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, published in 2010, see countless clients who have bought into the romantic myth that love should save them from experiencing loneliness and pain. But, this certainly isn’t the case, even for those in successful relationships.
Why You’re Feeling Lonely
It’s common to feel lonely in a relationship when a partner has an interest the other doesn’t share. But this isn’t a bad thing. Happy couples, write the Blooms, “find meaning and purpose in their individual lives through activities, interests and commitments they are passionate about.” (You can also try these ways to beat loneliness.)
The Importance of Having Your Own Life
Like every couple, the Blooms had to learn to fulfill their individual needs. 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 clamoured 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. (Need help getting started? Here’s how to pursue your passion.)
The Value of Spending Time Apart
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 friends. 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. The result? I’d come home feeling refreshed and grateful to find my husband waiting for me. (Psst: Did you know the secret to happiness is having good relationships?)
How to Bridge the Gap Between Your Passions and Their’s
1. Don’t push your spouse to share your pleasures.
A friend of mine has a homebody spouse, and on one occasion, he chose to stay home with a book over joining her at my party. She came alone but asked that the three of us meet for lunch another day. We got to know each other in a quiet setting and I noted that the two of them complete each other’s anecdotes. They may have different interests, but it was clear they had made the perfect match. The reason their relationship ship is successful is they respect each other’s desires and needs.
2. Appreciate each other.
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 an iPhone. They’d often make appreciative comments like “‘See why I love her so?” Each had mastered the art of making the other feel valued.
3. Don’t suffer in silence when feeling lonely.
“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 them what you’re feeling, not what they’re doing wrong. For instance: “I’m not feeling as connected to you as I’d like to be,” not “You aren’t paying attention.” (Also, here’s how to have a healthy fight with your partner.)
4. Practise 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.
5. Discover the plus side of being on your own.
If you’re feeling lonely, think of it as a blessing—use your time to discover a new hobby or do what makes you happy. Give each other time to find happiness separately, and when you reunite, you’ll both feel recharged and be more fun.
Next, learn how to ensure your relationship lasts a lifetime.
This article was originally titled “The secret to a strong marriage” in the January/February 2012 issue of Best Health.