How can we create a happy, loving and lasting relationship?
How can we have conflict safely, in a way that maintains our connection vs. tearing us apart?
How can we enhance the good things that we already have? (i.e. fun, friendship and sensuality).
How do we deal with an affair?
When couples come to therapy, they are in distress. They find themselves fighting more often, more intensely, or both. One partner may have threatened to leave or has already walked out. Perhaps someone has had an affair. And both partners feel stressed, only leading to more fear, negativity, and discouragement.
When I work with couples I start by re-establishing safety. It is important that couples slow-down the amount of overwhelm they are encountering so that they can begin to feel safe again, think clearly, then feel and communicate again.
There are identifiable practices for marital success. They are divided into two categories: conflict management and protecting the intimacy and connection (from Markman, Stanley, Blumberg in Fighting for Your Marriage).
When it comes to engaging in conflict, successful practices include:
• Engaging in conflict safely vs. escalating, withdrawing, avoiding or stonewalling
• Validating one another’s opinions, feelings and desires even when you disagree with each other
• Staying aware of negative interpretations (the tendency to ascribe negative intent to your partner’s choices)
• Taking a team-approach to problem-solving
• Feeling safe enough to share your thoughts and feelings with each other
• Taking responsibility for how you respond in conflict, and taking time- outs as needed to de-escalate then return to the discussion
• Separating problem-discussion from problem-solving
• Setting aside couple’s time, weekly, to meet and discuss issues
In the area of marital enhancement, the following practices help keep a marriage strong and happy. They fall under the guideline of “protecting time for fun, friendship and sensuality” (Markman, Stanley, Blumberg). Indeed, time is the central component, while the practices are as follows:
• Setting time aside for friendship activities and friendship talk (and protecting that time from problem-discussion or problem-solving)
• Expressing your fondness and admiration for each other
• Playing together; having fun! This is especially important during the childrearing and career building years of a marriage (years 6-20)
• Distinguishing between sensuality and sexuality by making time for sensual connection
• Devoting time to sexual intimacy and addressing low sexual desire if it’s a problem
• Communicating your sexual desires
• Being creative
• Sharing values re. commitment, intimacy, forgiveness and respect
• Turning toward each other to share the little things and big things in life
• Belonging to a community that provides support (extended family, religious community, network of friends, etc)
• Being aware of your expectations, willing to evaluate them and willing to discuss them
• Feeling motivated to meet your partner’s expectations even when they differ from your own and letting your partner influence you
• Finding a path toward forgiveness and taking appropriate responsibility to rebuild trust when trust has been broken
• Believing in the future of your relationship and doing things together that increase its sense of special-ness
Learning how to manage conflict safely enhances your intimacy as a couple. It builds confidence in your ability to get through the hard times, and prevents difficulties from overwhelming the good times. And having fun together, i.e. sharing the feelings and experiences that make you feel connected, reminds you of the reasons you chose to be partners in the first place.
• I can teach you specific ways to communicate with each other so that you feel heard
• I can help you identify filters that get in the way of understanding each other
• I can help you manage stress that arises so that you can return to your problem-discussion and seek problem-resolution
• And I can help you strengthen what already works, i.e. setting aside the time for what brings you happiness, connection, and confidence in this special friendship called “marriage”