what happens after the honeymoon

From Honeymoon to Cohabitation

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UPDATED: Though it’s usually portrayed as a tense, combative process, not all divorces are high-conflict. Marriages end for all sorts of reasons—abuse, adultery, financial issues, and more—but they don’t always devolve into a knockdown, drag-out legal battle.  

Often times, relationships simply degrade over time. Nothing major happens, but couples frequently grow apart or in different directions. Eventually, one or both spouses wake up one day and realizes, this isn’t working, hasn’t been for a while, and the time has come to do something about that fact.

An article in The Seattle Times looks into this topic. It examines statistics and quotes experts in this field in an attempt to dissect the situation.

Related Reading: 5 Scary Divorce Facts

What Experts Say

According to Pamela Haag, the author of the book, Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules, and the research she cites, as many as 60% of all divorces are “low-conflict.” That means, as discussed above, many divorces don’t necessarily stem directly from friction and fighting.

Talking about why we pay so much attention to the more sensational cases, she says:

“The attraction to someone else’s scandal distracts us from the more mundane, dreary, boring problems that a lot of marriages face. There are a lot of marriages of quiet desperation that just drag on and on until they end in divorce.”

Haag invokes Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote about how most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” In marital terms, this means people simply settle for what they have, for what’s familiar, even if it doesn’t work, doesn’t make them happy, or makes the miserable. They go through the motions because it’s what they’re used to and it’s easier than rocking the boat and enacting change. Often times, couples wind up more like roommates rather than an actual couple.

Related Reading: 5 Common Reasons for Divorce

So What Went Wrong

Since most marriages don’t end with a volcanic conflict, where did they go wrong? How do people go from the honeymoon phase to being glorified roommates? That’s obviously a big question, and no two situations are exactly the same. Still, the article attempts to get to the bottom of this.

The article quotes Edward M. Hallowell, author and director of the Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Massachusetts. On this subject, he says:

“The ambient noise of life takes over. There’s no big conflict; couples have just lost touch with each other, lost the fun, lost the moments of sustained attention because we live surrounded by this buzz.

“People don’t realize they’re drifting apart because they’re so overly bombarded with messages and stimuli and they’re crazy, busy, running, keeping up with everything. In the absence of a major blow-up, you just wake up one morning feeling, ‘I’m not passionate about this person. At all.’”

In Hallowell’s view, it’s a process, something that happens gradually as other factors take over our focus. There’s not necessarily one big, defining moment where a marriage collapses. Instead, the foundation erodes over time until it topples or you eventually realize it’s no longer structurally sound. Often, people don’t even notice until it’s too late.

It’s all too easy to imagine how this happens. People grow and evolve in different ways. You and your spouse may be very different people ten years into a marriage than you were on your wedding day. Most people change over time, and couples don’t always change in compatible ways. What you want now may not be what your spouse wants now.

Work, hobbies, outside obligations, and more take up time and attention. Often, interactions with your partner turn into glorified business meetings where you schedule things, talk about the bills, or bring up some problem you need to solve. It’s little wonder that over time whatever chemistry you had dissolved in the constant torrent of day-to-day problems.

Related Reading: 5 Psychological Factors That Predict Divorce

What Can You Do?

The author of the article provides one way to help combat this problem that’s particularly poignant:

“Take one half-hour and talk about ‘stuff,’ not about work, chores, or conflicts, but about stuff you’re interested in. Tell stories, ask questions.”

That sounds overly simple, and it might be. It also isn’t a sure-fire solution. Some marriages are too far gone to save; the gap too wide to bridge for whatever reasons. But it can’t hurt to try. Sometimes even a minor effort like that can help heal a relationship.

Reaching out to your spouse can also help establish that there’s a problem—you can’t fix a problem if no one notices there’s a problem to begin with. Often times, you get used to a relationship, especially as it changes over time. You may not recognize it’s unhealthy until there’s nothing left to salvage.

We often see a resolution in situations where there have been a number of small conflicts that have pulled a couple apart. After taking time to focus on their marriage and relationship, you might decide to work on fixing things. You may opt for counseling or couples therapy, or rediscover what drew you together in the first place. Not every problematic marriage ends in divorce, there are other options.

Related Reading: 8 Ways People Damage Their Own Divorce Cases

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