To many inexperienced couples, the essence of marriage is togetherness. California therapists Charlie and Linda Bloom, husband-and-wife co-authors of Secrets of Great Marriages, see countless clients who have bought into the romantic myth that love should save them from experiencing loneliness and pain. When a partner has an interest the other doesn’t share, they may fear losing the relationship. Disappointment sets in, ebbing only when—or if—the nervous partner begins to feel more self-assured. Happy couples, write the Blooms, “find meaning and purpose in their individual lives through activities, interests and commitments they are passionate about.”
Like every couple, the Blooms had to learn to fulfill their individual needs without giving their marriage short shrift—which is never easy. Linda loves dancing; Charlie doesn’t. He’s into tennis; she can take it or leave it. Different temperaments compounded the challenge. “I’m all about sharing; Charlie’s very self-contained,” explains Linda. “I took it as a rejection. The more I clamored after him, the more he’d pull away.” Then Charlie took a job that kept him on the road three weeks out of four. Linda’s confidence grew as she made big decisions on her own and observed Charlie’s pleasure in coming home. “The more easily I could let go, the less he needed to go,” she says.
I can identify. When my husband and I first moved in together at age 20, I seethed every time he got together with a buddy I disliked. I thought that if he really loved me, he would drop his friend. Over time, I realized that my husband’s loyalty is one of his defining strengths. So is fairness—he encouraged me to nurture my own friendships, whether or not he chose to share them. Throughout our son’s childhood, we had an understanding that he would hold the fort whenever I had a dinner date with pals. With busy jobs and a mortgage, my husband and I could not afford to take more ambitious breaks from our domestic routine. Yet those bistro escapes proved surprisingly powerful. They connected me with parts of myself—the prankster, the fashion maven, the expert on other people’s love lives—that got lost while I tended my to-do list. No wonder I always came home refreshed—and glad to find my husband waiting for me.
How to bridge the gap between your passions and his
• Don’t push your spouse to share your pleasures.
A new friend of mine has a homebody spouse who would rather read a book than join her at a party—including one of my birthday bashes. She didn’t want to bring a reluctant guest, nor was I eager to host one. I felt honored when she and the mystery man invited me to lunch so we could get to know each other in a quiet setting. Watching the two of them complete each other’s anecdotes, I knew they had made the perfect match.
• Focus on the quality of your time together, not the number of hours.
While interviewing the 27 loving couples who appeared in their book, the Blooms were struck by the emotional attunement that bound each pair. When one spoke, the other listened with unwavering attention—no watching TV or fiddling with a BlackBerry. They’d often make appreciative comments like “See why I love her so?” Each had mastered the art of making the other feel valued.
• Don’t suffer in silence when a hobby starts upstaging your relationship.
“If you feel you’ve become a golf widow, it’s important to let your partner know,” says Linda Bloom. “But be aware that this could trigger a defensive response.” Tell him what you’re feeling, not what he’s doing wrong. For instance: “I’m not feeling as connected to you as I’d like to be,” not “You aren’t paying attention.”
• Practice enlightened self-interest.
Charlie Bloom would just as soon avoid going out dancing, but he knew Linda would be thrilled if he could join her on the dance floor. So he enrolled them both in lessons. Great marriages thrive on acts of generosity like that.
• Discover the plus side of being on your own.
While he’s on a fishing trip with the guys, you can eat salad and forget about cooking. You can play your favorite music as loud as you like. The remote’s all yours. Better yet, he’ll come home recharged—and more fun to be around.
January/February 2012 issue of Best Health magazine