The Sunday Leader

Marriage, Troubled Waters And A Possible Bridge

By Dr. Marcel de Roos – (Psychologist PhD)

When communication stops

In my psychology practice I give a lot of so called marriage counselling. When couples want this kind of counselling it is convenient for them to look for a psychologist. A psychologist does counselling but is also trained to be aware of possible deeper lying issues which might be at play. In addition he is qualified to give different kinds of therapy on the spot so that the couple can stay with the same therapist.
The first years in a marriage are usually relatively cloudless. But after some time the initial feelings of bliss and happiness can become less or even disappear and the marriage can lose its glow. Nobody likes to go to marriage counselling. Many couples only chose a counsellor when there have been countless fights and they see no other way out than to bring in a third party. It’s much better to look for help in an earlier phase and try to discuss matters with an objective counsellor. It’s important that both spouses have a good feeling about this person; only then is there a chance that their marriage will improve.

In my professional experience, in Sri Lanka it is usually the women who want counselling, the men more often than not have to be convinced of its usefulness. This seems to be culturally defined because of the typical (Asian) gender roles. Generally speaking boys are raised like “little princes” and are geared for studies or vocational jobs. Girls usually have to apply themselves to the domestic chores and while they can do their studies, marriage seems to be the primary goal. As a consequence Sri Lanka appears to be a male dominated society where many women feel second best. Men often take their marriage, their role in it and their spouse for granted. This pattern predominantly occurs with the 35 plus generation; the younger age group seems to be more open to different views.

In brief, men and women are “wired” in a different way. The causes stem from nature and nurture. It is not surprising then that they often have trouble in understanding each other. In Sri Lanka this is enhanced because of the schooling system where most of the children attend boys or girls schools, so there is little opportunity to get familiar with the opposite sex in a natural way.

In counselling/therapy I often get questions like how to regain trust with each other after an affair, the empty nest syndrome, the relationship with in-laws, what does my wife/husband really wants, how to rekindle passion, how to deal with nagging and blaming each other, relationships at work, women who feel they try to please too much, etc, etc. Sometimes I feel that before couples get married, they should take a “relationship test” to determine whether they really make a good fit!
As I am Dutch (known for their common sense), here are some down to earth tips for preserving your marriage. Try to understand your spouse, what makes her/him tick. When you communicate try to practise the art of listening. Make an effort to talk about issues and express your feelings. Above all, affection, hugs and romantic gestures are what people usually want in a relationship.
These are “safe signals”; they signify that your spouse cares about you. Nowadays many people are very busy with work, children and housekeeping. Try to make time for each other for hugging, cosy nights at home, good conversations, eating out, taking a walk, (even cleaning the house together!), give a little present to your spouse, breakfast in bed, going to a concert, film or play, make a day trip or for a weekend. These little ways of giving attention do wonders in a marriage.

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