How you feel about your marriage depends on how you and your partner relate to each other—your interpersonal relationship. The interpersonal relationship between romantic partners is about how you ask for what you want, how you resolve differences, how you avoid conflict, how you express your feelings toward one another, and how you talk about a concern or complaint.
Every interaction between partners has two features: a content feature and a process feature. Content refers to the specific issue at hand—you want sex, help with the dishes, a night out with the guys, etc. Process refers to what is happening between you interpersonally as you talk about what you want—how you are relating to each other. This distinction is important because it is how you relate to one another more than the specifics of what you want that determines how you feel about your relationship—and how you feel about your partner.
How to Evaluate Your Marital Relationship
There are three general ways couples relate to one another: Doing Gender, Transacting, and Collaborative Negotiating. It is likely that you interact in all these ways at one time or another. However, one kind tends to dominate in relationships. How you feel about your relationship will be influenced by the usual way you relate to one another.
Here is a guide to assessing how you relate to your marriage and how you feel about how you are interacting.
1. Doing Gender
“His” and “Her” Roles
Relating to one another in traditional marriage relationships is acting out your ingrained views of masculinity and femininity. You may be “doing gender” in your marriage without even knowing it. In a heterosexual marriage, the traditional pattern is each husband and wife conform to the socially prescribed roles of the masculine-husband and feminine-wife.
In this type of relationship, what men and women want and how they go about getting it is dictated by gender. To not conform to these gender expectations and roles is to be “less masculine” and “less feminine.”
Doing Gender—An Example
Imagine a husband who has had a hard day at work and is feeling stressed. He “acts out” his gender expectations by crumpling into his easy chair to show that he is worn out from work and needs attention. His wife, seeing this, intuitively understands that this is his bid for her to show her “womanly” caring.
How she responds depends on her definition of being feminine and his sense of masculinity. She may respond by sitting down with him for a few minutes, or by bringing him something to eat or drink. He may not want to talk about his day. To not provide caring would likely result in him feeling deprived of what is his due. It is noteworthy that conforming to these gender roles is not necessarily seen as praiseworthy—it is what ought to be done. 
Assessing Your Relationship
Conforming to prescribed roles in a marriage limits individual creativity. It also can foster unfairness in marriage because of the power differential inherent in gender. A few questions can begin your assessment of relating by gender and how satisfying is it:
- Do you feel stuck in being a “good wife”?—being nice, feel guilty when family members are not doing well, sacrificing things you want to do, feeling hemmed in by routing household duties, etc.
- Do you feel stuck in being a “good husband”?—feeling overwhelmed by the need to provide for your family, not being appreciated for the contributions you make, sacrificing things you want to do, etc.
- Are you caught in the “demand-withdraw” pattern of interaction? As a wife, you push for change and your husband disengages.
Also, read 8 Secrets of Long-Married Couples
2. Transacting—The Business Model
Young people searching for newer ways to interact with each other turned to professionals (e.g., psychologists, social workers, marital advisors) to find a new way to relate that is less driven by gender. These authorities propose the idea of a transaction, which comes from the business world. Applied to marriage means the partners do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation.