn’t have sex as often as their chickens, he replied that the rooster had new partners to excite him. You can act out different partners for your spouse. Together you can write the script for an erotic video to learn about your partner’s fantasies.
Q: I’ve been faking orgasms for the last three years with my partner and don’t know how to tell him or to improve our sex life.
A: You might want to say something like, “I’ve wanted to please you so I haven’t let you know that I don’t have orgasms when we make love. I’d like to experiment with new ways to enhance our lovemaking for both of us.” Sex therapists William Masters and Virginia Johnson suggested that couples remaking their sex life stop having intercourse for a while and experiment with “sensate focus” where you touch each other to find out what feels good, avoid erogenous zones and focus on sensations instead of mentally judging your performance.
Most women need direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm and it should be lubricated when rubbed. Some couples do this in a modification of the missionary position called “coital alignment technique” (use this term to search the Internet for specifics). Our main sexual organ is the brain, so use it to teach each other about what pleases you and resolve unspoken resentments.
Anger gets in the way of sexual pleasure, which explains why men who do their share of family work enjoy more frequent sex with their wives. Both of you list on index cards one idea for enhancing romance or pleasure for you and draw one when you make time for each other.
Read books with new ideas for romance and sexual expression and schedule regular dates because sex occurs in the context of your romantic feelings for each other.