How you interact with your spouse will determine the felt quality of your relationship. That is, how you go about achieving the things you both want in life is more important to the felt quality of your relationship than having the specific things you want.
Marital Interaction is about the process going on interpersonally between you and your spouse as you talk about the everyday events, happenings, and activities in your life together. For example, a wife approaches her husband to ask him to go to the movies with her one evening. Interaction or process refers to how she approaches him (insecurely, demandingly, asserting a preference, etc.) and how he responds to the request (dismissively, with hostility, saying he prefers another night, etc.).
Here is the “short version” of how to achieve a good marital interaction or process:
- You will bring all your “insecurities” into your marriage.
- Your “insecurities” show up as defensiveness and overreactions to each other.
- It is up to each of you to know and manage these insecurities through self-awareness and self-reflection.
- Marriage will be affected by “doing gender”, i.e. carrying out socially prescribed roles of husband and wife because they are associated with feeling “masculine” and “feminine”.
- How you manage these gender prescriptions will significantly affect whether or not and how you accomplish the “things” in life that you want.
- Successful marital interaction between self-aware, self-reflective people is based on negotiating collaborative the ins and outs of the relationship.
- Negotiating collaborative in marriage is an art that can be learned.
The “long version” of my views is described in the posts in this blog, “a millennial marriage”. I focus on the interpersonal interactions, which are the day-to-day encounters between you and your spouse. I look at these interactions from both the perspective of you and your spouse as individuals and from the perspective of you as a pair.
Individually you both have to be aware of your own personal motives when you are interacting with each other. This will require some effort on both your parts. In addition, you will have to pay attention to how old ideas about gender can shape your interactions, often without your being aware of this influence.
My approach to marital interaction in marriage is different from what I often see in blogs offering marital advice. Here are a few of my thoughts about these approaches.
- Too often they are based the idea that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women (e.g. men are from Mars, women are from Venus).
- This is too general an approach, we are each individuals, not categories of people.
- This approach often assumes that we each have biologically-based “needs” which your partner must provide (e.g. men “need” sex).
- You can’t negotiate needs, you can only bargain over them, i.e. do a “tit for tat”.
- These ideas keep the status quo.
- Marital advice that is religiously based often relies on establishing the husband as the head of the household and leader, to whom his wife must defer.
- Marital interaction is primarily seen as a quid-pro-quo, i.e., you provide what I “need” and I will in turn give you what you “need.” Historically in marital therapy that has come down to exchanging sex (male biological need) for conversation (female biological need for connection)
What all these approaches try to do is “prescribe” how you two should interact with each other according to some theorized principle.
The basic principles of my approach that are described in this blog are:
- You wish to be together because of a strong felt love and affiliation toward each other.
- You are both individual people with your own views on how to flourish in life.
- You can learn to negotiate (rather than have prescribed) the activities, events, wishes, wants, etc. in your relationship in a collaborative manner.
- It takes willingness to be self-aware and self-reflective to learn how to do this.
- You will want to examine your old ideas about gender roles in marriage.