That question seems to constantly plague couples and individuals.
So, what is “normal?” What’s “OK?” What’s “weird?” And how do you know? Apparently, there are a lot of couples who never received the “marriage memo” carefully answering these questions and clearly outlining everything they would ever need to know – sarcasm implied.
It seems a new study is released each week which only adds to the confusion. One study will state that the “average” couple spends “x” amount of hours together each week. Another study states the “average” couple is intimate “x” number of times a year. While yet another study indicates that if a couple fights about “x” or “x” number of times a month, they may be headed for divorce. And, to add insult to injury, there’s usually some sort of follow-up discussion somewhere in the media stating that something must really be wrong with your marriage if you aren’t doing “x” to fix it.
Poor Jane Doe, cruising home from work, happens to hear one of these passing headlines. Suddenly what she thought was a perfectly workable and happy marriage is now possibly doomed to failure, or worse, is outside the “normal” column.
For some reason, we seem to desperately want to feel like we’re normal. Now, instead of going home and enjoying a typical evening with her husband, doing whatever it is they do, she feels she must confront the problem at hand because clearly one exists.
The following week, Jane and John Doe show up to my office wondering how to fix their “abnormal” marriage. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t times marital counseling isn’t appropriate, because the divorce rate would indicate there are plenty of times. On the other hand, being able to understand, accept and even embrace the unique qualities and circumstances surrounding your relationship is a skill to be cultivated.
Now to answer the burning question: Are you normal?
The answer is, What’s “normal,” and who gets to define that?
Is it normal for the couple down the street to make sure their clothes coordinate with their dog’s? Is it OK that you and your spouse enjoy collecting old maps and have them all over your house? Is there a study somewhere giving you “permission” to be you?
Sorry, no easy answers, here. No “marriage memo” to be perused. You and your significant other are the ones who get to answer this question. However, here are a few questions to guide you along the path to what I hope will be a satisfying answer:
1. Is your relationship healthy and functional for both partners?
Certainly if abuse or infidelity is present then the answer is no. If, however, your marriage is one in which both people can thrive and grow — and the best growth sometimes comes from the most difficult challenges — then your relationship is “normal” for you.
2. Are you open about your needs and desires and to the needs and desires of your spouse?Being able to talk about whether or not you like something as simple as chocolate cake to how often you would like to be intimate is a crucial element of any relationship. If you are able to listen and ask questions as well as talk about yourself and your needs, then your relationship is “normal” for you.
3. Are there items on which you are working and are able to see some movement or progression?Trying to take two people from two different backgrounds and combine them into a new relationship-entity is generally a challenge for just about everybody. Certainly there are always a few areas of disagreement, such as how often does she have a “Girls Night Out” or who does the cooking? That said, working together to solve problems is a perfectly “normal” thing to do.
Lastly, and one of the biggest takeaways from this article, is to stop comparing yourselves to other couples. The Jane Doe of our story could have listened to that headline and thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting” and thought nothing else of it, secure in the knowledge that her marriage was just fine.
The pace at which you do “x” or the petty argument you had concerning “x” has nothing to do with any other couple. Study or no study, your relationship is completely unique and comprised of two individuals unlike any others out there. While there are some experiences most couples will have in common, no two marriages will approach things in the exact same way. The studies presented are helpful because they can provide a sort-of baseline from which to work, but, in my opinion, aren’t intended to create a strict definition for your marriage.
A woman I know had the phrase, “It’s our deal,” inscribed on the inside of her husband’s wedding band to always serve as a reminder that the path they were walking was one of their choosing and that, good or bad, it was theirs alone. They knew nobody else completely understood the intricate workings of their marriage, and that what might appear unusual to an outsider was perfectly fine for them.
Often couples with whom I work will come to realize that their marriage was progressing along fine, and they just needed a little encouraging pep talk to counter some of the messages they had been receiving from the media or “concerned” family members. They leave my office feeling stronger than ever and excited to keep on being “normal.”
Alisha is a Life Coach specializing in Sex and Intimacy as well as the co-author of a recently published book titled Real Intimacy; A couple's guide to healthy, genuine sexuality. Find her at realintimacybook.com.