Get advice for easing the most common concerns
By Dawn Papandrea
Fretting about your relationship doesn’t end with pre-wedding jitters. It’s quite common-and healthy-to have worries during the marriage, says Jane Greer, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, radio host and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship. “Fears can be useful in heading off future problems. Take them seriously, and make them work for you rather than against you,” she says. Here’s help for overcoming 10 common marriage fears. Photo by Getty Images
“We’ll eventually have nothing in common.”
The honeymoon-phase excitement tends to fade “after around seven years when the partners are dealing with the stresses of young children,” says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a New York-based marriage and family therapist. “That’s when parents stop having sex, stop connecting emotionally and begin to have separate lives,” he says. So double your efforts to feed your marriage during this period. “Propose something old that you can bring back or something new you can explore together,” suggests Dr. Greer. That way, you’ll still have shared interests.
“If I get sick, he won’t be able to hold it together.”
Traditionally, women are the caregivers, so not being able to perform that role is a legitimate fear. Use your concern as an “opportunity to make out living wills, which designate care in case of incapacitation,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things that Can Ruin Your Marriage. Or simply start a conversation on the topic. Dr. Tessina suggests something like: “I see Aunt Fanny needing so much care, and Uncle Fred struggling. I don’t want us ever to be in that position. Let’s talk about what happens if you or I get sick.”“I don’t want to end up like that couple.”
Whether your friends are going through an ugly divorce, or you grew up in a home where fighting was the norm, it’s hard not to wonder how those marriages deteriorated and fear it could happen to you. “Pay attention to the hazards so you can figure out what to do to avoid it,” says Dr. Greer. For instance, if you’re around a couple who belittles each other at a party, open up a discussion with your husband during which you pledge to always respect each other in front of others. “Put up safeguards so you don’t slip into those behaviors,” says Dr. Greer.
“I’ll forget about the person I once was.”
When you become a wife and mother, you assume these new roles and may feel you’ve lost your individuality. “To keep your identity and still be a good partner, seek a balance between things you do for yourself, with your partner and with family,” says Dr. Tessina. Treat “me time” as seriously as you’d treat a doctor’s appointment, says Dr. Tessina. Hire a sitter, if necessary, and make detailed plans, choosing what you’ll wear and bring and where you’ll go in advance. Because if you just think, “I should take some time for myself this week” without plotting it out, you’re not likely to go through with it.
“Sex will get less exciting and frequent.”
The days of having hot, spontaneous sex seem like a distant memory. “That happens at the beginnings of relationships when everything else is in suspended animation. You don’t do the laundry or call your parents,” says Dr. Greer. But once you’re in the relationship, it becomes, “not today, I have to finish this report.” The solution? Schedule sex. It may sound silly to type “sex” into your online calendar, but Dr. Greer says it works, and the anticipation itself can put you in the mood. “We’re always making plans for pleasure (vacations, dinner reservations), so why shouldn’t sex-the most pleasurable of activities-get the same attention?” she says.
“I’ll resent him for the sacrifices I’ve made.”
When life doesn’t happen as you envisioned it’s tempting to fault him for not traveling or leaving behind relatives when you moved for his job. But don’t go there, says Dr. Hokemeyer. “Relationships involve constant negotiation,” he says. “There are trade-offs to be made, battles to be won, lost and surrendered. Blaming a partner for your disappointments will ultimately corrode your relationship.” Instead, put into perspective all the good things you have. Then, says Dr. Greer, “recapture whatever you put on the shelf,” as in, revisit an old interest or pick back up on an unfinished goal.
“I’ll get less attractive with age while he’ll get ‘distinguished,’ leading him to look elsewhere.”
Many women agonize over getting older. That’s because aging gracefully has been lost in our era of surgically altered televised beauty, says Dr. Hokemeyer. To assure your husband sees that you’re beautiful inside and out, start feeling good about yourself, advises Dr. Greer. “If you’re concerned about your appearance, take action. Get a new haircut, get to the gym, do something,” she says. Dr. Tessina agrees, adding that your husband won’t cheat simply because someone prettier is out there. “There’s always someone more attractive, but she’s an unknown quantity. He loves you.”
“Money problems will ruin us.”
Whether you have to get through a job layoff or a lottery win, big financial changes can strain a relationship, says Dr. Tessina. “When your partnership extends to making smooth financial decisions and meeting money goals without arguing, however, everything else you do becomes less stressful,” she adds. If you haven’t done so already, sit down together with pen and paper (or spreadsheet) and create a joint budget, says Dr. Greer. Plus, allocate individual money for each of you to spend or save as you wish.
“I’ll never be first in his life.”
Whether it’s his friends, job, parents or favorite sport, you might feel like you’re sitting on the sidelines. Don’t dismiss that, says Dr. Tessina. “If you feel you’re not getting enough of his time and attention, present that to him as a problem to solve.” Try: “I miss you and would like us to spend more time together.” If he’s caring for an ailing mother or working on a critical project, though, show some patience and understanding, just as you’d expect him to do for you.
“A vice will spiral out of control.”
First off, don’t turn a small problem into a giant one in your imagination, says Dr. Tessina. “If your husband likes a few drinks on occasion, it’s probably not a problem if he doesn’t drive or endanger himself or others. Even a moderate amount of gambling or porn (as long as they aren’t sucking up family funds or interfering with your intimacy) aren’t problematic.” That being said, nothing destroys a marriage faster than an addiction, says Dr. Hokemeyer. Therefore, get on the same page about what’s acceptable, and create a plan to address issues that emerge.