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'Make-or-break issues that nearly derailed our marriage' — Women speak up

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

How three wives saved their troubled relationships when they hit a fork in the road

The true test of a marriage is not when things are easy but when there is a serious clash of values and/or goals.

Marriage really is for better or for worse, but it’s the ‘for worse’ that offers an opportunity to learn essential relationship tools, including how to operate as a team, compromise and stop the blame game. Take these couples, for example:

Trying to have a baby

“Our troubles started when Ted and I tried to get pregnant in 2012, three years into the marriage. Month after month, the stick didn’t turn blue,” recalls 35-year-old Susan. Fertility testing led to what she admits were “obsessive” efforts to conceive. “I know I was hard to live with. I’d cry if I saw someone breastfeeding a newborn, I’d berate Ted if he didn’t seem as driven as me to have a baby … He responded by saying he didn’t feel I cared about him at all, just whether he could be a sperm donor!”

The key here is to stay united as a couple. Blaming each other, hurling comments that make one’s spouse feel ‘lesser than,’ focusing more on the goal than the partnership — these are relationship killers. Susan and Ted took a step back. “We decided to put our baby goal on the back burner and start enjoying one another’s company again … Sex became something fun again, not an increasingly stressful ‘job.’ ”

Ironically, four months after deciding to temporarily table getting pregnant, the stick turned blue! Seven months later, the couple was thrilled to welcome a gorgeous daughter. Says Susan, “Looking back at that tough time, I realize I started looking at Ted more as an adversary than a partner who wanted the same thing I did! He’s my teammate, and I won’t forget that again.”

When one cleans, the other doesn’t

A recent study involving 220 newlywed couples linked high marital satisfaction to a perceived egalitarian division of household chores. Well, at least the wives’ satisfaction.

Case in point: After six months of marriage, 23-year-old Amy was so enraged by Ben’s slovenliness and disinterest in doing any chores outside of taking out the garbage that she found herself hurling the “D” word during a particularly nasty argument.

Amy quickly backed off the cliff but realized this was a serious matter for her. “I told Ben it was super essential that he take my needs seriously and not keep making empty promises about doing laundry or cleaning the toilet. He responded by saying he was so used to having everything done for him it just was taking him a while to realize his mother was no longer around to clean up his messes.”

The two came up with a chart of rotating chores. “Each Sunday, we look at the chart and fill in what tasks we feel like doing that week. And it’s agreed that he never has to do the ones he hates — toilet cleaning, making the bed — so long as he takes on an extra two jobs a week.”

Flexibility is important — if he doesn’t fold laundry the way you prefer, at least he’s folding laundry. And never underestimate the freedom that can come from hiring a housekeeper.

Married to a mama’s boy

Transitioning from someone’s child to someone’s spouse can be a process strewn with divided loyalties and confusion. Clear communication is needed to set boundaries and priorities.

When Carly married Ric four years ago, the now 25-year-old knew he was deeply attached to his mother. “She’s a nice woman, but she and Ric’s dad lived close to us à la Everybody Loves Raymond, and she’d barge in at all hours. When I asked Ric to tell her to call first, he would hem and haw and say, ‘It’s my mom. I can’t do anything to hurt her feelings.’ ”

Carly’s response for many weeks was to emotionally withdraw. “I felt so hurt and betrayed I didn’t want to talk.” When Ric asked what was wrong, she’d say, ‘I’m fine.’ ”

Then came a revelation: “As I tossed and turned one night, I looked over at my sleeping husband and thought, We are really in crisis. I have to confront it or eventually drift out of his life.” That evening she began the most important conversation of their marriage, “Honey, marriage is about two people, not three or four. If you don’t set boundaries with your mother and let her know your first loyalty is now to your wife, that is something I might not be able to forgive.”

Ric was shocked at the strength of his wife’s feelings. He told his mother she’d have to call before coming over.

Carly adds: “I learned a marriage cannot thrive unless you’re willing to take the leap and communicate to your partner what is in your heart!”

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