Real (Not Sugar-Coated) Secrets to a Happy Marriage
Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is
Q: What about you personally? Have you been able to follow your own advice?
Dr. Phil: When Robin and I were dating, she called me one time and said, "I want to go to my sister's house. Will you take me up there?" I said sure, 'cause I wanted to be the good guy, right? Now the truth is, I ain't big on family. I love my family and spend time with them, but I believe in having my own life and doing my own thing. And I sure wasn't big on her family. I mean, my idea of a good time wouldn't be to drive 100 miles to sit in her sister's house with their kids running around on a Saturday afternoon. I'd rather take a beating. It's nothing against them -- I hadn't even met them -- it's just not my thing.
So I thought about it for about 10 minutes, then called Robin back and said, "I ain't taking you." And she said, "Why not?" And I said, "'Cause there's no point in doing stuff now that I'm not willing to do later, and I won't be willing to do that later. If you want to see your sister, go ahead, and I'll see you when you get back. And I'll tell you what, I won't ask you to go hang out with my sisters, either." So Robin loaded up the car and off she went. Now I've been to her sister's house once in 30 years. I know them and like them and they're good, down-to-earth people. They're certainly welcome in my home, but I still don't want to go spend the weekend there. I just don't want to be around in-laws.
Q: Whoa, now that's frank. Has Robin been equally assertive?
Dr. Phil: Very much so. One of the things she's really had to do in our marriage is stake out her turf as a woman in a house full of men. When both our boys are home, she oftentimes just calls a time-out and says, "Hey! Girl in the room!" She has certain rules -- you don't leave tools or muddy shoes out or stereotypically boy stuff sitting on the kitchen table. She's been very tough about protecting her environment so we all behave like gentlemen.
Q: But despite our best intentions, we're often not honest with ourselves about our own needs, let alone with our significant others. What's the consequence of that?
Dr. Phil: The problem is that you create expectations you can't fulfill. And the research is very clear: What creates the biggest problem in marriage is not what happens once you're in it, it's whether it conforms to what you expected to happen. You want to go into it with your eyes wide open.
Q: Not an easy thing. What sorts of expectations do the most harm?
Dr. Phil: First off, I think there's a lack of real reverence for what's involved. They say that nine out of 10 businesses fail in the first year for two reasons -- underestimating the commitment it takes and the capital it requires. With marriage, it's the same thing. When you're merging two lives, there's going to be a pretty constant pain of adjustment no matter how well suited you are. You're sharing space, time, energy and money. You've got in-laws, kids, religion -- all of these real-world issues -- that you have to consult each other about. And you go, Wait a minute, this ain't what I thought it was going to be so it must be wrong. No, no, no, it's not wrong -- it's just different from what you expected.
Marriage is not a long date. It's a partnership. Partnerships involve give-and-take and sacrifice. Men are really bad about understanding this.
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