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> Fool for Love or a Doomat?

> Love and Trust in a Relationship
> Depressed Husband, Mom, Child? When Someone You Love is Depressed
> Christian with Cold Feet
> Sex Starved Woman
> My husband has a big boob fetish - is breast augmentation an option?
> Musings on Sex - when he wants sex and she wants to connect.
> Regain Intimacy in Betsy's Intimacy Challenge
> What to do when your Husband gives you a Terrible Anniversary Gift?

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> What to do when your mother is not respecting your parenting choices.
> My son is terrified of his teacher - what to do when your child is scared of his new teacher.

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Christian with Cold Feet

by Betsy Sansby

Dear Betsy,

My wedding is in a few weeks, but I’m starting to have second thoughts. Because of my religious beliefs (I don’t believe in divorce) I need to be sure! So here’s my question: How do you know for sure if your partner's right for you?

Faithfully yours, 
Christian with Cold Feet

Dear Cold Feet,

You don't. You make a decision based on what you know today and then you leap off that cliff together. If you're smart, you work hard on your relationship so you don't drift apart, and you promise not to have kids together until you're both convinced you actually did make the right choice. Then you keep working on your relationship so that the bond between you grows stronger and stronger. 

This bond becomes your insurance policy, the well you draw from in times of need.  Believe me, no matter how lucky or how healthy you feel today, at some point, illness, grief, disappointment, despair will find you.  It’s simply part of the journey we all share.  If you’re lucky--and you’ve both done your work--when hardship strikes home, you’ll have each other to turn to.

If you’ve already got kids, the best thing you can do is try to make your relationship “the right one” so that your kids grow up feeling safe at home with role models who exemplify the values you hold dear: mutual respect, kindness, compassion, decency, tolerance, acceptance, gratitude, honesty, fidelity, courage, unconditional love.  As my mentor once said, “Parents always say that what they really want is for their kids to turn out right.  The truth is, kids usually turn out just like their parents—for better or for worse.”

If you want your kids to choose partners who will treasure them, let them see you and your partner treasuring each other.  As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see.”  Research has shown that it doesn’t matter if parents are strict or lenient, rich or poor, liberal or conservative.  The kids who turn out to be healthy adults—capable of having healthy, loving relationships with others—are the kids who learned how to have a healthy relationship by watching their parents.  Kids whose parents treat each other with interest, respect, kindness, and care, are likely to choose partners who will do the same.

Now a word about fighting.  Believe it or not, researchers have found that fighting isn't necessarily bad for relationships.  In fact, many successful couples report that they bicker and fight a lot.  What causes the majority of marriages to fail is something I call “drifting.”  Drifting is the gradual loss of interest in each other that results from too many conversations that never went anywhere because one or both people got tired of talking to someone who didn’t care, wasn't listening, or couldn’t let go of being right all the time.  In fact, a study done in Minnesota on 21,000 couples found that most divorces in that group were initiated by women whose husbands were shocked to hear that their wives weren’t happy with them.  They said that in the months before their wives announced they wanted a divorce, they actually thought things were getting better.  Why? Because their wives had “stopped nagging” at them.  It turns out that their wives had stopped nagging at them because they had given up on the relationship.

And what about chemistry?  How important is it to be physically attracted to your mate?  If you had asked me this question twenty years ago, I would have said, “Not that important, as long as two people love each other and are committed to making their relationship work.”  But I don’t say that anymore.  I’ve worked with too many women who married the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, only to figure out nine or ten years into a marriage, that as wonderful as their husbands were, they couldn’t imagine spending the rest of their lives with someone who felt “more like a brother than a lover.”  For some people, chemistry really doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue, but when there’s no chemistry at the beginning of the relationship, it can spell trouble later on.

If you're trying to figure out whether or not you’re with the right person, ask yourself these questions. They may help:

  • Does my partner bring out the best in me, or do I feel “less than” or smaller in his/her presence?

  • Is he/she a friend to my excitement, or is he/she threatened by my strengths, interests, and accomplishments?

  • Do we share basic values about childrearing, spending, socializing, family?

  •  Is there chemistry between us?

  • Do we respect and trust each other?

  • Can I live with my partner’s travel/work schedule without feeling resentful/threatened, and vice versa?

  • Is my partner open to talking about things that are bothering him/her, or does he/she shut down or push me away?

  • Is my partner okay “right off the shelf,” or does he/she need to change
    for me to get my relationship needs met?

  • When I look across the table, can I imagine this person being there for me when I am old, our children are gone, and I am no longer as attractive physically or as healthy as I am today?

  • Does my partner make me laugh?

  • Does my partner treat me with respect even when he/she is tired, angry, scared, or hurt?

  • Does my partner’s “off-stage behavior” (how he/she treats waiters, ex-lovers, animals, co-workers, parents) reveal a kind and thoughtful person, or someone who scares me?

  • Does my partner have addictions that I may have been denying or overlooking?

This is not an exhaustive list, but an exploration of these questions should help you decide if the person you're with now is someone you can count on to be there for you in the future.

Good luck!

Betsy Sansby, MS, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

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