Marriages are made, not in heaven, but by wonderfully fallible human beings who hope for the best, but who often do precious little to make this most challenging and complicated relationship work. From the very first couple and their differing view point over the apple to modern times, men and women have always disagreed. Both sexes are born with inherently different personality traits. Although mankind knows they will never see eye to eye with the opposite; they still are attracted to them, perhaps for that very reason. Unfortunately it also means there will be unavoidable conflict in the union of a woman and man. Woman's inherent sexuality and the widely dissimilar sexuality of her mate is one of the primary conflicts in marriage. They will also find diversity in their views on sex, communication, emotional expression, nearly every aspect in their lives.
Sex has made marriages and broken them. Great relationships do not always translate into wonderful sex! Many couples love each other deeply, but still don't have a fulfilling sexual relationship. Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) wrote in The New Spirit, "The omnipresent process of sex, as it is woven into the whole texture of our man's or woman's body, is the pattern of all the process of life". This leads me to believe our sexuality is the core to ourselves. Unfortunately there are so many variants between men and women emotionally that unavoidable conflicts will surface in the bedroom. Adam and Eve are the only union who ever had the freedom of entering marriage and lovemaking with no preconceived ideas no hang-ups, and no inhibitions. Men and women each possess different outlooks toward the act of sex. Most women need an emotional connection prior to experiencing a truly satisfying sexual encounter. Whereas men tend to avoid deeply emotional bonding. Men can be happy with superficial love, not that all men stop there. Women also feel affection is the essential cement of her relationship with a man. She marries a man that cares about her, and she wants him to express his care often. Without it she usually feels alienated from him. With it she will become emotionally bonded to him. Learning the sexual outlook of each other's partner will increase the ability to deal with the sexual conflicts that materialize.
Fear of failure and rejection and the belief that something is wrong infiltrates many sexual experiences. Case studies show that most couples who complain of sexual problems in their marriages are really experiencing a deeper problem. Letting go of assumptions, most of which come from books, movies, and fantasies, and sharing desires and fears with their mate, their individual sexuality can and will become more fully and freely expressed.
Communicating feelings and desires is the key to sexual contentment. Conversation in the state of intimacy should be respectful and non-judgmental. Partners, who share mistakes and failures, will see a closer bond of friendship and trust result. Not only can they learn to be closer through the success of their mate, but also in recognizing the vulnerable humanity from their failures. Couples can learn to express the deep love for each other and gratitude for the mutual care of one another. By lowering their defenses and forming a close emotional bond by communicating, they'll feel greater pleasure when meeting each others needs. This is the way marriage was meant to be.
Just as men find sex enjoyable in it's own right, most women enjoy conversation simply because they like to converse. While most men have a need for communication, this need is usually greater in women. This difference is often a source of great frustration. Marriage counselors report that nearly one half of all the couples they see have serious problems communicating. Communication is extremely important in all areas of life, but in the intimate state of marriage it is vital. Therapists agree that although most couples have a sincere wish to actively discuss their sexual tensions they are unable to communicate successfully. This could be caused by their lack of communication skills. The average person may attend one formal class on effective communication in their lifetime. With the help of a disinterested party or working together, a husband and wife may initiate discussion of sexual problems. Several roadblocks to keeping the channel of communication open may be a mutual on singular unwillingness to compromise in resolving conflict, or inability to share personnel thoughts. Some individuals may honestly be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss sex. Normally such behaviors stem from prudish upbringing. Other's may be afraid frank discussion would hurt their mate's feelings or pride. The greatest roadblock, in my opinion, is the couple who refuse to admit there is a problem. This practice of repressing emotions will only come back to haunt the couple elsewhere in their relationship. There is nothing wrong with conflicts, provided they are used constructively to improve communication and strengthen relationships. Communication especially during intimate relations is essential to avoid conflict.
By the time people reach adulthood, they have developed clear pictures of what it means to be a man or a woman as defined by their society, and these images have important effects on their sex behavior. Our culture's definition insists that passivity and dependency are the core to femininity while aggressiveness and independence are the central features of masculinity. Society contends that mankind must comply to these rigid standards, or they be looked upon as outcasts. In fact, society almost forces men to be the stronger partner, the provider. I believe the reason a man cannot comfortably express inner feelings is it makes them vulnerable to their mate, becoming weak in her eyes. She of course wants nothing more than to share all her most inner thoughts and dreams, rarely experiencing that feeling of nakedness upon baring her soul. Perhaps another reason men find it harder to display physical acts of emotion stems from societies disapproval of soft men. It is accepted and seemingly encouraged for a woman to openly display emotion. From childhood little boys were programmed to "stop crying like a girl" whereas little girls were coddled if they were hurting. These two varying psychological profiles set a pattern from childhood how men and women display emotion. For men and women raised in that way overcoming misunderstanding brought on by incompatibility of feelings is hard, but not unachievable. Realizing men and women are emotional opposites is half the battle. Emotions are the matrix of a persons experiences and expectations. They cannot always be matched, but they can be looked at calmly and tenderly for clues that will help an individual better love and understand their partner for life.
A marriage which is supposed to be for life, is filled with endless conflict. Marriage thrives in an atmosphere of perfect honesty and openness. Mankind gets along by sharing feelings, fighting with one another, and then by forgiving one another. Failure to meet these requirements will cause a breakdown in the core marital relationship. If a couple does not share feelings they will never get to the heart of their problem. This is the step where good communication skills come into play. Some spouses who claim they never fight, are probably not sharing their true feelings. In most cases a fight will result especially if both partners feel differently about the issue. Luckily fighting can also lead to forgiveness, which can make a marriage well again. Forgiveness can be extraordinarily difficult, but it is not impossible, and it is crucial to a relationship. An African proverb states, "He who forgives ends the quarrel." If partners can forgive they must forget as well. To forget is imperative to maintain trust in the relationship. Only by working together, practicing empathy, and a lifetime commitment to overcoming conflict will spouses flourish in their marriage.
Some conflicts, as we have just seen, are inevitable in marriage because no two persons have exactly the same personality, attitudes and values. Our cultural training leaves most of us drastically unprepared to deal well with conflict. Marriage does not have to be a battleground; couples must learn to deal with these differences using patience, wisdom, understanding, and love, and a beautiful relationship will evolve. When I married, my mother told me to give my husband everything he wants, and we will always be happy. That may have worked for her, but I have found mutual cooperation in overcoming marital conflict brings a satisfaction almost chemical in intensity, a kind of cheap high. It comes down to commitment. A genuine marriage is a pledge of faith that we love enough to go into the future, with the confidence that another person is our lifelong devotion. It is also the humble reception of another persons' faith in our being worthy of his or her lifelong devotion. Commitment to each other is "forever and a day" and that is the framework for which a marriage should operate.
Partners In Love: Ingredients for a Deep and Lively Marriage, Alanson B. Houghton, Walker and Company, NY, @1988
Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together, Lillian B. Rubin, Harper Perennial, NY, @1983
Together Forever, Anne Kristin Carroll, Zondervan Publishing House, MI, @1982
Overcoming Marital Conflict