But what is a good-enough marriage? Or, as Tina Tessina, PhD, author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After 40 (Renaissance), would have me ask: "Can I make my marriage good enough?" After interviewing several experts*, I've uncovered ten questions you can ask yourself to help clarify whether or not your relationship, albeit imperfect, is worth a good go:
1. Are you exaggerating the negatives? For the next two months mark the good and bad days on your calendar to get a reality check.
2. Have you already left the marriage by emotionally withdrawing? Or by giving up all attempts to make the relationship better? If so, can you find a way to reengage?
3. Do you get so angry that you hit each other or throw things at least once a month? If the answer is yes, are you hanging on to a terrible relationship because you're afraid of being alone? Or because you're convinced it's the best you can do?
4. If you're frustrated because your husband won't change (you'd like him to be more forceful or manly, for example), is it really necessary that he does? Is there anything in your family history that may be driving your need to transform him? (Your father never stood up for you when you needed him.)
5. Have you been teaching your husband the wrong lessons by not challenging his hurtful behavior? (You don't say anything when he criticizes you in public. He never washes the dishes, so you just do them, resentfully.)
6. Do you have fun together? Even when things are tough, do you make jokes about it? (A good sign.) If not, can you make time in your marriage for more play?
7. Are there conflicts that you've avoided in the relationship? What do you fear would happen if you confronted them?
8. Do you simply need more time alone? A weekend on your own every so often to make the heart grow fonder?
9. Has something occurred—a death, a big birthday, a job loss—that's throwing off your relationship and needs to be addressed?
10. Have you done everything you possibly can to make this marriage work? Are you certain he has heard your complaints? Have you tried a marriage-education class or couples therapy? If he won't go to counseling, have you gone yourself to see how you might save the relationship?
While pondering these questions, I remembered—from somewhere deep—many of the delightful aspects of my marriage. (Did I mention that he surprises me with candlelit lavender baths and singing Chanukah mugs?) And we do talk and make up well. For me the most clarity has come from thinking of marriage not as a noun, or a state of being, but as a verb, as in what "I do" (you say those two words for a reason), and therefore something I can do better. So rather than hang my marriage on the clearance rack, as I fear I've done, I vow to try to understand—even appreciate—his faults, er, growth opportunities. You know, I always wanted a red apartment, and just think: pizza-proof.
*Mira Kirshenbaum, Judith Sherven, Olga Silverstein, and James Sniechowski also helped develop these questions.
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