The affirming couple emerges from the blissful, “honeymoon” phase of their marriage with an awareness of both their similarities and differences. Rather than fearing their differences, they accept them and are even stimulated by them. Differences that are threatening are acknowledged and discussed, leading to growth in the deep friendship that underlies their union. They begin to recognize what aspects of their early relationship life no longer fit for them in this new relationship and make choices of what to maintain and what to discard. Many see the opportunity for ongoing personal and relationship renewal, and grow in their devotion to the relationship. Researcher John Gottman points out that, in relationships of this type, the partners exchange five loving comments for each critical comment.
Affirming couples look for ways to understand, support, and share affection. Threatening events, circumstances, and behaviors are not sidestepped; instead, they are seen as opportunities to learn something about their partner and about their relationship. The partners continually build their knowledge of each other’s needs, dreams, and fears, are assertive with and receptive to each other, and thoughtful and creative about their dilemmas. As the relationship grows, the partners become aware that they are creating something new and enduring.
When disagreements appear, affirming couples approach their differences by :
Attempting repair. They look for opportunities to mend the relationship, to clarify their dilemmas and differences, and to make their conflicts mutual ones.
Softening criticism. They find a way to express their concerns without blaming or nagging, but as a means of clarifying and solving their mutual problems.
Self-soothing. Each partner has a way to reduce the physical and emotional arousal that emerges when they are threatened by their differences.
Accepting each other’s influence. They are disposed to listening to and understanding their partner’s point of view and allow this to affect how they approach the disagreement.
Through dialogue, each partner works to discover the yearnings of the other. In this way, they come to understand where their partner is “coming from.” By listening to each other’s point of view, they are able to discover a “middle ground” that represents an option they both can live with.
Good Communication in Marriage Starts with Respect, Article by Amy Bellows, June 22, 2007
Communication is the mortar that holds a relationship together - if it breaks down, the relationship will crumble. When spouses no longer communicate, a marriage nurtures no one. It is no longer a marriage. True communication involves respect for the other person as well as active energy on your part. These two skills are essential ingredients to making a relationship work.
We often immediately reject another’s perceptions, especially when our views differ. This rejection may even be unconscious. We find ourselves ready to dispute the things our spouse has to say, to challenge them, or to hear them as threats. Obviously, such an attitude interferes with two-way communication.
The first step to improved dialogues is to respect your partner. Respect allows you to accept another person’s point of view whole-heartedly. Consider and value your spouse’s perspectives or suggestions. Let your partner know that your respect and value for him/her supersedes the specific issue you are discussing.
Good communication also requires an active effort. Draw yourself and the other person completely into the communication process. If one partner dominates - ie., does all the talking, offers all the ideas, and has most or all of the control or influence - this effort can only be one-sided. Both of you must be involved in the process.
To work towards this full involvement you should:
Take full responsibility for the dialogue
Put your energy into the exchange
Make a commitment to seeing the process through
Express your thoughts and feelings fully and encourage your partner to do the same
Resolve misunderstandings by asking questions and seeking clarifications rather than by getting angry.
By putting this energy into communication, you will make a statement to your partner about your commitment and responsibility. It will demonstrate that the relationship is important to you and that you are willing to involve yourself fully in this act of communication. Intimate communication may not be worth the effort without love. Love is critical to the relationship. Yet alone it is not enough. If there is love, however, and if the relationship is important to you then you must focus on communication. Only through good, true communication can you realize the joy of love. Good communication makes love possible, certainly makes it better, and ultimately may be love itself.
10 Rules for Friendly Fighting for Couples Article by Marie Hartwell-Walker, February 11, 2008
For some people, this is a truly radical idea: There is no need to fight with your partner. Ever. Accusations, recriminations, character assassination, threats, name-calling, and cursing, whether delivered at top volume or with a quiet sarcastic sneer, damage a relationship, often irrevocably. Nobody needs to be a monster or to be treated monstrously. Nobody who yells will ever be heard. In the heat of a moment, it is always a choice whether to go for a run or run your partner down.
On the other hand, no two people in the world, no matter how made for each other they feel, will ever agree about everything at all times. (It would be quite boring if they did.) Couples do need to be able to negotiate differences. They do need to have room for constructive criticism. They do need a way to assert opinions and to disagree. And they do need to have a way to express intense feelings (that the other person may not understand or support) without feeling that they will be judged as lacking for doing so.
A healthy relationship requires knowing the skills necessary for “friendly fighting” — dealing with conflict respectfully and working together to find a workable solution. Friendly fighting means working out differences that matter. It means engaging passionately about things we feel passionate about, without resorting to hurting one another. It helps us let off steam without getting burned. Friendly fighting lets us “fight” and still stay friends.
Couples in mature, healthy relationships seem intuitively to understand the notion of friendly fighting. Some people have been fortunate enough to grow up in families where their parents modeled how to disagree without being disagreeable. Others were so horrified by the way their folks treated each other that they refuse to repeat the behavior in their own relationships. Most couples, though, learn the art of friendly fighting by working it out together and supporting each other in staying in close relationship even when differences mystify, frustrate, and upset them. Most come up with stated or unstated rules for engagement that are surprisingly similar.
Ten rules for friendly fighting: or how to ensure that conflicts will strengthen your marriage instead of harm it.
Embrace conflict. There is no need to fear it. Conflict is normal, even healthy. Differences between you mean that there are things you can learn from each other. Often conflict shows us where we can or need to grow.
Go after the issue, not each other. Friendly fighting sticks with the issue. Neither party resorts to name calling or character assassination. It’s enough to deal with the problem without adding the new problem of hurting each other’s feelings.
Listen respectfully. When people feel strongly about something, it’s only fair to hear them out.
Respectful listening means acknowledging their feelings, either verbally or through focused attention. It means never telling someone that he or she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It means saving your point of view until after you’ve let the other person know you understand that they feel intensely about the subject, even if you don’t quite get it.
Talk softly. The louder someone yells, the less likely they are to be heard. Even if your partner yells, there’s no need to yell back. Taking the volume down makes it possible for people to start focusing on the issues instead of reacting to the noise.
Get curious, not defensive. Defending yourself, whether by vehemently protesting your innocence or rightness or by turning the tables and attacking, escalates the fight. Instead of upping the ante,
ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding.
Ask for specifics. Global statements that include the words “always” and “never” almost always get you nowhere and never are true. When your partner has complaints, ask to move from global comments of exasperation to specific examples so you can understand exactly what s/he is talking about. When you have complaints, do your best to give your partner examples to work with.
Find points of agreement. There almost always are parts of a conflict that can be points of agreement. Finding common ground, even if it’s agreeing that there is a problem, is an important start to finding a common solution.
Look for options. Fighting ends when cooperation begins. Asking politely for suggestions or alternatives invites collaboration. Careful consideration of options shows respect. Offering alternatives of your own shows that you also are willing to try something new.
Make concessions. Small concessions can turn the situation around. If you give a little, it makes room for the other person to make concessions too. Small concessions lead to larger compromises. Compromise doesn’t have to mean that you’re meeting each other exactly 50-50. Sometimes it’s a 60-40 or even 80-20 agreement. This isn’t about scorekeeping. It’s about finding a solution that is workable for both of you.
Make peace. An elderly friend who has been married for 68 years tells me that she and her husband made a rule on their wedding day never to go to bed angry. They agreed from the outset that the relationship is more important than winning arguments. Sometimes this meant they stayed up very, very late until they came to a workable compromise. Sometimes it meant that one or the other of them decided the issue wasn’t really important enough to lose sleep over. Since they both value the marriage, neither one gave in or gave up most of the time. When one did give in or give up, the other showed appreciation and made a peace offering of his or her own. These folks still love each other after 68 years of the inevitable conflicts that come with living with another person. They are probably onto something.
How To Fight Fairly Article by Stanley J. Gross, Ed.D December 12, 2006
From suburban parks to professional stadiums, team members follow established rules when playing baseball or football. Precedents, codes, policies, and regulations govern courts of law. Even war has the Geneva Convention. Soccer, of course, has rules by which the contestants play, but the grandstands can be quite a different matter. Some European soccer fans disregard the rules of social order, and the result is chaos and rioting. The situation in these soccer grandstands is similar to what can be found in many families. Without a structure to help family members resolve their conflicts, differences often result in arguments (at best) and abuse (at worst). Adopting rules helps to create an orderly way of discussing differences.
“Fair fighting,” a concept introduced by Dr. George Bach, introduces a set of rules that make reasonable discussion possible. It does this by prescribing a format that allows the parties to listen to one another as they express their feelings and concerns in a calm and forthright manner. The ultimate goal is for each to understand the other.
The rules of fair fighting:
Ban physical and verbal abuse.
Disallow offensive labeling of others’ ideas, character, or behavior.
Exclude assumptions about another’s thinking or motives (including talking for one another).
Ban putting the relationship on the line when you are not having your way in the discussion.
The parties need to agree in advance on a specific set of rules to follow and must establish these rules when calm. The goal is for the discussion to be effective rather than give either party an opportunity to “get even,” so “drama” is considered counterproductive. When the rules are set, they should be written down so there is no confusion later.
Here are some ideas to consider when developing your rules of engagement:
Decide when. Identify a good time for your discussion. Avoid times when tired, or when children may be listening, or when stress may be looming. If it is a time when you are both relaxed, it is likely to work better.
Decide where. Find a neutral location for your discussion. Avoid discussions in your bed or in locations where you are likely to be interrupted.
Decide what. Agree on the topic or the problem for discussion beforehand.
Limit the discussion to a single topic or problem. Related issues make it too complicated for clarity.
Focus on the present situation. Past history can raise the emotional barometer.
Make a short specific statement about your concern. Vague and lengthy statements are hard to follow.
Calmly state your feelings about the situation. Most feeling words are variations on one of these themes: mad, glad, sad, and scared. Again, if you can’t name your feeling calmly, delay the discussion until you can.
Decide how. Use active listening skills to move toward the goals of understanding and compromise, as follows:
The person presenting the concern begins by making a full statement, including content and feelings, without interruption.
The second person restates his or her understanding of the first person’s statement, without interruption.
The first person either agrees that the second person adequately restated the concern or clarifies the part that was not understood.
If necessary, the second person restates the part that was clarified.
When the first person finally agrees that the second person understands, the second person has the opportunity to respond.
The first person restates until the second person is satisfied that the first person understands
This active listening process continues until both parties are satisfied that they understand each other.
When each truly understands the other’s concerns and feelings, it is likely that some options or middle ground will emerge that both parties can live with. The art of compromise is facilitated by the idea that each party gets some of what he or she wants, but not all. When a rule is violated, complain about the violation. If it is not immediately resolved, declare a time-out. Agree on a visual or verbal sign as a time-out signal. Use healthy strategies (taking a walk, meditating, moderate exercise) to calm down. Reschedule for a time when both parties have calmed down.
Couples Can Communicate Without Anger Article by Amy Bellows, June 22, 2007
“One thing seven years of marriage has taught Bob and me is how to draw blood,” Denise lamented to the counselor at their first session. “We seem to know just how and where to hurt each other, and every time we try to talk, we end up hurling insults and causing pain. It’s gotten so bad we just don’t talk anymore.”
Like millions of other couples, Denise and Bob believed the line, “love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” They don’t. Nor do they say, “I understand your point,” or “How can we work this out so that we can both be happy?” They can’t get to these effective steps because they become mired in their own anger and resentment.
Effective communication requires a willingness to listen to the other person’s point of view without getting defensive. Another major component of effective communication is the intent and phrasing of the words. The speaker needs to make points clearly and succinctly without condemnations or accusations. Bob and Denise, for example, know exactly what topics or words will inflame the other. By choosing to use this kind of ammunition, their intention is to wound or win, not to work towards a resolution. Too many times winning the point may mean losing the match. Setting aside emotional responses for long enough to listen is essential. When spouses can accept that they are neither perfect nor expected to be, constructive criticism may no longer seem a personal affront - and relaxed listening can then replace defensiveness. Bob and Denise rarely get to this point because they are side tracked by anger overriding logic and levelheadedness. If they could each learn not to reply with inflammatory remarks, tension would be greatly reduced.
Emotions are inescapably human and provide life with both zest and anguish. And emotions, even the so called negative ones, such as anger and resentment, are not inherently bad. It is the manner in which people express emotions that can be either creative or destructive, appropriate or inappropriate. Effective communication is a learned skill. It is the pivot upon which all else in a marriage turns. Before talking leads to triggering, consider the Communication Guide below:
Listen without countering.
Try to hear the other person’s point of view.
Suspend your inner dialogue.
Stick to the subject.
Make your point without digressing into attacks or accusations.
Look inward. What is the motive behind the words you choose to say? To defend, provoke or communicate?
Ask for behavioral change. Bring the conversation back to the everyday world. What will be different after this discussion?
Remember your partner’s trigger points. Then resist the temptation to use them.
Remember your own trigger points. Then resist the temptation to react to them.
Why Couples Would Rather Fight Than Get Along Article by Marie Hartwell-Walker, February 11, 2008
Another embattled couple has just left my office. They say they don’t like the fighting. They realize that the constant arguing is now affecting their kids. They tell me they like and love each other and really do want to stay together. They just can’t stand the daily harsh exchanges that get them nowhere. Each also is convinced that if the other would only shape up, they could get along. Coming to therapy is the first thing they’ve agreed on in a long time. It’s a last-ditch effort to save the marriage. At least it’ s a place to start.
I know they’re desperate. I know they are looking to me to be the referee. Hopefully I’ll be able to move to coaching them to be on the same team. Many hidden reasons can fuel bitter fights. If we are to stop the fighting, we need to understand what each side is protecting or getting out of the fights. Maybe then we can help each of them feel better and then find happier ways to manage their differences. Since people are more alike than different, there are at least some common motivators for quarrels, arguments, and all-out war. Either partner can fall into any one of them. It’s only for the sake of simplicity that I use one or the other pronoun here.
Need to be “right.” Some people have their self-esteem tied up in being “right.” They have to be right even if they’re wrong. Even if they realize mid-bicker that they’re wrong, it is more important at that point to get the other person to concede that they’re “right” than to admit a mistake. To get out of the tangle, their partner may do just that. It isn’t worth it to try to reason with someone who isn’t reasonable. Yes, the person has preserved his mistaken sense of dignity by being once again “right” but it’s at the expense of the respect of those around him.
Power. Some people use fighting as a way of gaining power. By getting her partner to back down, give in, or at least to pay attention to her when he doesn’t want to, she has proven to herself, and him, that she has the upper hand. What she doesn’t seem to understand is that to have the upper hand is to lose the mutuality that intimacy requires.
Control. Some people have been so hurt in life or are so sure they will be that the only way they can quiet their fear is to be in control. By dominating his family and arguing his partner down, he feels safe. He doesn’t understand that this kind of safety often erodes love and respect. He may succeed in making himself so “safe” that other people have to leave to feel safe from him.
Hiding. Some people use fighting as a way to hide. When his partner begins to question where he is spending his time or his money, he’ll start in about almost anything else. He gets his partner so busy defending herself from his complaints that she loses track of her original concern. He may have something to hide. Or he may just hate that she is always checking up on him and hides to preserve his sense of independence. He scores in this skirmish but the trust has suffered yet another blow.
Superiority. Some people need to feel superior in order to feel good enough. They therefore need to find ways to prove their superiority to themselves and others on a regular basis. She may be more facile with words. She may be able to think circles around him and meet point with reasoned counterpoint. She serves up her complex arguments with sarcasm and a sneer. Ultimately, he either becomes convinced that she really is superior and wonders why she tolerates his insignificant self or he gives up just to get away from the putdowns. An oppressed partner isn’t a happy one. Eventually, he’ll rebel and it won’t be pretty.
Fear of being a loser. Some people have the mistaken idea that if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Not wanting to be the loser, they strive to be the winner in every conflict. Not wanting to appear “weak,” they constantly come on strong. Certain that there is a battle coming at any moment, they work from the position that a good offense is the best defense. They don’t realize that their constant effort to win most certainly will make them lose a marriage.
Energy. Some people use a fight to get their juices running. Perhaps he’s low-grade depressed. Perhaps life just doesn’t have much excitement any more. Picking a fight with his partner is far easier than scraping up the motivation to change his life — he can do it from the couch. He gets momentary stimulation but his life is still stuck in the muck.
Hidden gifts. There are some people who use a fight as a way to let the other person have a victory so they can win a more hidden goal. She wants out of the marriage but doesn’t want to hurt him. She lets him find fault with her. She lets him see all her less than wonderful qualities. She’s willing to appear inadequate or to be the bad guy so that he can leave feeling justified rather than wounded. She’s given him a final gift while at the same time getting out of a marriage she didn’ t want.
Business as usual. Sadly, some people just don’t know any better. Having grown up in households where parents bickered, quarreled, put each other down, or had out-and-out battles, they think that fighting is just what people do. As much as they hated it as kids, they repeat what they watched their mom or dad do. The result? Another generation growing up in an unhappy, embattled family.
Sometimes ending fights in a marriage merely is about teaching the couple new ways to be assertive, to negotiate, or to let disagreements be. When that’s the case, a few coaching sessions are all it takes. The couple learns new skills, practices them, and is greatly relieved that they now can get along better. Thank you, doctor. But most couples who fight know full well how to solve problems reasonably and even do it successfully in other areas of their lives. It’s where it counts the most, in their most intimate relationship, that they mysteriously lose their ability to disagree civilly and solve problems fairly and with a minimum of drama.
To be in a loving and intimate relationship is to be at our most vulnerable. When couples can’t seem to learn to get along, it’s often because the fighting is an unconscious way that one or the other (or both) avoids personal exposure and quiets fears of closeness. Being right, superior, or in control are important ways that these people have learned to protect themselves. In that case, ending the fights requires more than simple coaching or skill building. It requires helping the individuals become conscious of what is really behind the fights and supporting them in learning ways to be close without being afraid. If the couple is committed to the marriage, a skilled therapist often can make a place that is safe enough to deal with old hurts and open new possibilities for intimacy. It takes a while for people to feel strong in themselves. It takes practice to learn ways to help each other feel safe. It takes cautious trials for people to feel secure in showing their true selves. With time to develop reciprocal support and understanding, fighting can be replaced with self- respect and mutual understanding.
5 Secrets to a Successful Long-Term Relationship or Marriage Artcle by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. November 7, 2007
There have been a thousand or more articles written about how to have a successful long-term relationship or marriage, but none that seem to capture all of the core ingredients I’ve found important in relationships. So here’s the straight dope, from my experience.
Before I begin, however, it’s important to dispel a common relationship myth — relationships are (or should be) easy. That is simply not true. The grass always looks greener in other people’s lives, because few people share the truth of the amount of work that goes into relationships (hence why 50% of marriages end in divorce). Relationships — even the best relationships in the world — require constant attention, nurturing, and work. If you can understand and accept the need for constant attention and work in your relationship, you’re started in the right direction.
Compromise - Relationships are about not only taking, but also giving. If you find yourself not giving very much, or feeling resentful of how much you give and how little you receive back, you may be in an unequal relationship where one side is taking more than they are giving. For instance, couples sometimes mistakenly believe that “love” will help them deal with any issue that comes up, and that if the other person truly loved you, they would just do as you ask. But people are independent with their own unique needs and personalities. Just because we found someone we want to spend our lives with doesn’t mean we give up our own identity in the process.
Communicate - Relationships live and die not by the sword, but by the amount of discussion. If two people can’t find a way to openly and honestly communicate their needs and feelings to one another, the relationship doesn’t stand much of a chance long-term. Couples must find a way to communicate regularly, openly, and directly. This doesn’t mean waiting for an argument to tell your significant other how much he bothers you with his throwing his clothes on the floor instead of the hamper. It means telling him when you feel the need to, and to do so in a manner that is respectful but assertive.
Choose Your Battles Carefully - After marriage or when two people move in together, couples tend to discover pretty much the same thing no matter who they are – that they are two different people and living together is harder than anyone ever told them. Love conquers a lot of things, but it is no match for living day-in and day-out with another human being (especially if you’ve spent years on your own). Prepare yourself for this challenge by choosing what arguments you want to turn into a full blown battle. For instance, do you really want to start a fight over the toothpaste cap or how clean the shower is? Or would you rather reserve your energy for the discussions over finances, kids, and career paths (you know, the things that might really matter to a person). Too many couples fight and bicker over the dumbest things, especially when put into context of issues of true importance.
Don’t Hide Your Needs - Sometimes when we enter into a long-term relationship, we put ourselves second, behind the other person’s needs and desires. We might give up working to have a child, or agree to move to another city to help support our significant other’s career. And that’s fine, but you need to be realistic first with yourself about whether such things really matter to you or not. If they do, you need to find a way to communicate such needs with your partner, and compromise where possible. Two people will rarely have exactly the same wants and desires out of life — that’s just a fantasy. Instead, expect that sometimes your two paths will diverge. Express your needs at those crucial moments, but always find a way to do so respectfully and with an open mind.
Don’t underestimate the importance of trust and honesty - Different people have different areas of concern, but almost everyone values trust and honesty from their partner above all. Why? Because your partner is the one person you want to be able to depend upon in the long-term, without question or doubt. Little things where your significant other hasn’t been completely honest shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, because virtually everybody tells little white lies (especially when one is dating). Focus instead on the big things, like if they say they’re a lawyer and you discover they’ve never even passed the bar, or they say they like kids but later on insist on never having one.
Strong relationships are like a really good conversation with someone you admire, trust and cherish – they are ever-changing, engaging, wonderfully rewarding and sometimes surprising. But in order to continue the conversation because you want to see what the person has to say next, you have to respect your significant other’s opinion even when you disagree with it. And just like a good conversation, you need to work on keeping your end up too. You need to show attention and nurture the relationship constantly, just as you would nurture anything you value in life. You don’t just “get married” and that’s the end of it. Indeed, marriage is just the beginning of a long process of learning to openly and honestly communicate with another person in a respectful and caring manner. If you’re up for it and follow these tips, you’ll be on a road to having a more successful relationship or marriage. But remember — it takes two to tango. Share these with your significant other or spouse and use it as an opportunity to begin the conversation of your life.
Making Relationships Work Article by Charleen Alderfer, October 13, 2006
Many couples go into a marriage thinking that love will see them through anything the future may hold. While this idea is romantically appealing and is fueled by the passion of love in bloom, it falls short of ensuring a happy and productive marriage. Relationships don’t just happen. They require work and care to endure and, with time, to evolve in ways that keep both partners fulfilled. Such labors are well worth the effort, though, since a lasting marital relationship can be the most rewarding bond in life.
Laying a Solid Foundation - One of the difficulties faced in intimate relationships is that opposites do attract. We are often fascinated by personal traits or background characteristics in our potential partner that we, ourselves, do not possess. It is not unusual, for example, for an only child to marry someone from a large family because she is attracted to the excitement and seeming closeness of her partner’s large family. At the same time, he is attracted to her quiet and apparently peaceful family. It may not be long before she is accusing his family of being “overwhelming” and he is describing her family as “too withdrawn.” This is the point at which it is important to stop and recall what brought the partners together. With understanding, self-awareness, and a good measure of humor, each is more able to see the advantages and disadvantages of their own as well as their partner’s traits and circumstances. Women and men also need to be equals in their relationship. A good marriage is not built upon the foundation of one partner feeling like a child and the other feeling like a parent. Only when partners relate as peers is it possible to experience mutual respect, sharing, support for each other, and the ability to disagree without the threat of losing the relationship. With that type of underpinning, the marriage will thrive.
Boundaries around the individual and the couple sustain the health of a relationship. This means having “individual time” and “couple time.” In successful partnerships, boundaries are created to determine when, where, and to what extent other people are a part the life of the individual and of the couple. Boundaries (with negotiated flexibility) are important for establishing and maintaining intimacy in a relationship.
Finally, intimacy is the foundation for the development of lasting bonds in a relationship. While sexual and physical connections are important, they are not the only kind of intimacy in a relationship. Emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational aspects of life are also areas in which intimacy grows. Without these, sexual intimacy is purely physical and unlikely to sustain a relationship over the long term.
The following suggestions for reflection and growth may help couples to think about the challenges they face within their own relationships and inspire new approaches to old problems:
See the reality of your partner (and of yourself), not a fantasy of perfection.
Stay in the present. Deal with what is happening now; you don’t have to dredge up old baggage.
The giving and receiving of unconditional love is not to be taken for granted. Certain aspects of love are earned.
Not every attack is personal. Avoid overdramatizing.
Be more concerned with loving and being loved, caring and being cared about than being right. Many right people are very lonely.
See the situation from the other person’s perspective. Forgo blaming or judging.
Say as much as you can to each other. The more that remains unspoken, the greater the risk for problems.
Nurture a sense of humor. It is difficult for us to be defensive when we can laugh at ourselves.
Courtship to Marriage: A Tricky Transaction Article by Robert Stone October 19, 2006
In Greek mythology, there are some marvelous stories of marriage. Here, for instance, is a tale about how Zeus and Hera tricked each other into marriage and the inevitable disappointments that follow such chicanery. These stories are wonderful parables for the present.
Wounded Birds Zeus, the chief and most macho of the gods, fell in love with Hera. An independent and proud goddess, she was not swept off her feet by his wooing and rejected his offer of marriage. Zeus, wounded by this rejection but still wanting the fair Hera, decided to trick her by disguising himself as a poor, bedraggled, wounded bird. Hera, upon seeing the creature, took pity on it. The bird’s suffering struck a sympathetic chord deep within her own heart and she tenderly warmed the pathetic but charming creature at her bosom. Thus it was that Zeus, the great thrower of thunderbolts, won the heart of Hera and eventually tricked her into marriage.
There is much to be learned from this story. Wounded birds can be most disarming. Women often can sense an underlying tenderness and vulnerability that is born of childhood mistreatment or prior hurtful relationships beneath the veneer of macho men. These otherwise independent women will go to incredible lengths to succor such men, especially women whose fathers had a similar core of sadness. They long to fulfill an old desire to restore the wounded bird to health through the generous gift of a love that transcends any love they have ever known.
It is upsetting when the wounded bird responds not with gratitude and growth, but instead becomes proud and petulant, distant and defiant. It’s much too frightening to a macho man to have his defenses down for long. Often enough, the sensitive man our helpful lady married vanishes and an irrational, ridiculous god of the male ego appears in his stead, throwing thunderbolts of abuse at his beloved before he flies the coop with some little chickadee. The wounded bird denies his vulnerability and hides his unhappiness by wounding the woman who cared for him, just as Zeus left Hera hurt and betrayed.
Why do women stay with the men who abuse and disappointment them? Perhaps they are still enchanted by that little wounded bird they are sure is there beneath the bravado and cruelty. Perhaps their self-esteem is tied up in their self-perceived ability to cure with their love. Perhaps they can’t stand the idea that they might fail to revive the gentleness in their beloved. Perhaps they are reenacting an old drama that has been going on in their families for generations. Whatever the reason, women beware! Unless the wounded person is even more motivated than you are to deal with his feelings and develop a new kind of relationship, you are, like Hera, forever doomed to dissatisfaction.
Be My Valentine: An Exercise to Grow Your Relationship Article by Marie Hartwell-Walker, February 11, 2008
Do the following exercise to learn where your relationship could use a boost. Along with the usual card or flowers, consider giving your sweetheart the gift of efforts to make your relationship stronger. The items in the chart below are the characteristics most often identified in studies of happy long term couples. Although not all couples show all of these attributes all of the time, having strengths in a majority of them does seem to indicate an enduring and contented relationship.
Both of you willingly give at least 75% of the time. You each give because you want to make the relationship better, not because you expect to get something back.
Both of you see the relationship as a “given”. You can count on each other’s love and trust. You are committed to the commitment you’ve made.
Both of you arrange to spend time with the other. You want and need to be together
Both of you see your partner as your “best friend”. You’d rather share important things with each other than anyone else.
Both of you express love verbally. You don’t leave this to chance. You express your pride, appreciation, and caring.
Both of you express love through frequent physical contact. You sit close, touch when talking, hold hands, hug.
Both of you express interest in the other’s day. You are genuinely interested in what’s going on in each other’s lives.
Both of you allow your partner to be imperfect. You have a realistic vision of each other and keep each other anyway.
Both of you work on conflicts and stresses without blaming. A problem is something to solve as a team, not a signal to fight.
Both of you refrain from pushing arguments into painful places. You don’t use known vulnerabilities to your own advantage.
Both of you work on own family of origin issues. You don’t take out on your partner negative issues that belong with mom and dad or stem from an unhappy childhood
Which of the items above do you feel comfortable offering to your partner as a “present”. Can you think of concrete and specific things you can do to make it occur more often in your relationship? Which of the items above do you feel comfortable asking for from your partner? Has something blocked you from asking or has it simply not occurred to you that you could? Take a moment to reflect on what you could do differently to invite more of these things into your life. Which of the items above do you see as things you can celebrate together?
Which of the items aren’t important to either of you? Why do you think they aren't important? It’s not necessarily a problem that these items aren't important if you and your partner are in agreement. Some couples, for example, are not very verbally appreciative of each other. They agree that actions are more important than words and communicate their caring through mutual thoughtfulness. But if, for example, every conflict leads to painful blaming and fighting, it could undermine what otherwise has all the potential to be a happy relationship. If the answers to any of the items give either of you pain, it’s something to work on. Think about how your life together would be different if you decided to add these dimensions to your relationship. Consider giving each other the gift of practicing them in your relationship until they feel natural for you.
Reviving Your Marriage Article by Maud Purcell, December 10, 2006
Is your marriage alive and well, or is it time to dial 911? Chances are the health of your relationship falls somewhere in the middle — slightly out of shape and tired. Unfortunately most of us tend to take the health of a marriage for granted. And we don’t realize how important a happy, healthy relationship is until it’s time for marital CPR.
Maintaining personal health requires work — exercise, good nutrition, rest and regular checkups. No one teaches us that the same kind of maintenance is also necessary in order to keep a marriage alive. Love between a parent and child is unconditional. Love between a husband and wife is not. As divorce statistics would indicate, an untended marriage falls apart too easily. The good news is that there are ways to make a marriage survive, and better yet, thrive.
There are warning signs or “symptoms” when your marriage is “under the weather.” Here are some key symptoms:
feelings of chronic resentment toward your spouse
lack of laughter between the two of you
desire to spend free time with someone other than your mate
too much time spent playing the “blame game”
conversations between you are laced with bitterness and sarcasm
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, it’s time to revive your marriage by following these suggestions:
Make the marriage your priority, not an afterthought. Set aside regular time to be alone with your partner. If kids are in the picture, hunt for a “network” of trusted babysitters. If money is a concern, compare the cost of a night out with that of marital therapy or a divorce attorney! Get the drift?
Start doing some of the things that used to bring you joy, and helped you to feel more connected. There are plenty of activities that you can do for free — a long walk, star gazing or window-shopping are all simple pleasures that can bring you closer together.
Resuscitate your romance. Remember how the sparks flew when you first met? It’s probably not too late to rekindle the embers. Surprise your spouse with a homemade Valentine (any day of the year!) and a bottle of champagne. Light up the bedroom with candles, or put a love note in his briefcase. Last but not least, initiate lovemaking. Passion is the glue in a marriage — it helps you feel close to your mate, and makes getting through rough times a lot easier.
Accept what you can’t change. Much marital strife is caused by the belief that you cannot be happy in your marriage as long as you must live with your partner’s bad habits or imperfections. Have you noticed that no matter how much you gripe and moan, these things don’t change? Rather than trying to control what you can’t, work around his quirks and focus on the positive. We all respond much better to praise than to criticism. And here’s the paradox: Sometimes when we stop fighting the way things are, they actually do change. No guarantees, but it’s worth a try.
Be attractive, inside and out. “Married” doesn’t have to mean complacent. Continue to learn and experience new things, and share these with your partner. Eat right, exercise, rest and make the most of your appearance. Doing these things is taking good care of yourself, but it’s also a way of showing your mate that you want to be your best and share yourself with him.
Improve communication and negotiation skills. Being a good listener is key to healthy communication. Even if you don’t agree with what he’s had to say, empathize with his position. This will open the door to more effective conflict resolution. If you must be critical, convert criticism into a request for behavioral change by stating it positively. Most important, apologize when you are wrong.
There are no marriages made in heaven. But by devoting time and energy to reviving your marriage, you’ll once again feel your relationship pulse beating strong and steady.
Marriage Myth: Spouses Can’t Change Article by Marina Benjamen, February 8, 2006
On the contrary: Revamping your partner is easy. By the time people seek marriage counseling, they usually arrive armed with an arsenal of complaints about their partners: “She isn’t affectionate enough,” “He’s so insensitive,” “She wants to control everything,” “He doesn’t listen to me,” “She’s never on time,” “He’s so tight with money.” Therapists’ walls echo with accusations as people point fingers at one another in an attempt to explain what they see as the source of their own discontent.
After a litany of blame, accusation and lamentation, clients are often “consoled” by their therapists with the harsh reality that, “You need to realize that there isn’t anything you can ever do to get your partner to change. People are who they are. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially one that’s not interested in learning any, so you need to simply accept your spouse or else get out of the relationship.” There’s nothing you can do to change them!
But what people fail to realize, including many marriage counselors, is that we can change other people. In fact, we have the power to create dramatic and long-lasting changes in those around us. The secret lies in how we target our energy and efforts, because our capacity to change others is entirely based on our willingness to change ourselves. This is not double-talk or trickery, it’s simply the reality of relationship dynamics.
“If I create a change in my own attitude and behavior, my spouse and the marriage itself will automatically be forced to change.” A fundamental law of relational theory is that when any part of a system changes, the entire system -meaning all other parts - will be forced to change in response. What this means in a marriage is that if I create a change in my own attitude and behavior, my spouse and the marriage itself will automatically be forced to change. This is a powerful truth to embrace but, unfortunately, most of us are so busy blaming our partners for their shortcomings that we neglect to assert our power to create the very changes we want.
Complaining and blaming rarely promote change. In fact, accusations and criticisms usually anger and hurt our partners in ways that make them more entrenched in their behavior patterns and thus more resistant to change. If I accuse my wife of being “critical and unsupportive,” in my attempt to get her to be more encouraging, caring and giving, chances are she’ll simply be hurt and enraged. This will probably force her either to attack back in some way (be critical) or withdraw from me (be unsupportive). My attempt to change her ends up backfiring and succeeds only in forcing her to exemplify the very things I want to transform. When my attempt to change her fails, like most people, I simply try harder - blame and complain more - which only perpetuates the negative cycle.
I can’t tell you how many couples are stuck in these circular patterns of frustration. Each partner has legitimate issues and strives to get their mate to understand and change. But the harder each tries, the more stuck and frustrated each gets. It’s like someone trying to dig a well where no underground water exists—digging harder and faster simply doesn’t help. The solution lies in stopping the fruitless activity of digging long enough to pursue other sources of water.
If I realize that direct attempts to change my partner are indeed fruitless, I can refocus and think about what things I can change within myself. Maybe I am the one that needs to work at being less critical and more supportive, or attempt do some specific things that my wife has been requesting—help out more around the house, pay more attention to her, become a better listener, etc. It usually isn’t difficult to pinpoint areas of change that have the potential for real impact since my partner has mostly likely been articulating them repeatedly. If I can allow myself to hear those requests and actually put energy toward meeting them, it’s amazing how my behavior changes will create changes in her.
When people feel heard, acknowledged and experience their own needs being met, they tend to reciprocate. When they feel criticized or shut out, they are forced to be defensive and withholding, but when they feel listened to, they are freed to listen and love in return. Each of us has the power to break the tug-of-war of marriage, but the solution lies more in our willingness to let go of the rope rather than in simply pulling harder.
Our willingness to be wrong, admit fault, let go of our stubbornness and move toward our partners in loving and caring ways is far more potent than arguing or blaming. It isn’t easy to let go of our arrogance and self-righteousness, especially when we feel justified, misunderstood or mistreated. But the exertion of power to change ourselves and in turn change our partners and transform our marriage is well worth the pride we might have to swallow. For most of us, it’s high time we swallow and get on with our part of changing our relationships for the better.