Here’s the secret to actually enjoying your “happily ever after.”
By Cheryl Gerson — Last updated on Jun 12, 2023
Photo: Ali Mungaba / Shutterstock
You’ve met and married the love of your life. Congratulations. What happens after the two of you ride off into the sunset? What does it mean to live “happily ever after?”
You’ve heard it before: The honeymoon doesn’t last forever. And yet, we still seem to expect it to.
But in reality, the two of you settle down, nest, and create a family and a safe place you call home. You weather storms together. You get to know one another well enough that you finish each other’s sentences. You manage to handle some big fights. You also know exactly what provokes your partner and learn not to go there. Each of you wishes the other were a little different, in one way or another, but you don’t want to rock the boat.
You love your spouse, you really do. You love your family. You have a good marriage. And so, to protect the safety you call home, you sometimes hold your tongue and pretend you don’t feel how you truly feel.
You definitely don’t want your marriage to crash, but, as the old song says, “Is that all there is?”
And so you reach the relationship stage of loving your partner but no longer feeling “in love” with each other. Believe me, it happens to the best of couples.
So, what do you do? Go with the flow? Numb out and pretend everything is OK? Cheat on your partner?
How about “none of the above?”
RELATED: 25 Experts Explain What Choices Make A Marriage Actually Work Long-Term
Just because a marriage reaches a plateau, it doesn’t mean it’s over
This dilemma always reminds me of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe on the subway grate, from the 1955 comedy, “The Seven-Year Itch.”
The film is about the yearnings of a definitely happily married man. In 1950s Hollywood, the only allowable outcome was for him to settle back into his safe marriage and not take a risk … any risk. Not even the risk of telling his well-loved wife that he might want more out of their life together.
Notable psychotherapist Esther Perel often points out that “you can’t want what you already have.” Desire is always for something or someone you can’t … quite … reach.
Thus the appeal of infidelity is when the spouse you securely have feels almost too secure. This is the period in a marriage when people stray away, looking for outside excitement. Maybe they find it in sports, a consuming new hobby, or long nights out “with the boys.” Maybe it’s an affair.
You see, we need safety. But, we also need liveliness.
Examine your choices to keep it interesting
When your relationship is new and exciting, you’ll do anything to protect it. But once it becomes familiar and the status quo, you feel deadened. The “life” goes out of your life. Is that all there is?
Well, that depends on the choices you make when those inevitable feelings of sameness creep in and zap the spark from your relationship. We know that affairs are often about looking for something you haven’t found (or that you’ve lost) in your marriage. And so the question I’m raising is this:
What’s keeping you from finding excitement with your partner?
I’ll tell you — it’s the common mistake many people make in their beliefs about a “happy relationship:” Most couples believe that “closeness” is the ultimate goal in marriage; that if you’re close enough, your perpetual happiness is guaranteed.
But the truth is, if you get too close, you can’t really see each other. You’ll see what I mean if you hold your palm up to your nose: Your hand almost disappears.
I believe, rather, that marriage is like an intricate dance: Sometimes you’re close, but sometimes you’re across the stage from one another.
Dancing the dance
When you are cheek-to-cheek, it’s warm, it’s cozy — and you’re aware of each other’s toes. But as you twirl apart, each of you rediscovers his/her own center of gravity. You’re separate worlds that fly away apart, and then, having seen a different view of each other, you return joyfully.
So, the truth is — you probably don’t know your partner as well as you think you do. There’s a saying that inner space is as enormous as outer space. We never truly know one another through and through.
But, rather than causing disconnect, this is what can help infuse life back into your marriage.
Can you take a chance? Can you talk with your husband or wife, from a curious place (not a defensive one)? When you take one another for granted, you see only what you expect to see in your partner.
But if you remain curious, the closer you look, the more you discover in the one you love. Everything about you and about your partner suddenly seems intriguing and mysterious.
Einstein says, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Think of it this way — are you the same person you were when you and your spouse first met? I’d be very surprised if you were. And yet, it’s so easy to assume (and even expect) that your partner will remain the same person you first fell in love with.
Allow room for mystery and delight
Can you allow yourself to look at your partner (and your relationship) and let yourself feel surprised? Can you speak about your fears and desires and hear your partner’s as well?
Try looking at your spouse as if from a distance: This person who is so familiar to you becomes an exciting mystery, if you’ll allow your eyes and heart to see it. Proust says: “The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, to behold the hundred universes … that each of [you are].”
Your partner doesn’t “belong to” you — even though that idea makes you feel safe.
Realizing this is a lot to handle. It’s terrifying to open up yourself and see your partner in a new way. But the choice to do so is worth the effort, I promise. The exciting journey of passion, discovery, and newness does not have to end after you ride off into the sunset (e.g. you get married).
Learn to create excitement in your life (and your relationship) with your partner! That’s the real secret to living “happily ever after.”
More for You:
Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveThe Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Cheryl Gerson is a couples counselor, an individual psychotherapist, and a group therapy leader. In private practice in New York City for over 25 years, she’s licensed in Clinical Social Work, a Board Certified Diplomate, and has an Institute certificate in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.