Have you ever wondered what advice a marriage & family therapist would have for marriages that weren’t struggling? Insightful steps that could make already good marriages even better? I met a darling therapist in yoga class recently and asked if she’d be willing to write something that would be helpful for us – tips that were useful for making good marriages great and here it is! Thank you, Laura for your generosity!!
So many people will tell you what your relationship should look like. The reality is that each relationship is different, and it is important to find what works for you.
Experts have pinpointed a few suggestions that can help strengthen relationships. You may already be doing some of them. For the others, think about which ones resonate with you, and try to incorporate them into how you think about your relationship.
Commit to your relationship. This suggestion may sound obvious. However, this concept often slips our minds. We have full schedules! We go to work, care for our homes, volunteer at church, and so on. If we have children, the list becomes even longer with school, ballet, piano, and soccer. When is there time to maintain our relationship? Similar to other commitments, relationships need attention in order to thrive. As a society, we need to put ourselves in the mindset that emphasizes this need. This concept can happen in a variety of ways. You could commit to a date night each week or something as simple to asking your partner about his or her day. Whether making a big or small change, it is important to commit something.
Have reasonable expectations. The media and Hollywood often show relationships as occurring naturally and easily. I have heard many people say “If it is meant to work, it should be easy.” Relationships are challenging. It is normal to experience arguments and disagreements. It is important to have reasonable expectations that anticipate a variety of ups and downs. This concept becomes increasingly important when couples begin to incorporate changes in their relationship. It can be discouraging when we do not see the changes we want quickly or easily, or when we try to develop new behaviors yet occasionally slip into old habits. Anticipating challenges can help us feel prepared to address them.
Listen to your body. Though it may seem surprising, our body’s reaction to disagreements can play a large part in how we handle an argument. When we are having an emotionally challenging disagreement, our heart rate speeds up, our blood pressure rises, and our bodies release adrenaline. These physical sensations prevent our ability to have productive and problem-solving discussions. Trying to continue the argument will often result in name-calling and regretful actions. Recognizing these symptoms is a sign to take a “time-out” from the conversation. This time period could last 20 minutes, 60 minutes, or sometimes overnight. While it is important to eventually come back to the topic causing the disagreement, it is acceptable, and recommended, to take some time to calm our bodies back down.
Make requests. When I am feeling anxious, angry, sad, or simply grumpy, I often get stuck looking at things in a negative light. Many relationships have heard a partner make a sweeping statement, such as “we never have fun anymore” or “we never spend time together anymore.” While this may feel true, this statement is often unproductive. In these moments, it is important to talk about what we want to happen: our needs. By making a request to my partner, such as “I would like us to spend an evening together this week,” he can be clear about what I am wanting. Too often, we attempt to “mind-read” or expect our partner to know what we want or need. At times, we assume that our partners do not want to meet our needs. In reality, they may not know what our needs are. Making requests can help others meet our needs and prevent the hopeless feeling that can come up when things are not going well.
Find the friendship. John Gottman, a leading researcher, says “… reinvigorating friendship doesn’t prevent couples from arguing. Instead, it gives them a secret weapon that prevents quarrels from getting out of hand.” With friendship come feelings of respect and appreciation towards your partner. When couples rediscover how their friendship developed and make steps to maintain it, they naturally learn how to prevent arguments from getting out of hand and how to pick up on their partner’s attempts to calm the conversation. It can also make you more receptive to accepting influence from your partner, which helps with compromise. Finding the friendship could include something planned, such as a night together, or it could happen naturally, as when you both laugh at something silly the kids have done. Highlighting those moments and remembering them are a great start.
Laura M. Frey is a Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She works with individuals, couples, and families. You may contact her by phone at 859.948.9388 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.