2010-08-05 / General Stories

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

The First Years Of Marriage Can Determine Its Future

QUESTION: If a man and woman really love each other, won’t that hold their marriage steady when the storms come?

DR. DOBSON: Not necessarily — and certainly not if you are thinking of love as a romantic feeling. Feeling wonderful about one another does not make two people compatible over the long haul. Many couples assume that the excitement of their courtship will continue for the rest of their lives. That virtually never occurs! It is naive to expect two unique individuals to mesh together like a couple of machines and to remain exhilarated throughout life. Even gears have multiple cogs with rough edges to be honed before they will work in concert.

That honing process usually occurs in the first year or two of marriage. The foundation for all that is to follow is laid in those critical months. What often occurs at this time is a dramatic struggle for power in the relationship. Who will lead? Who will follow? Who will determine how the money is spent? Who will get his or her way in times of disagreement? Everything is up for grabs in the beginning, and the way these early decisions are made will set the stage for the future.

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QUESTION: Would you say that most marital problems are caused by sexual difficulties?

DR. DOBSON: No, the opposite is more accurate. Most sexual problems are caused by marital difficulties. Or, stated another way, couples who have problems in bed often have bigger problems in the other 23 1/2 hours of the day.

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QUESTION: My former wife and I were married for thirteen years before we divorced two years ago. She has since remarried and has custody of our twelve-year-old daughter. Recently, I’ve learned that my ex-wife is saying things to our daughter that I feel are damaging to her spirit. She frequently blames her weight problem, smoking addiction and financial woes on our daughter (“I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you”). She also has no respect for our daughter’s boundaries and routinely confiscates cash gifts that are received for birthday or Christmas presents. Since I am no longer recognized as the primary care provider, I am somewhat hesitant to raise objections. Still, she is my daughter, and it pains me to see her subjected to this kind of abuse. Should I step in and make things right?

DR. DOBSON: I’m sure what you are witnessing is extremely distressing, and I wish there were legal remedies to help you protect your daughter. Within certain limits, however, your ex-wife is permitted by the court to be a bad mother and even do things that are harmful to the child. If you attack her or try to place her on the defensive, you could even make things tougher for your daughter. Apart from what you can accomplish with your wife through negotiation and personal influence, then, your hands are tied.

There is, however, so much that you can do directly with your daughter — even though you don’t have custody over her. Work hard on that relationship. Be there for her when she needs you. Give her the best of your love and attention when she visits. At twelve years of age, she is at the most vulnerable time of her life, and she needs a father who thinks she is very special. You can have a profound influence on her if you demonstrate your love and concern consistently during this difficult period of her life.

Remember, too, that the present situation may be temporary. Teenagers are given greater latitude in deciding which parent they want to live with. By your daughter’s choice, you might have custody of her in a year or two. Until then, all you can do is the best you can do. I pray that it will be enough.

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