IMMEDIATELY GUARANTEE A BETTER MARRIAGE

marriage illustration of wordsChuck and Charlene sat on opposite ends of the couch.  They hugged the armrests so tight each was almost turned away from the other.  Which was really the point because neither Chuck nor Charlene believed their marriage was going to survive.  While neither had very much good to say about the other, the couple was willing to try this one last time.  At least, they said, for the sake of their kids.

They told me that their marriage began happily as their family grew and Chuck built his career.  Somewhere along the line, neither knew where, Charlene became blaming and critical.  She was no longer supportive Chuck said; in fact she put him down, even around their friends and was disrespectful and mocking especially when she had too much to drink.  When asked he admitted he sometimes had too much to drink, too. 

Words of kindness were rarely spoken between them.

Their arguments became fights with slammed doors and holes in walls.  Increasingly, Chuck slept on the sofa or left the house overnight.  They complained of being stuck; having the same fight over and over.  Sexual interaction was strained —  Chuck likened it to f***ng a dead body; Charlene would do her duty but she was emotionally removed. 

Charlene said Chuck was always spending time playing golf with his clients, hanging out with them more than he did with his family.  She would inevitably cry, sure it wasn’t just clients he spent all that time with.  Chuck would threw back that Charlene didn’t know what it was like to have a full time job and be financially responsible and that sure, sometimes he went out with the guys, just to unwind and relax since Lord knew it wasn’t pleasant to be at home.  Each was doing, in good faith, what they thought was agreed on early in their marriage: her responsibility was the home front; he was responsible for making money and protecting his family. 

Like the cherry on top of a sundae, the reason they’d finally come to therapy was Chuck’s “friendship” with a female client and Charlene’s tearful assertion she could no longer trust him.

This couple wanted a better marriage but didn’t have a clue how to create one. 

Having a better marriage isn’t rocket science.  Well, in a sense it is.  Just as in rocket science, fitting things together, knowing how they work, and keeping it all from breaking is essential for success.  Even rocket scientists get married, so they’d better know the rules.  Here are some that Chuck and Charlene broke:

Communicate!  Learn how to talk and listen.  You might think you’re doing a fine job; probably you’re not.  Are you listening for understanding, not agreement?  Are you understandable when you talk?  A communication workshop for couples, like the one offered by Being Heard, can cool an inflamed relationship.  Learning  to problem solve successfully is always a good idea.

Body language:  How you position yourself, what your body language is saying, can contradict what’s coming out of your mouth.  Crossed arms, smirking, looking away (especially at t.v.) speak volumes.

Maintaining the negative.  Reinforcement for negative beliefs comes about when you never question long-held beliefs, challenge them, or change them.  The habit of awfulizing works with a negative outlook to solidify beliefs.  Is your marriage over?  Repeating skewed evidence can confirm the worst.  

Not paying attention.  Ever get from here to there without remembering anything along the way?  Many couples are so committed elsewhere they can get from year 3 to year 5 without noticing the growth in each other, the changes in their lives, and the small but significant events that define a relationship over time. 

Choice of words.  Words meant to hurt, criticize, minimize, blame, ignore, fight with, mock, demean, disrespect, etc. destroy love.  They can instill defensiveness, depression, and deep dislike and can foster divorce.

Substance, emotional, and physical abuse.   An alteration in reality’s perception is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with the light pieces missing.  Extremes of emotion are extreme:  being angry colors perception as much as happiness does.   Physical violence against people or property take things to a new level and may indicate a problem much deeper than marital distress.

Expectations and Misunderstandings.   Many factors go into designing our version of the world – hardwiring,  experiences, especially in family of origin.  When things don’t match the picture in our heads, automatic put down, correction, disagreement, or dismissal may result.  Misunderstanding is similar in that the filters on seeing and hearing are set to “automatic” – in other words, our way.  When little room is left for variation, arguments ensue.

Rigid Roles.  Defining someone by what they do is dangerous because it ignores the facts of life –  who we are changes over time and circumstance.  Staying stuck is the result of ignoring the inevitable.  

Sex.  Here’s a jam-packed issue, one that incorporates every rule in this list.  Establishing a healthy sexual relationship demonstrates the knowledge and practice of every relationship rule. 

Can you see mistakes that Chuck and Charlene made?  Do you make those same mistakes, too?  What are the rules in your relationship?  Have you thought about them?  Talked about them?  Agreed on them?  Modified them from time to time? 

Guaranteeing a better marriage begins as soon as a couple consciously creates one.  Establishing rules for your relationship ought to be part of what each of you promises to protect, treating your love with respect for the growing, changing, living thing it is.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist  specializing in couples work.  Married for almost 30 years, she and David live in Colorado Springs with their two hooligan cats.  Find out more about her and the Communication Workshop for Couples they teach at www.BeingHeardNow.com and www.CouplesWhoTalk.com

Copyright, 2015  Being Heard, LLC