London - Every bride walks down the aisle hoping love will make her marriage last for ever. But ask women a few years later if they’d marry the same man again, and almost six out of ten say no, according to a new book.
So what happens between the “I do’s” and the “I wish I hadn’ts?”
Best-selling relationship author Susan Shapiro Barash interviewed more than 200 women aged between 21 and 85 for her new guide The Nine Phases Of Marriage: How To Make It, Break It, Keep It.
She says women who marry and have children go through nine distinct stages. By showing women how to identify which phase they’re in, Susan says it’s possible to help them make their relationships stronger.
STAGE 1: Hopeful Bride
This is the most idealised phase of a couple’s life together when you’re still enjoying the three key ingredients of a happy marriage: passion, intimacy and commitment.
Although you may have weathered a few storms already, you faced them together. At this stage you believe your man is your rock, and that romance will last for ever.
Susan says: “Wives in this phase aspire to keep the passion alive. Some spoke of how determined they were to get their marriages right because their parents were divorced.”
Prescription: Passion and intimacy are easy to come by at this stage, but you also need to develop friendship to sustain your marriage.
STAGE 2: Perfect Wife
Before the wedding, there was an understanding that after you tied the knot, you and your husband would share the household chores.
But two or three years in, you are starting to feel like social director, housekeeper and errand runner, all rolled into one.
Susan says problems start to arise in Phase Two because many men feel they’ve already shown enough commitment by walking down the aisle.
In an age when more wives than ever go out to work, women are often left feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.
Susan says: “Many women never expected their husbands to have the habits they do.”
Prescription: When bad habits surface - whether it’s dirty socks under the kitchen table or overflowing rubbish bins - it can be a shock. But remember no marriage is ideal. Work out what you can tolerate and what you can’t.
STAGE 3: Child-centricity
Once baby comes along, a woman’s attitude tends to change. Some women lose interest in their husband because he has served his procreative purpose. Others train their men to become hands-on fathers.
Many women lose sight of who they are, and say adult conversation and intimacy can dry up, which creates distance between a couple.
Prescription: Never lose yourself in the role of mother: take care of your relationship, as well as your children. If you’re both happy to have a child-centric marriage, talk to your husband about how you want to raise your family.
STAGE 4: One bed, two dreams
In this phase - usually nine or ten years into a marriage - many wives report that a few days apart from their partner feels like a welcome break.
Susan’s research found that even if wives are determined to stay married, resentments are starting to build. Common flashpoints include money and how to bring up children.
Prescription: Lower the bar. You will be less disappointed if you roll with the changes that marriage brings, and manage your expectations.
STAGE 5: Distance
About 15 years into marriage, as children become more independent, many wives think about going back to work.
This phase can provide fertile ground for an affair.
Susan says: “Sixty percent of wives will have a physical affair or an ‘affair of the mind’ at some point in their marriage.
“Affairs of the mind occur mostly in the workplace, where colleagues become confidantes, develop crushes on each other and trade secrets. Women said an affair is a way to reconsider their role as wives. The lover satisfies what the husband doesn’t. Almost always, the lover is the opposite of the husband.”
Prescription: Wives who miss the closeness they once had must make a concerted effort to improve things by spending time with their husband.
STAGE 6: Midlife Divorce
For mid-life wives 20 or so years into their relationship, affairs that started in Phase Five can become marriage-breakers in Phase Six.
Many women start to wonder at this stage what they’re getting from their marriage. They’re earning money and the children are no longer as dependent, so they may feel more confident about divorcing.
Women may be increasingly curious about the lives of their single friends, wondering if the grass is greener. Susan says this is the final act for some marriages.
“The wife who becomes a malcontent in midlife often opts for a divorce and feels justified.”
Prescription: See a therapist on your own before you embark on marriage counselling. If you’re contemplating divorce, try a trial separation first.
STAGE 7: Renegotiation
At this stage - between 15 and 30 years into your marriage - you may be re-evaluating and deciding it’s better to be married after all.
Your divorced and widowed friends aren’t as happy or carefree as they said they were, and you hear that the available men out there are no great shakes, and often reliant on Viagra.
Susan says: “The adage: ‘Can’t live with him, can’t live without him’ applies to these women, and the comfort zone of marriage outweighs the option of leaving the relationship.”
Prescription: Ask yourself if your single best friend is influencing you when she raves about her love life. A new plan could help reinvigorate your relationship with your husband.
STAGE 8: Balance
By now, 30 or 40 years into a marriage, it’s too late for manipulation or powerplay.
You’ve come to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as your husband’s. At this stage, the arrival of grandchildren can change the balance.
Susan says: “What is comforting about having reached this point is that any false premises - such as your fantasy of how to be a wife - have been replaced by authenticity.”
Prescription: Be gracious and generous in support of your husband as you adjust to the changes in your lives, like grandparenting. Concentrate on being best friends, and search for common ground.
STAGE 9: Compassionate Love
As you start to approach your silver or golden anniversary, wives have learnt how important it is not to be disparaging of their husbands. They’ve also learnt forgiveness.
Money worries may still be an issue, however. According to her research, Susan says women are more likely to believe they should act as the bank of mom and dad.
For an older husband who looked forward to a time when the mortgage was paid off and he could enjoy his retirement nest egg, that can be frustrating.
“The veteran wife stands tall in Phase Nine,” Susan says. “She has been astute at adapting her behaviours and attitudes while honouring the basic premise of marriage and commitment.”
Prescription: Be each other’s safety net. Don’t dredge up the past, and do let go of grudges. Acknowledge that being able to pursue your own lives need not be a wedge in the marriage.