He was attractive 25 years ago now they have nothing in common


October 16, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"George and I have just celebrated our silver wedding anniversary, but our marriage is empty and unhappy," says Marge, 49, in a tight, unhappy voice.

It was different when the children were young. Then, they seemed to agree about everything, Marge recalls. But with both girls grown and living on their own, she and George, 50, who took a salesman's job with a large medical supply company after his own firm went bankrupt, have nothing in common.

Marge fell in love with George's exuberant approach to life, which was so different from her own strict upbringing, in which duty always came before pleasure.

She finds George's attitude toward money grating. "He won't admit it, but we live hand-to-mouth," Marge says. "He works on commission and his earnings are never consistent."

Even more infuriating is that whenever she tries to get her husband to spend a quiet evening talking about what matters most to both of them or about the problems in their marriage, he acts as though she's speaking a foreign language.

Marge doesn't want a divorce, but she doesn't want to continue in a marriage as distant as theirs.

Unfortunately, George has no idea why he's sitting in a counselor's office. "I'm a fun-loving guy who takes life as it comes, just like my father did," he explains.

When they first met, Marge was like a breath of fresh air after his eight years with his shrewish first wife. But now she's all complaints and never wants to play tennis or golf, as she used to, he says. George can't understand why his wife has such a gloomy view of life.

Appreciating differences

"Despite the fact that these two have shared their lives for 25 years, neither has developed a tolerance for the other's individuality," says JoAnn Snyder, a marriage counselor in Dallas. Marge feels George's social behavior is extravagant and his easygoing approach to life irresponsible. George thinks Marge is pessimistic and a party pooper.

Like George and Marge, many couples mistakenly believe that in a good marriage, partners must think and feel exactly the same way. In any close relationship, differences in opinion and in priorities, as well as the way each partner handles anxiety and stress, are bound to develop. Though Marge and George didn't notice these differences during child-rearing, now they appear glaring. Unwittingly, they've triggered a power struggle.

If you and your partner are struggling with issues similar to these, break the stalemate by keeping the following points in mind:

* Acknowledge the part you both play in any problems you may be having. Marge and George both automatically assume the fault lies with their partner.

* State your needs and feelings as specifically as you can, but without being accusatory. Be willing to compromise. If Marge stops playing the martyr and joins George on the tennis court once in a while, she will not only realize how much fun she can have, he will be more open to quiet evenings at home.

* Develop an appreciation for each other's differences and perspective. Stop trying to be right as you jockey for power. Instead, adopt the motto, "I could be wrong."

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