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Women in Love

How to keep your relationship strong through the decades.
By
WebMD Feature

What do women want?

That question had even Sigmund Freud stumped, and he was supposed to be an expert on human desire, sexual and otherwise (remember Oedipus and his Mommy?).

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But it's no myth that women often want the same thing out of relationships as men do; they just go about getting it in different ways and in different phases of their lives, says Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD. She should know: as co-founder and clinical director of the Gottman Institute, she focuses on helping couples build and maintain healthy relationships. "There's kind of a developmental process to relationships that in some ways parallels that of the individual, and then calls on different things from partners in relationships throughout a lifetime," Gottman tells WebMD.

Gottman says that what each woman needs, wants, and expects from her marriage or intimate relationship may change from one phase of her life to the next. Yet there are tips that help couples in all phases of life. So let's start with those:

  • Make time for conversations where you find out what your partner has experienced lately.
  • Express fondness, appreciation, and admiration for your partner often.
  • Acknowledge your partners interests, even in small moments.
  • Avoid the "Four Horsemen" of Marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness (which follows criticism and contempt), and stonewalling (that is, when one partner completely shuts down and refuses to respond).

As the song says, "You got to have friends." Research shows that in the 20s, women and men alike need solid friendships from their partners, as well as ways to manage conflict when disagreements occur.

And did we mention good sex?

"What colors this period, at least at this time in history, is that both men and women in their 20s are forming careers or moving forward into their work paths, and there's a lot of stress in that process," Gottman says.

Let's imagine Alice A, a 20-something newly married to Bob B and just setting out on her career. To begin with, unless she or hubby has a fat trust fund to live off, Alice is probably going to have to embark on her career straight out of school.

In addition to laying the roots for her professional life, our heroine has the added the stresses of dividing household labor, coping with in-laws, paying bills, and, possibly, pregnancy and children.

"Children in infancy in particular can be stressful for new parents, primarily due to a couple of things," Gottman says. "One, of course is the physical demands of having a new baby. Another is the changes in the family system itself." To recap: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Alice with a baby carriage and the costs of day care, a mortgage, and gasoline for the suburban assault vehicle sitting in the driveway.

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