Does Satisfaction predict the future of relationships?

Jul 9, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Image: Ridofranz/iStock/360/Getty Images

Modern life means modern relationship problems. In USA Network’s new original drama series Satisfaction, a couple at their marriage's midpoint is wrestling with issues many American couples face: work stress, the monotony of suburban life, and what happens when having it all is not enough. We talked with a relationship expert about how these sticking points can affect relationships — especially in our post-modern world.

It's been more than 50 years since Richard Yates wrote Revolutionary Road, but suburban discontent — with its sexual monotony, work/commute stress and general malaise as a result of conformity — is rearing its head again. Could this be the future of relationships? And could an unconventional sex life be part of the solution?

Modern relationships and stress

In our economy, it's getting harder and harder to get by just by putting in a nine-to-five workday, not to mention the added pressure and financial responsibility of raising a child. The impact of stress on a relationship can be far-reaching, especially in 2014, says Michelle Skeen, PsyD, author of Love Me, Don't Leave Me.

"Part of the problem is we don't get a chance to shut down anymore, and that's what's changed," Skeen says. "Everyone's expected to be available, and everyone has some type of smartphone device — they can reach you by text or email or Facebook — and there's an expectation that you should respond quickly. One of the ways that stress manifests is that the sex goes away. If you're overstressed, you're more than likely tired and distracted."

How to fix that, Skeen says, involves more scheduling — but this is the kind of meeting you'll want to block off. "Sex dates actually do work," Skeen says, suggesting perhaps a lazy Sunday morning or regular Tuesday night takeout-and-sex-in-bed dinner. "Even if it's not anything great — it doesn't involve lingerie or rose petals on the bed — integrate it into your schedule, even if you don't feel like it. Afterward, if you recognize what's happening hormonally, there's a great release of oxytocin, which is the chemical which creates bonding."

Another way couples can connect when they're not beneath the sheets is coming up with their very own decompressing activity after the partner with high stress arrives home, Skeen says. It could be as simple as a walk to talk over the day's events or a sweat session at the gym. No matter what, you'll be doing it together and reintegrating your partner into your busy routine.

Money causes problems, even when you have it

Even without most Americans' fear of not being able to put food on the table or going broke, couples who are financially solvent can also face troubles, especially if one partner isn't working as much as the other, says Skeen. Money isn't the magic bullet that fixes everything; in fact, it can be quite the opposite.

"I see a lot of couples who have lost sight of their relationship and are disconnected because it's easy to hire people to do things," Skeen says. "You're not in the garden, you're not cooking together, or you have a food delivery service."

To keep your relationship in the sight lines, "I think it’s really important to reconnect with your values," Skeen says. "What are your values as a couple, and if you have children, what are you communicating to them verbally and nonverbally about what you're doing? I've seen people who want their kids to be really comfortable, and as soon as they get their driver's license they get a new car — they never experience the life their parents had as they were building their financial nest egg."

Infidelity and open relationships

Could going elsewhere for one's sexual needs, while technically still loving your spouse, be an effective solution for boredom with the same-old, same-old? Maybe.

"Everyone is really interested in [the concept of open relationships], it's kind of a crazy idea, and there's some kind of fascination, but I think very few people are actually wired in such a way that they can do this without being jealous," Skeen says. "Monogamy is different for everyone. For some people, if you're even flirting with someone, you're betraying them, or if you're a guy and you're talking to a woman about your feelings, that's a betrayal. Now it's so easy — with email and texting and Twitter, there are all sorts of ways to find people and flirt with people and engage in inappropriate behavior. You need to sit down and state what matters for you — what works for you and what doesn't work for you. A lot of times, after you get married, the spouse can be surprised by how things have changed — you feel a little bit like they're your property. The best idea is to be really clear what works and what doesn't, and set up this contract in such a way that no one is being violated."

With traditional infidelity (rather than an agreed-upon contract), though, emotions and blame usually run high. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the relationship's death knell.

"I actually feel really strongly that couples can pull through infidelity and come out stronger. Some can go through difficult times and have a bigger picture of the situation. A couple of decades ago, I'd have said absolutely no, it's a deal-breaker. But I think people make mistakes, just like people make financial mistakes, but that's only one thing they've done. You still have all these other aspects of them and the relationship."

Satisfaction explores these themes and more. Catch the premiere on USA Network on July 17 at 10/9c, and watch a sneak peek below.

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