How to Thrive (or Survive)
After the First Year of Marriage

Letter #3

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband and I have been married for less than a year, and we have a two month old daughter. Every day we wonder if we've made a huge mistake by starting a family together so soon. I know that if it weren't for our daughter we would have been divorced long before, but we "try" only for her sake. I don't think that she has added any friction, but she's definitely given us reason to hold on to each other. We do know that our biggest problem is communication. We have trust and honesty and there is love there, but we are quickly losing hope.

My husband seems to think that divorce is the only answer if I cannot change. He doesn't think he needs to change, however. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to hold on to this marriage, and though I've tried to change my attitude towards him I can't do it without his participation. Please give me hope. I really appreciate any response you can give me and I thank you for your time.


Dear T.W.,

I'm sorry to hear that your new marriage is off to such a rough start. Your daughter may be the only thing keeping you together right now, but at least it's something. And as long as you are together, you can make the adjustments to each other that will save your marriage.

While it's true that you cannot make all the changes yourself, you can learn to do your part, and be an example to your husband. I don't expect you to do anything that is not in your own best interest, because that's not the example you want to give him. Instead, I recommend that you do things that are good for both of you.

Make a list of what it is he wants you to "change." They will fall into two categories, things you do that bother him (I call them Love Busters) and things he wants you to do (that you are not doing) to meet his emotional needs (like having sex more often).

I would like you to learn to stop doing anything that falls into the first category. You may, for example, go out with your friends at night, leaving him with the baby so you can get a little relief. I suggest that you get your relief some other way that he would not object to. Don't allow yourself to gain at his expense, even if you cannot think of any alternatives at the time. Take a serious look at everything you do that bothers him, and do something else that accomplishes your objective. Whenever you do this, you will be following my Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). When you use this rule to make your decisions you eliminate Love Busters from your marriage.

Your husband may be doing quite a few things that bother you, and until now, your objections may have had little effect. But if you set the example of asking him how he feels about your habits and activities, he is likely to be more considerate of your feelings when he makes his plans.

Take a different approach to items in the second category, things he wants you to do to meet his emotional needs. In that category don't do anything for him unless you enjoy doing it. If he wants more sex, explain to him what he would have to do to make it enjoyable for you. If he doesn't do it, discuss alternatives until you are both satisfied with the agreement. But until then, no sex. It's a good example for him, because you should be treated the same way. Whatever he does for you should be done with his enthusiasm, because if he doesn't enjoy doing it, it won't be done very often. Besides, who wants their spouse to be resentful every time they're cared for? This approach will help you learn to meet each others needs in a way that builds compatibility and eliminates resentment.

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