Weekend Post (South Africa)

Do not allow over- familiarit­y to breed contempt in your marriage

- Mo&Phindi

WE’VE always held that at the most basic level, a marriage needs three obvious things to survive: mutual respect, functional communicat­ion, and intimacy – both physical and emotional. Great relationsh­ips, however, have much more depth. But without any one of these, things tend to quickly fall apart.

But marriages don’t fail because one partner suddenly stops respecting, stops communicat­ing, or withholds intimacy. These stoppages occur as actions often without any conscious decision beforehand, and they are preceded by silent killers that settle into the relationsh­ip dynamic of which neither partner may be aware.

These silent killers of marriage are like viruses, slowly and silently infecting you, displaying no symp- toms, lurking in dormancy for months or years, until an outbreak comes, seemingly from nowhere.

One such virus is over-familiarit­y. It is indeed a good thing to know your partner like the back of your hand, as it were. It’s great to know his favourite colour shirt or tie, and how she likes her eggs done. Familiarit­y can be an asset in marriage, but beware the danger on the flip-side that is over-familiarit­y.

The danger of familiarit­y is when you think you are close enough to your partner to excuse you for doing things that are obnoxious, while not allowing those things to be done to you. It is taking each other for granted. Examples include howling, criticisin­g, ignoring, teasing, irritabili­ty, being crude, moodiness and nagging.

Unhappy couples often complain, “I wish my partner would act the way she did while we were dating.” Meanwhile it’s often not so much the dating season that is being missed, but perhaps the presence of respect. We liken the situation to that of a fish that lives in the water but does not know what water is nor recognises its value.

It’s not cleaning up after yourself, not saying “thank you” because you think your gratitude should be a given, no longer verbalisin­g an “I love you” because you assume he/she should know by now, or the words “I’m sorry, please forgive me”.

These acts of over-familiarit­y disappoint and draw anger because for one partner they symbolise a lack of respect, while for the other they merely represent the comfort and perceived lack of need to stand on ceremony that they believe should characteri­se an intimate relationsh­ip.

Further common characteri­stics of over-familiarit­y include that your partner used to turn you on, but now just irritates you, that you no longer hug or kiss each other as a way of greeting as you used to. Or you’re no longer patient with each other, instead you quickly get irritated with one another and address each other with disrespect.

Furthermor­e, you may suffer from the fact that there is plenty of stuff that now occupies your time above your partner, like kids, work, studies, church, friends, sports and even social media.

Other characteri­stics include no longer paying attention to her when she talks, or going out of your way to make him feel appreciate­d.

Sometimes you no longer observe personal hygiene or have stopped making an effort to look good. We’ve had many women complain that their husbands refuse to take an evening shower but want physical intimacy in that smelly state. We’ve also had husbands complainin­g that wives no longer visit the salon as often as they did before. There was one client who complained that his wife was fond of wearing wigs and weaves which stayed on for months.

The risk of over-familiarit­y with your partner not only leads you to taking them for granted, but will cause you to overlook their developmen­t. If you put your partner in a box and always expect him/her to act, think, and feel the same every time, you may miss out on amazing transforma­tions in his/her life. And it will all be because you’re expecting him/her to do things as always. Unfortunat­ely, over-familiarit­y has the tendency to blind us to the new because we stay fixated on the old.

To avoid monotony, seek new activities to do together, meet new friends, and take regular breaks from work and home to reconnect with each other. Make a conscious effort to notice your partner and resolve to have meaningful communicat­ion. Listen actively and you will be surprised to discover this other person you’ve long missed.

Make a special effort to learn and speak each other’s love languages. Step out of your comfort zone and do things a little differentl­y.

And yes, spice up the bedroom, with the understand­ing that your relationsh­ip is bigger than you.

We believe physical intimacy is not the foundation for a healthy relationsh­ip, but it is a natural extension of a relationsh­ip in which giving and receiving mutual support and comfort are common.

Sexual boredom is often the result of over-familiarit­y.

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