A Healthy, Happy Marriage Is Possible
We all expect that our marriage will be healthy and full of love when we start out. But few marriages actually achieve the hopes and expectations that couples had when they tied the knot.
If you want to make sure your marriage stays healthy and your love stays strong, there are 5 critical areas to focus. Do these 5 things well, and a healthy and loving marriage will be yours for years to come.
Love First - Fix Things Later
The biggest mistake couples make is letting differences and disagreements get in the way of loving each other.
The reality is, no matter how healthy a marriage you have, conflict will always exist between two people. That’s not a bad thing. We are all different. We have different ideas, different preferences, and different personalities.
Whenever there are differences, these differences will inevitably come into conflict with each other at times. But just because conflict is inevitable doesn’t mean love has to take a back seat.
When conflict surfaces our first reaction is often disappointment, frustration or worry. We tell ourselves there is a problem. This problem creates disconnection.
The mistake most couples make is trying to fix the problem so they can get back to loving each other. Trying to fix problems when a couple feels disconnected, however, is actually an inefficient and ineffective way to maintain harmony and closeness.
A more enjoyable and reliable way to resolve a conflict is to start with love, and fix things later.
I am of course referring to the act of loving rather than being overcome by a feeling of love that appears to be out of our control. That act of loving is a choice. The feeling of falling in love is something that seems to just happen to people.
Another way of looking at this idea is through the lens of the Be-Do-Have Model made popular by Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. The Be-Do-Have Model tells us that if we want to “have” love, first we need to “be” love.
Commit to being a loving spouse. Then guided by that inner compass, “do” the things that a loving spouse would do. If you are being loving and doing loving things, you will “have” a loving marriage.
Your Experience Is Your Responsibility
At this point many people have stopped reading and flipped on an episode of the Simpsons to restore some shreds of normalcy. If you’re still with me, hold on to your cocktail for what I’m about to say next.
If you’re not feeling loving, it’s because you have created an unloving attitude inside yourself.
“Hold on buster! I didn’t create the unloving attitude. My spouse blah blah blah…”
Sorry friend. If you are truly interested in a healthy and loving marriage that lasts for the rest of your lives together, you better find a way to stop blaming your spouse for closing your heart.
There is only one person who has control over opening and closing your heart. It’s you.
Is it hard to keep your heart open sometimes? You bet.
Is blaming your spouse for making you feel (hurt, angry, scared…) going help you have a wonderful marriage? Nope.
Guess what? Your feelings are your responsibility.
Crazy right? But here’s the deal. Shit happens. You make up the meaning.
If you are hurt, angry or worried by what your spouse has done, then your thoughts have created the hurt, anger or worry in you.
I’m not talking about abuse, that’s something that requires a profession intervention right away.
I’m talking about the fact that you both are looking at the situation differently. You each have your own perspective. Your partner is blaming you. You are blaming your partner.
How do you think this one is going to turn out?
You guessed it, rotten, powerless and frustrated.
Want to reclaim your power? To do that you need to reclaim your thoughts.
The biggest challenge here is that we believe our thoughts. We think don’t even think of them as thoughts. We think of them as the truth.
The trouble is, your partner is doing the same things. They think their thoughts are the truth.
Instead of recognizing that your perspectives are different, most people end up arguing over who is right. This losing approach is an express train to suffering.
The good news is, if you can change how you think, you will change how you feel.
Instead of focusing on what your partner did wrong, get connected to the energy inside you.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But the key here is to feel the feelings and “refrain from blame.”
Can you feel your hurt without making your partner wrong?
When you can be with the feelings and energy inside of you, you will discover that your inner wisdom will shine a light on the deeper issue that really matters.
There is a precious longing that lives in you. Inside this longing you will discover your power.
Now, instead of blaming your partner for how you feel, you have discovered the missing, life-enriching need that is at the root of your pain.
With this deep knowledge of yourself you are equipped to deal with the issue effectively.
You Are Responsible for Your Boundaries, Not Your Partner
This new super-skill, of turning blame into a deeper understanding of your heart’s longing, takes practice. And in the heat of the movement it’s hard to remember new skills.
That’s where boundaries are helpful.
The biggest mistake couples make around boundaries is they think a boundary is permission to control their partner’s behavior. “Do this or X.” “If you don’t do this then Y.”
Do you want your partner ordering you around? Of course not. And they don’t want you ordering them around.
And that’s not what boundaries are for.
Instead, you use your boundaries to take care of yourself, not to punish your partner, or tell them what to do or not do.
If things are heating up and you notice that you’re not able to connect to love and take responsibility for the pain your thoughts are causing, then take a break.
This kind of boundary is a loving boundary used to help you get back to an open heart and responsible communication.
“I’m sorry, I notice I’m angry and I want to blame you. Sorry about that. I’m going to take a break so I can come back to my heart before we continue this conversation. I’ll be back in half an hour. I love you.”
And then you go and take a break. Don’t keep engaging in the conflict.
Remember, you are not asking for permission to take a break. You are setting a clear and loving boundary whose purpose is to help you re-engage once you have reconnected to your wiser, clearer self.
Drop the Story, Focus On the Impact
Another big mistake couples make is coming back from a break and picking things up right where they left off. Proving rightness, arguing ideas, and getting lost in details and superficial issues only mask the more important needs that want to be addressed.
Whenever you want to get out of an ineffective communication struggle, drop the story. Your perspective is your perspective. It’s not the “right” perspective.
Arguing over perspectives can go on forever. In fact, just look at religion and politics. Those arguments have been going on for thousands of years.
No wonder we are so messed up! We learned this style of communication too.
Drop this old school way of communicating and focus instead on 2 main areas:
- How you are feeling, and;
- The precious, essential human need that is not being met.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” becomes, “I’m angry because respect is really important to me and my need for respect wasn’t met here.”
“Why are you so selfish?” becomes, “I’m sad because cooperation is so important to me and my need for cooperation wasn’t met here.”
Notice in these examples we’re not talking about what's right, what should be happening, or what we think our partner’s intention was.
We are simply sharing how we feel and what need was not being met.
Nobody can argue with us when we talk about how we are feeling or which of our needs weren’t met.
These are internal experiences and there is only one authority about what our internal experience is, ourself.
Is it vulnerable to share in this way? You bet.
Is vulnerability a powerful way to create intimacy, understanding and closeness. Yes.
When two people can understand each other in this way, feelings and needs, there is a new level of awareness, warmth, and trust that appears.
Cut Out Compromise and Win as a We
When two people have intimacy, understanding and trust, amazing things become possible. Solutions to previously unsolvable problems suddenly begin to appear.
When couples try to solve their issues before intimacy, understanding and trust are present, they usually resort to compromise and sacrifice as a way to end conflict.
Compromise and sacrifice, however, breed resentment. And resentment is a marriage killer.
You may have heard lots of marriage counselors say that compromise is necessary for marriage. If you hear advice like that, run away. That advice will slowly destroy your marriage.
Instead, it’s critical you learn to trust that both of your needs can be met, even when it seems that you want different things.
I have seen time and time again, working with clients, an issue that appears to be an impassable roadblock suddenly melts away.
In order to melt away obstacles like this, there needs to be a deeper level of understanding and connection.
That deeper level of understanding and connection doesn’t come from arguing perspectives. It comes from understanding how each other is feeling, and the unmet needs behind those feelings.
When both people understand each other in this new, deeper way, solutions seem to magically appear.
Often the solution isn’t even anything new. But the new level of understanding and connection softens the heart of one or both people and they are suddenly more able to happily embrace the idea.
Using this process also makes it easier to ask for what you want in a way that makes it more likely to get it.
Forgiveness become possible.
Mutual happiness becomes possible.
And the joy, love and harmony most couples long for become the normal way of relating.
They are no longer distant fantasies portrayed in Hollywood movies and sugarcoated, social media posts by irksome friends who seem to have it all.
A healthy marriage full of love is possible when you learn how to: shift your focus to being loving and responsible; take care of yourself when you need to; communicate your internal experiences; and then find solutions that make you both happy.
Most of us have been trained in the other way of relating. We been trained to debate who is right and what should happen. Effectively turning our marriages into opposition machines.
Another way is possible. And with practice and support you too can adopt this new way of being and ensure a healthy and loving marriage for the rest of your lives together.