Can You Negotiate to Happiness in Marriage?

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At a time when everything around us is changing rapidly, the long term relationship between a man and a woman in marriage has struck a major number of rocky roads.  I am one, who, after nearly 43 years of marriage, chose to walk away.  Some of my story is already documented here.

The freedom I experienced as I walked out for the last time was all worth it, but it didn’t prepare me for the responses from friends and family.  They were mixed to say the least.  My parents, in their 90’s are not aware of what has happened – at least I have not told them.  They live hundreds of kms away and have their own ageing issues to deal with.  My sister though, who would not respect my wishes and would like our parents to know that hers was not the only marriage to crumble. 

Some friends who know both my husband and I start with “I’m sorry to hear that.”  Some try and suggest ways that the marriage can be saved.  Women friends though are the most amazing.  There are some of course, happy in their own relationship who express disappointment at my chosen action, but most, congratulate me.  I have learned that so many of my women friends, mainly older (50 years plus) tell of their own stories, of long term unhappiness, their wish to honour their promise (until death do us part) despite the distress they have been in.

Of my two children, I have had mixed response.  They are torn between loyalty to their father (who seems to ask for it) and me, who just wants to live in peace, and do not wish any animosities between their father and I to impinge on their lives.  I go to family events and play happy Mum and Dad, which of course confuses them.  They reason that if I can do that for family events why cannot I do it long term.  After all, we’ve been married for so long.

I understand their reactions, but I’ve chosen to be free. 

In part my wish to ‘go it alone’ is simply that I could not negotiate with my husband anything that would offer me a reasonable chance of happiness with him.  I’ve often joked that a marriage licence should be renewed after negotiation and review, in much the same way as a drivers licence is renewed.  There should be a compulsory sit down and review opportunity. 

I remember years ago working with a young man, who had an interesting theory, which I remember was something like “What I really feel like saying.” It is something we did each Friday afternoon.  Each one of us had the opportunity to express our pleasure or displeasure in the way that we had worked together that week.  One had to listen, and not comment.  No excuses.  What he or I felt like saying was said.  It gave us the weekend to mull over the issue, change, or discuss it further the following week.  It was incredibly powerful.  I tried to get my husband to do it but he didn’t see the point.  Like the way he didn’t see the point in going to marriage guidance with me, as HIS marriage was OK.  I could never comprehend his thinking on this.

He was one who saw his role as the dominant partner.  What he wanted was the rule, though I must confess I did have some amazing ‘wins’ over the years.

I could never get him to control his drinking (he was an alcoholic), or his eating (he was morbidly obese and eventually a diabetic), or his pill taking (I still don’t know what for), or his addiction to television.  Our financial affairs were always in chaos (I dreaded answering the phone to someone who asked for him using his full name, not the one we knew him by), and I’ve more than once had the indignity of some of our property repossessed. 
We lived on the edge eventually.  Profits from an investment house were spent by him – no negotiation.  He was the boss.

In any event, as many other women  experience, he was the boss at work, and expected to continue this role at home.  When his working days were over (retrenched, made redundant or sacked – I’ll never know) I was his staff.  He spoke to me in a manner that was purely dictatorial.  He decided we only needed one car, so dispensed with one – I then had to beg/negotiate to use “our” car – which was seldom available, or use taxis.  I often used the latter.

After he had his knees replaced and open heart surgery, I retreated to the spare room.  It was impossible to sleep with a huge man, lying on his back, snoring so loudly that the house seemed to shake.  As well I had always been a light sleeper and I was an early riser.  Still the spare room was hard.  The bed was too small, the wardrobe was too small, and I was cramped like I had been pushed into a closet.

I did get him to marriage guidance – where he disputed any of the issues I felt needed to be aired.  He was not an alocholic (medical evidence is available to refuse this), and he’s never had financial problem (again evidence is around) etc etc.  In any case, he promised to do five things – including, stop drinking, reduce his TV time, get financial advice, manage money better, and treat me with respect.  I don’t recall him every trying any of these things, and when I reminded him of this some months later, he laughed and said I was making it up.  I know I wasn’t.

Then the opportunity came to leave.  So, I wrote to him, explaining that I would never come back, and that I required a settlement of what, if anything, was left in our financial basket.  He’s refused to do anything about this.  His debts increase and I know that I am on my own. 

Again I return to my issue on negotiation.  Is it just men?  I’ve had a number of others confide, or discuss with me the same issue.  Especially for those senior men in business/employment who refuse to negotiate on anything.  They make the decisions.  Or they listen to the woman’s story and then do what they wanted to do in the first place.  I suspect getting a man to negotiate with his wife after all these years feeling that they were ‘in control’ is hard.

The number of women who have moved out, sometimes just to their own room, or area with in the house (they think it is too difficult to end the marriage), but feel trapped and very unhappy.

I have one friend who has her own ‘apartment’ within their house.  They share kitchen and loungeroom, but have own bedroom and bathroom.  I’m actually surprised how many couples have chosen this.To the outside world it looks like they are a happy couple. They eat together, but if one chooses to watch TV he/she can do it without disturbing the other.  If one wants peace e.g. to read, they have their own space.  I can tell you – the man is a TV addict, and his wife loathes it.  They have negotiated some sort of peace – and as $$$$’s are plentiful in their house they’ve been able to do this.

Negotiate?  Well, I contend that if a married couple were able to develop a negotiating regime, where they frequently, perhaps on ‘neutral’ ground somewhere (cafe or  picnic ground) where they learned to speak their concerns without inducing argument, but where each partner was able to listen to the concerns of the other and not argue, but negotiate some middle ground, that there would be less marriage breakups.

I read yesterday, advice from a marriage counsellor, to a woman who after 20 years of marriage was unhappy,which disturbed me.  The MC advised that she seek another partner for sex, and do it discreetly not to upset the husband or family, but good sex might make her feel happy.  I find that laughable. Strange advice, I think, from a marriage counsellor.  Dangerous grounds for all I suspect.

Most of the women who have confided in me that sex is not an issue, and many have not had ‘any’ for years – it is the intimacy and caring that is important.  Women don’t seek sex as much as men would like to think.  Women would probably be more interested in bedroom activities if they felt respected, consulted and not dominated by the man who promised to ‘love and honour’ – something that they seem to forget.

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