Are you married and feel like the passion has faded, that you’re not in love anymore, and wonder if your relationship can be salvaged?
Many of us have been there and most of us know for a fact that marriage is not easy. What’s more, the strict quarantine measures during the pandemic have contributed to many realizing their marriage isn’t working or their relationship is not what they thought it was. Yet, not all is bleak, and there’s hope for some of us :) After all, a relationship is like a flower, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to grow and thrive.
Nathan Jones and Emily Van Fleet, a married couple, who happen to host the Twice as Less Not Perfect Podcast, have kindly agreed to discuss how messy and rewarding marriage can be and share their own journey with us.
Their podcast launched on September 1st, 2020, and focuses on the ups and downs of marriage and the joys and hurdles of long-term relationships in general. So check them out if you need a good laugh and some honest opinions around marriage-related topics!
The Love Encounter
Emily and Nate have been married for nine and a half years. They met during their undergraduate program at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Both of them were musical theatre majors. Emily, who was a year ahead of Nate, ended up directing Nate in a scene of ‘’Suddenly Seymour’’ from Little Shop of Horrors. Naturally, Emily thought Nate was super cute ;) Fast forward a year later, and she moved into Nate’s house with her boyfriend, Nate’s housemate, and Nate’s girlfriend at the time (as you do!). During this time living together, they got to know each other very well and bond.
They both graduated and ended up in NYC. Since they had both gone through bad breakups with their exes, they reconnected and bonded over their love life situations.
Of course, what was going to happen, happened, they became the beautiful couple we get to host today! And because they already knew each other as friends, when they became intimate, their relationship as a couple progressed very quickly. Indeed, they got together in Jan 2009, were engaged by September (nope, these two don’t like to waste any time!) and were married in 2011.
The 7-Year Itch
The couple admits that they experienced the notorious seven-year itch after seven years of being together (almost on the dot!). While it didn’t hit on the first day of their seven-year encounter (that’d be really freaky), they acknowledge that they indeed went through a hard time around this period. After seven years, they had both evolved and felt like they were different people from what they were when they met. Note that this is a pretty common hurdle a lot of couples face at some point. After all, it’s totally normal to need to reassess who you are as an individual after so long being in a relationship.
Nate even says that, when reflecting on these seven years, he realized he had lost touch with himself and found it hard to recall who he was seven years before. And as he struggled to figure out who he was at the beginning of their relationship, he felt it was difficult to connect with Emily.
Fortunately, the lovely couple managed to overcome this major hurdle. While they believe that their friendship might have played a part in helping them get through the challenging period, therapy was paramount.
Going to Therapy
When they found themselves in a rut, not knowing how to handle their relationship anymore, the couple decided to go to therapy.
This turned out to be a great idea as therapy allowed them to dig deeper into the real causes of the difficulties they were experiencing in their relationship. With the help of their therapist, they uncovered the roots of their problems and learned how to better listen to each other and communicate. As a neutral third party, the therapist helped them become more aware of the patterns that were affecting their relationship and gave them the tools to break these negative, vicious conflict cycles. They also learned they could control their own baggage, feelings, and thoughts and started to try to better themselves, grow, become stronger, and listen to each other. This really paved the way for the relationship to organically repair itself, and they gradually started to reconnect.
The same way Nate realized that he had lost himself, Emily had a similar feeling.
And thanks to the help of therapy, she uncovered the underlying reasons: during the seven-year period she had spent with Nate, she had been effacing herself, putting her ideas, needs, hopes, and dreams on the back burner to accommodate him.
That’s when she realized that she wasn’t helping anyone by doing that, and that’s why the couple emphasizes how important it is to keep your individuality and what makes you you while in a relationship.
Living Together 24/7 during the Pandemic
Emily is an introvert and grew up as an only child (yep, you can be an actor and an introvert). Therefore, she loves her space. Now, at the beginning of their relationship, Emily was traveling a lot, so she wasn’t used to being with Nate every day. Things changed, and before the pandemic, Nate regularly traveled for his job, still allowing Emily to have her space and quiet time. But with Nate not being able to travel anymore, the situation sparked some conversations about how difficult it was for her to be constantly together. They had never spent as much time together before! Perhaps you can relate?
As a result, they decided to create separate schedules where they would each do their own thing in the house and come back together later. They also had to create two office spaces as the fact that she could hear Nate moving behind her during her chilled and quiet time would drive Emily mad (Poor Nate!). This way, the time they spend together is quality time.
As Emily puts it, pandemic or no pandemic, in a relationship, if you find that things don’t work out, you need to reassess, recalibrate and find your new normal. And as Nate puts it (a bit less romantically), marriage is a contract, so you should treat it as a business, renegotiating terms and add or remove terms ;)
Their Expectations of Marriage before Being Married
Emily and Nate had different expectations before marriage.
Nate had a happy upbringing; his parents were high school sweethearts and have been married for 35 years. They rarely get into conflicts (a real fairy tale). While this is fantastic for Nate’s parents, that’s a lot to try and live up to, and Nate’s parents’ relationship had a huge impact on his way of living his marriage. He, naturally, wanted to be like his parents, fit the same archetype, thus ignoring problems for a long time as they didn’t fit into the typical model he knew. He also recognizes that people around him would use rosy platitudes or at least sugarcoat things when talking about marriage before he got married himself. So much so that he had no idea what he was in for (ouch!). No one told him what to look out for and what marriage was really like with concrete life examples. Therefore, he was expecting to replicate his parents' marriage. But as Roosevelt once said, ‘’comparison is the thief of joy,’’ and each couple and marriage is different, meaning different things will work for different couples.
On the other hand, Emily’s parents divorced when she was a baby (which she thinks was the best decision for everyone), so she was mostly raised by her mom. As a result, she wasn’t raised witnessing a healthy relationship. There was always a negative feeling buried inside her about knowing her parents were conflicted. It made her feel as if the two parts that made her who she was were in conflict and didn’t work well together. Therefore, she had a hard time understanding how to reconcile these two parts and trust a significant other.
These days we have really high expectations with marriage, especially when it comes to splitting tasks equally. But instead of wanting everything to be equal, a great way to bring the tension down in your relationship is to find opportunities to play on each other's strengths and counter each other's weaknesses.
What the couple also does, is, every anniversary they re-read their vows and try to understand what they meant at the time (sometimes not having a clue what some of it even meant, of course!). Through that process, they revisit them, assess whether they still stand today, and adjust their behavior and expectations accordingly.
Sex and Marriage
The couple has had many conversations around sexual coercion in marriage.
Indeed, Nate and Emily got married, and their whole life changed as Nate got offered a teaching job in Las Vegas. The couple moved, and Emily’s career was put on hold. She developed mild depression feeling alone, in a new city, and without a career anymore. As a result, she felt that Nate was all she had and, therefore, she had to give-in and please him. On the other hand, Nate admits that he took sex for granted and didn’t work for it anymore. He started to communicate less, assuming it would happen. Besides, he was exhausted from his new job, and the pair ended up having sex as an automatic thing. The romance was gone, and the spark had suddenly faded. They didn’t feel connected emotionally and sexually anymore.
The Me Too movement was the catalyst to examine their relationship and talk about it. They became more open, and things greatly improved. Indeed, they started being more creative about things they would like to do and acknowledge communication was key in helping them go through this challenging phase.
The couple really wants to destigmatize sexual coercion in marriage and be transparent about the fact that a lot of bad sexual situations happen in committed relationships, too, and not just when dating.
Some Words of Advice
Their message is a message of hope and reassurance; marriage isn't easy for anyone. After all, think about this: you’re committing to spending a significant amount of your time with a specific person for years to come. Some days will be better than others, and that’s ok! Conflict is normal and can also help you find a solution to your problems. And if it gets too bad, you can always go to the therapist ;)
But no matter what, put the effort and work into your marriage or relationship because it is valuable to you and will help you through your next relationship if this one doesn’t work out. Don't do it simply to try and salvage your marriage. You need to want to grow and learn through this process for it to be beneficial to you. It’s all worth it in the end ;) and as Emily says: “when you’re in a partnership every day, you choose love, but you don’t have to choose love forever”. Don’t get stuck in the ‘’forever after mentality’’ and take it one day at a time. This will allow you to live in the present and feel free in your marriage!