Practicing good relationships techniques since 2008
(Whether he likes it or not ;))
In school I aspired to be a marriage and relationship councillor. The rationale for this was knowing that it is an undeniable fact that relationships would always break down and people would always seek help to “fix” it. The reason that I used those little air quotes was because in that field, it is rather well known that the truth of the matter is, if you aren’t working on your relationship throughout the course of it, it is intensely difficult to swoop in once the feelings of anger and resentment set in, and just *poof* fix what is broken. Because feelings and emotions are not like the TV or a car. They cannot be fixed with some new parts and a little elbow grease. They are more like a beautiful and cherished crystal vase. Once the object is subjected to intense pressure and subsequently shatters it cannot simply be put back together but you can accept the loss and maybe, just maybe, buy a new one that you will love just as much as the old one and, in turn, move on from the pain of the wreckage of the original vase.
I know that a multitude of people claim that Marriage Counseling “doesn’t work”. There is validity in that argument. If you have let that vase break and come in and say to the therapist, “Fix this.”, that is an unreasonable request. The feelings and emotions have already soured and that cannot be undone. Your willingness to do the work on creating something new is the key to successful therapy. You cannot unring a bell and feelings cannot be unhurt so what you are left with is how much -after all of the tears that brought you there- you still are committed to making your marriage something that makes you smile again. Unfortunately, that involves letting go and moving on from pain and turmoil and that is close to impossible for most people. That is not the way that many people are wired. It has become easier in this day and age to just actually start over than to admit that forgiveness is something that just cannot be given once the pain has been inflicted.
That is not to say that everyone will end up in that position. Learning the key basics of a healthy relationship and working on each issue as it comes is something that can keep you from ever having to seek the aide of a third party. Because the truth is…who knows you and your spouse better than the two of you? Who knows what works and what doesn’t better than the people that are in the trenches every day? All a therapist is going to do is ask to you to express your feelings and if you are in a marriage that you cannot do that…well, that is for another post on another day.
But I have gotten off track here….
The essential keys to a healthy relationship are:
1. Develop a realistic view of committed relationships.
This one is pretty simple. There is a reason that the divorce statistic drops by 20% in couples that marry over the age of 30. Childish or unreasonable expectations from one or both partners is the number one killer of relationships. Marriage is work. Sometimes hard work. Remember living with your parents or siblings and no matter how much they loved you and you loved them they still drove you crazy since you were around them all of the time? Multiply that times a thousand. Because now you have real problems like bills, car repairs, parenting, ect. People cannot get along all of the time. You and your spouse will fight. Learning how to fight in a healthy manner and doing what works for you as a couple will keep you from “the couch”. It is different for everyone but you have to find it. It may be discussing it right then to get it off of your chest or perhaps you let things settle and discuss when you are calm (I suggest the latter personally) but the point is not to let resentment fester. It is a marriage murderer.
You have to be realistic. There will be bad times. There will be fights. Things will slow down in the bedroom. Life will happen. The key is to remember that your spouse is your partner, not your savior, and only expect as much from them as you are willing to give.
2. Work on the relationship.
Love shouldn’t be work. If you are in a two month relationship and you are fighting about the type of pizza to order…jump ship. But a committed, multi-year relationship -marriage or not- is going to be work sometimes. Be willing to do the work. There will be days that you are tired and don’t feel like listening. Listen; because how would that feel if the roles were reversed? Compromise even when you are certain you are right. Because being right doesn’t mean that the other person doesn’t have a voice in your marriage. Losing your voice is pure homicide in a relationship. If your spouse loves something that you hate…indulge them. Ask yourself, “Would you want to come home to you everyday?”. Look at how you are, your demeanor, and your outward actions. If the answer is “No”, then change that. Be a person that deserves love and you will be a person that receives it.
3. Spend time together.
This one isn’t always as simple as it sounds. But make time to be a couple. That couple that used to dance in the rain or sing karaoke on Friday nights. Becoming a family is an all encompassing thing and I am not saying you necessarily have to be “away”. During nap time or while cooking dinner is equally considered quality time. Not only take those moments but cherish them. Store those moments of laughter in a “love bank” to draw back on the next time things aren’t so rosy. They will help you remember that while your feelings may be hurt now that it isn’t always like that.
4. Make room for “separateness.”
I call it, “Head Space”. An example is: my husband has his music and I have my blog. These things are our own and can be time consuming but it something that we are proud of, it’s a solitary activity, and when we feel triumphant it is something that we can share with one another. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something you each have that is your own. While being a part of a couple is important, you still have to retain a part of your individuality as a crucial part of personal growth which is important in a marriage.
5. Make the most of your differences.
No matter how much any couple is alike, they will invariably have differences. Embrace them. More times than not it is the thing that balances you as a team. One person may be super organized and one not. So let the organizer organize and let the other carry the weight where they are strong. Finding and dwelling on faults is not only unhealthy, it’s fatal to emotional sanity.
6. Don’t expect your partner to change; but at the same time give them more of what they want.
Everyone has flaws but do not let the flaws become something that gives you validation in being or doing less in a marriage. “My husband doesn’t do X, so now I am not doing Y.” is a typical example of this. Always do more than what is expected. Your spouse loves you and if they feel that you are going out of your way and doing more they will be much more responsive to changing simple behaviors than by you nagging or complaining. Model how you want to be treated. Couples that stop trying to change each other -not simple behaviors like taking out the trash or using a coaster but who the other other person is- will eliminate the source of most of their arguments. And remember, couples that argue less, get divorced less. Simple fact.
7. Accept that some problems can’t be solved.
Agree to disagree and move on. Not everything can be solved. Remember that you loved your partner in the beginning because they were passionate. They still are. Maybe you’re right in this case. But what does it really solve to fight and dwell on it? Sometimes letting go shows just as much strength as digging in.
8. Communication is CRUCIAL.
This doesn’t mean that you should run around speaking your mind every five seconds; but talk. Talk about good things more than bad things. If your partner only hears negativity from you, they will subconsciously associate you with all things negative. Don’t hold things back but don’t speak in anger. Learn each others listening habits. If your spouse is tired after work then maybe that isn’t the time for serious conversations. Always make sure you are listening and not just waiting for your turn to speak in a disagreement. Practice good communication (as much as you can) and you will never find yourself seeking therapy, I can tell you that.
9. Honesty is essential.
Be honest and respect their honesty. This is one I think has to be a no-brainer. There is no love, no faith, no commitment without trust. And there is no trust without honesty. If you are in a place where you are without trust it is incredibly difficult to rebuild but if you are in that situation…it all starts with forgiveness. If you cannot forgive then it is time to move forward.
10. Respect your partner, and don’t take him or her for granted.
Even if your spouse does the same thing every day like clockwork, thank them. Tell them that they are attractive, that they are smart. Tell them you love them. Tell them that you cannot live without them. Make sure that they know -at all times- that they are appreciated and loved. Because you never hear in Divorce Court, “Oh, he just loved me too much!”
From my brain to yours on this lovely “Hallmark Holiday”. May your relationships be warm and fulfilling and withstand the test of time!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I'm just living minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.