15 May Tips for Attending to Your Marriage
Over the years, I have conducted hundreds of counselling sessions with couples. Many of these relationships have weathered a variety of crises, loss and transition. Some couples have endured a lot through over a short time, while other couples have struggled through many years of a long relationship. Unfortunately, one of the common features by the time couples enter counselling is the desperation with which the couple struggles.
I want to send a message to all couples out there, which is, attend to your marriage. There is a reason for my deliberate choice of the word “attend“. As defined by Mirriam-Webster, attend is a verb meaning, to be present at, to pay attention to, to look after, to take charge. For any person in a committed relationship, the key to success is to be present and pay attention to your relationship before you feel the sense of desperation. Here are some ways to “attend” to your marriage:
- Speak your partner’s love language
Many years ago, I picked up a book that I was directed to in my own pre-marital counselling session. The book is called “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. This soft-cover, easy read book, walks the reader through a series of real life examples while explaining the intangible concept of love through an analogy of a “love tank” . In his own words, Dr. Chapman explains, “By nature we tend to express love in our own language; whatever makes us feel love is what we try to do for the other person. We’re sincere, but if it’s not what makes the other person feel loved then we miss them emotionally. Sincerity is not enough. If we learn how to speak their language then we are going to be successful in loving them as we mean to…There’s a gasoline tank on a car. If it is full you drive a long way. If it’s empty you’re not going anywhere. I use the picture of an emotional love tank. If the love tank is full and the person feels genuinely loved, life will be beautiful. But if the love tank is empty, and a person doesn’t feel loved, the world looks pretty dark. A lot of misbehavior in marriage grows out of an empty love tank.” Since I read this book, I have made it a foundation of my couples counselling as well as my own relationship.
- Listen for the need
I consistently hear couples talk about the hurtful statements made by their partner to them. They recognize immediately how that statement made them feel when they heard it, but they are unable to understand or identify why the person they love the most would say such a thing. We know that listening skills are vital for interpersonal relationships, but what are we listening for? We need to consider that underlying the same hurtful statements that we heard are actually statements of need. Does our partner know how to share their needs in a verbal way that is constructive or even effective? Do they appear upset about something when they are really trying to communicate concern? Always take an opportunity to try to dig past the stinging comment and identify what your partner might be trying to communicate, however ineffectively.
- Identify your past behaviour patterns in the relationship
It is crucial that as individuals, we take time to evaluate our own past behaviours that are destructive in a relationship. The behaviour may be an inability to communicate honestly, to prioritize time with your partner, to support your partner in parenting or to address sexual infidelity. Regardless of the issue, it our individual responsibility to identify these behaviours and understand why we are engaging in ways that will not support a healthy, transparent relationship. The best way to work on these issues is in an individual way with a trained therapist.
- Never threaten the “D” word
There is nothing more destabilizing in a marriage than threatening a divorce. This word is often used to show insistence, or the serious concerns that one partner has in the relationship. They are crying out to their spouse in that moment. The trouble with saying the word “divorce” is that you can never take it back. It becomes a constant worry, and there is lingering anxiety in the relationship. We are all aware that divorce occurs in over 50% of marriages currently, and most people do not get married with a plan of divorce in the future. But if you are working to keep a relationship together and working on building intimacy, there can be no idle threats of divorce.
- Take opportunities to enhance friendship and intimacy
We have all heard the adage that you should “marry your best friend”. I would not disagree with the value of that statement, as there is a playfulness and enjoyment that is felt in a true friendship with your spouse. A succinct way to view friendship is cited on a website called, “Focus on the Family“, where they write: The word “friendship” conjures up thoughts of honesty, vulnerability, companionship, and mutual respect. It also implies a certain outlaying of time and energy. C.S. Lewis said of friendship: “It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up — painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, and fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction.” Take time to touch, to laugh, to enjoy one another – without distraction. Invest all of your emotional energy in bettering the relationship which will inevitably increase the intimacy.
Michelle Hayes, B.S.W., M.S.W., AccFM, is a Registered Social Worker in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She works with families in all stages, and has been in practice for over 18 years. For information regarding services, go to www.successfulfamilies.ca