Pretending to have the perfect marriage is exhausting. I know this because lots of us do it every day.
My own marriage is a bit like a swan. Above the water, there's an elegant creature effortlessly gliding through. But underneath, what you can't see is the furious, constant paddling of its tired little feet.
Like every couple, my husband and I have our problems. I find admitting you're going through a challenging period to be hard, though.
Even the closest people to you don't know how to assist you. It's very tough to give somebody (who is not in your relationship) full context, and it's even harder to get unbiased advice. Everybody has their opinion on how a marriage "should" be and people unfairly, and often subconsciously, push that on others.
Even as a sex and relationship columnist, I find myself keeping my marriage issues quiet. When you give advice for a living, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to maintain a certain image. Nobody trusts an overweight, unhealthy doctor, right? It's the same story here. You are expected to have all the answers, and when you don't, people are stumped.
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I don't have all the secrets. Like anybody, I'm just feeling my way through marriage with no guidebook. Our strategy, when going through a rough patch is – to keep with the swan metaphor – to just keep paddling. You push though because getting out isn't an option. When in doubt, we just keep going.
In saying that, over the years I've learned there are several things you cannot just charge through in a marriage. There are some fundamentals where getting out is the only option.
Here's what I do consider to be insurmountable. When enduring marriage troubles, I maintain confidence in "staying" only when they have nothing to do with the following:
Whether emotional or physical, abuse can't be tolerated in a relationship. Abuse will never stop. People don't suddenly snap out of it. If you recognise abuse in your dynamic, you need to get out. There is no future with it.
If your relationship is filled with contempt (from either or both sides), you're already done. Having disregard for someone that should rightfully be considered means your marriage will never work. Once you've given up the ability to care about another person, I don't think it's something you will ever regain.
It seems logical that a couple which keeps secrets is doomed. Marriages need full transparency to function. Hiding aspects of your life from the one you love is deadly.
There's a difference between privacy and secrecy – you don't have to share everything with each other. Understanding and respecting this is key. Secrets lead to shame. Shame leads to hostility, and that only leads to more contempt.
All couples argue, but some partners are unwavering in their combative nature towards their spouse. They challenge for the sake of getting a rise out of the other. They fight because they like to win and maintain control.
When you get to a place where you just can't stop arguing over everything (and you don't know why), it's never anything to do with the little things you're bickering about. There's a fundamental disjoint in the way you treat each other.
Whether it's work or self-image, self-obsession is toxic in a two-person relationship. It means one's spouse will never come first. Narcissism and self-adoration break down a marriage because they are an infallible preoccupation.
This self-obsession causes people to be incredibly lazy with anything that isn't obviously part of their "mission". This messes with one's ability to appreciate another. A spouse unappreciated is another left unvalidated. This causes loneliness on both sides and, ultimately, forces you apart.
It's normal to feel anxious about communicating your feelings, particularly when you're unsure how they will be received. This doesn't mean you shouldn't speak up.
Quite the contrary, actually. If you can't open up without fear, your marriage can't go on. Chronic non-communication causes a rip that is nearly impossible to sew up again at a later date.