After writing my last post, I could not help but think of ways to address marital isolation and how individuals can become more aware of symptoms of marital isolation within their own marriage. I wanted to elaborate on the significance of understanding your own and your partner’s marital expectations, values, and beliefs. Feeling alone in your marriage, and feeling as though you and your partner on different trajectories is not easy. Transitions are hard and scary but there is nothing bad about change. Yes, it increases anxiety but is it bad, or just different?
After looking into marital isolation, I started thinking about ways to reduce this sense of alienation by increasing a sense of belonging within the marriage. Being open with your partner about what you want and don’t want your marriage to look like is the first step. Having open communication with your partner about your expectations for your social life, family life, date nightlife, etc. before and after the marriage gives both partners a sense of greater understanding of what the new ground rules are. After they said, “I Do.” In some cases, these conversations invite greater change, acceptance, and patience. Checking in on these expectations and values periodically can also reduce anxiety around the common belief: ‘I am not being a good spouse.’
Non-married individuals seek support from all outlets of their lives, often seeking consultation for the same event/feeling from many parties. So why is there a trend to only seek that same sense of support from only one individual once you are married? This isolation could be caused by partners not wanting to “air out the dirty laundry” by admitting to stress, disarray, fear or sadness brought on by this life transition to their family and friends. As Len Catron stated, most people believe marriage to represent a “successful union” and many do not attribute stress, fighting, tension, or doubt as a success. So is it the fear of what the public will say about your marriage if you turn to the public for help? Is it fear of marital conflict that keeps you from being open with your partner? It is a fear that your desire for an outside social support system will disrupt what you and your partner have now?
Why don’t you and your partner sit down and discuss what you hope to gain from the marriage as well as the expectation for external support? Whether you are looking to bridge the gap to the outside world of your relationship or you are aiming to reduce the marital isolation within the marriage, here are a few tips that might help:
• Have open conversations about what may or may not change after marriage so there are few surprises
• Schedule a time to sit down with your spouse and reflect on what has changed since your engagement; reflect how it may be similar or different to what you originally anticipated
• Try not to bottle up your own feelings when marriage is going differently than expected- yes it can be frustrating but your partner can not mind read
• Do not ignore that the transition is happening even if it is stressful
• Be honest with yourself, your partner, and with the marriage
• Be patient with yourself, your partner, and the marriage
• Ask for help from others when you need it; your family and friends are there for you
I want to normalize this stressful transition from single life to married life; when you are single, no one is fighting about who is going to take the trash out or spending money on nightlife instead of saving for a mortgage. This transition is draining, completely new, and not the allure of lovey-dovey married life that is often anticipated. Of course, it is exciting, new, and fun, but it can be both that and exhausting, unexpected and scary. Be patient, be open to communication, and be honest with yourself and your spouse. Every marriage is different so what works for your best friend may work for you but chances are, you and your new spouse need to find what is right for you.