Dr. Wall gives some common sense, cheap fixes in the marriage bedroom to warm up your lives together.
Structure determines function.
One of the first things a new engineering student learns is that structure determines function. In simple terms: a toothpick makes a great tool to extract food items from between your teeth based upon its structure, but an automobile makes a terrible toothpick and a toothpick makes a terrible car. The toothpick’s structure determines what it can do. Structure is neither good nor bad. It is also no respecter of persons. You could be Adolf Hitler and your toothpick won’t make an automobile any better than it would for Mother Teresa. So you don’t need to be mad about it. It is what it is. You can’t change the results of structure. If you know what the structure is, you know what the results will be. Period. End of story.
Families have structure, too. This is such an important concept that there is a whole branch of family therapy called Structural Therapy. If you change the structure, you change the results. I call structural changes in marriage “Cheap Therapy.” Easy fixes. If you change these structures, you will immediately get better results.
It’s amazing how stubborn people are about their structure. They are often bound and determined to keep the structure as is even when their marriage is crashing and burning. Then they are still mad at the results, when, unless they change the structure, the results will remain the same. Structure is NO respecter of persons. You keep the structure the same, you get the same results.
Here’s some common structural problems in the marriage bedroom couples tell me about in my office:
Not sleeping in the same bed. You are kidding me right? You’d be amazed how many couples don’t sleep together. The reasons are myriad: He snores, she has restless leg syndrome, one keeps waking up, they are mad at each other, one falls asleep on the couch and doesn’t come to bed. What is the structure telling each other? We’re not really married. We’re just roommates. Or co-parents. Or business partners.
But we ARE married. Every night when the couple goes to their separate sleeping quarters a silent voice screams in their heads that this marriage is for the birds, and what in the world are you doing, and I can’t believe I’m putting up with this, and how come my spouse doesn’t love me, and my spouse is so selfish, and we’re not special, and we’re not a couple, and all we are is stupid roommates, and why don’t I have the courage to divorce, and on and on and on.
I’m not a good enough therapist to help you if you both insist on NOT sleeping together. I’ll argue for it. I’ll advocate for it. I’ll fight for it, because I know that if you are not in the same bed, your resentments will shout at you that this marriage SUCKS and no reassurance from a nice therapist dude will make an ounce of difference.
The couple has dogs or kids in the bed or no lock on the bedroom door. Different structure, same result. The Bible says, “The marriage bed is undefiled.” That means it’s holy and needs to be protected. So protect it already. Put a lock on your door. Kids need to learn that mom and dad’s bedroom is hollowed ground and you do NOT come in unless you are invited. You barge in at your peril. You put your life in danger if you do not knock. No. You respectfully knock and mom and/or dad will invite you in AFTER one of them unlocks the door!
Mom and dad do things in the bedroom that is none of the kids’ business. It’s the NAKED ROOM*! We do naked things in here. We dress in here. We cleanse in here. We make love in here. ALL NAKED. So, no, we don’t need dogs gawking at us and we don’t need the worry of Sally coming in again ‘cuz she can’t sleep and you never know when she’s gonna barge in.
AHHHHH! Stop it! Your little precious will be fine. If you want to raise a complete emotionally disturbed child, just let her sleep in your bed ‘til she’s four or five. By then you’ll be divorced and Sally will really need to sleep with you now to deal with all her insecurities!
One of the most fundamental truths of parenting and childhood is that a child needs to learn calm him or herself down. It’s okay for Johnny to cry himself to sleep. It’s okay for Sally to fidget. Let your kids learn to calm themselves down when they are upset or else you will be calming them down their whole life and they won’t be able to face any problems or fears or worries without mommy or daddy. This whole thing is creepy, so stop it!
And NO. NO dogs in the bed. They take up too much room. They look at you like they have a soul, and it’ll creep you out being naked and not ashamed in front of Rover, and you’ll not have the courage to push Rover aside, so you can cuddle with your spouse, and your spouse will be laying there thinking that he or she is married to a crazy person that puts dogs (or kids) first, and the resentments will grow, and the distance will grow, and both of you will wonder why in the world you ever got married, and the whole sexual idea will go out the door, and we’ll sacrifice our marriage, so a stupid dog (or kid) can be comfortable.
Not going to bed at the same time. Sometimes this is a problem because of work schedules, but it’s amazing how often couples DON’T go to bed at the same time for whatever excuse: I need my alone time, I’m a night owl, I don’t need as much sleep, or it’s when I get everything done. Sometimes these couples go to bed and don’t even say goodnight, let alone give each other a kiss goodnight. But what is the silent message that you are telling your spouse when she’s in there lying in bed alone? I’m all alone in the world. Is there something the matter with me? Why does my wife avoid me? We’re not much of a couple. I feel distant with my wife. He only comes to bed for sex so that’s all I’m good for. I’m not on her priority list. Everything else is more important.
You need less sleep than your spouse? Here’s a cheap therapy idea: Lay down with your spouse when he goes to bed. Cuddle with each other and have some laid back pillow talk. When your spouse has wound down and is ready to fall asleep or is asleep, you can slip out of bed and do whatever. But get your cuddling time and pillow talk in. Let each other know structurally, simply, that each of you is special.
There. I just saved you a ton of money on therapy. Cheap therapy. Of course, if you insist that you can’t change and you like your comfortable habits that keep you from being connected, come on in for therapy. I’d be happy to yell at you.
You’ll be in therapy for years. This is good job security for me.
*I’m in debt to Cheryl Mendelson in her delightful book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House for the idea of calling mom and dad’s bedroom “the Naked Room.”
Check out these other blogs by Dr. Wall on the importance of affection in marriage:
Dr. Wall discusses the importance of marital cuddling. Marriages without cuddling struggle with coldness and anger; those with regular, dependable cuddling are marked by closeness, connection and warmth.
Dr. Wall continues his series on living as roommates instead of husbands and wives by mocking the excuses people use to NOT be affectionate with their spouses.
Mom and Dad need to make sure that the two of them are priority number one. Children are second. Check out the following blog by Dr. Wall on this important subject:
Dr. Wall continues his series on roommates vs. husband and wife by looking at the temptation parents have to invest in their kids and ignore each other. This is fine for roommates; not for husband and wife.