A message to my engaged children

To maintain a happy relationship, there are important guidelines a couple can follow.

Couple 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Couple 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Our son just got engaged, and within minutes our friends wondered when I’d write a column on becoming a mother-in-law. Someday I may write that column, but in the meantime I do have lots of unsolicited advice for my children – because once I become a real motherin- law, I am told that I have to behave.
Actually, I was told that I have to close my mouth and open my pockets, but that won’t be so easy. Hopefully our kids will see this article, because if I try to tell them in person, they might not accept it in the same way.
Marriage is a very serious proposition, not something to be taken lightly. That said, couples rarely go for premarital counseling or take courses to help them prepare for it. At best, they see how their own parents have interacted and learn vicariously. Now, as so many marriages end in divorce, we need to work hard individually and as a community to change the statistics.
In the meantime, I present my abbreviated list of what I’ve learned both in my own marriage of 31 years and with couples I’ve counseled.
1. Good communication is the most essential aspect of a relationship. Take the time to learn how to talk openly and honestly and be an effective listener. You may disagree with your partner, but it is important to hear and validate what he or she says. One can say anything to anyone; how it gets said will make all the difference in terms of how it is heard. Men and women think and express their needs and concerns very differently. Unless you understand this, you may totally misread your partner’s cues. Say what you mean to say and mean what you say. Never assume.
2. Your partner is the most important person in your life. If you work hard to make your partner happy, you too will feel fulfilled. This starts with being respectful, kind, caring and showing goodwill. Check out your own tone, posture and body language. What do they say? Look within yourself first and then reach out accordingly. Appreciate the positive in your partner, make the best out of a situation and treat your partner as you would like to be treated.
3. Work together to find constructive solutions. How you choose to see a situation in part determines your ability to see and find solutions. Creativity, compromise and patience are essential. Empathy and support are crucial. Walk in your partner’s shoes so you can get a better idea of how he or she might feel.
4. Focus on what is really important and let the small stuff go. Put things into perspective; ask yourself if, on a scale of zero to 10, what you are dealing with is really a 10 in terms of seriousness. If not, lighten up. If this will not be an issue in three years, does it need to be an issue now? Preconceived ideas or perceptions can negatively influence your marriage. Happiness comes from within. Look for ways to compromise or negotiate.
5. Ensure that your expectations are realistic. Expecting perfection or trying to change your partner will lead to frustration. If your expectations don’t match your reality, work to change your focus and perceptions. It is easy to nag and be critical and harder to step back for a moment. Learning acceptance will deepen your relationship. Everyone wants to feel needed and appreciated. Let your partner know on a daily basis in what way you appreciate and value him/her.
6. All couples argue and disagree. Learn how to work through and resolve issues once and for all. Fight fairly so there are no longterm scars. Let go, forgive wholeheartedly and move on. Put yourself on the same team rather than being an opponent. Then, with shared goals, winning becomes far less important than admitting that you may not be right. Forgiveness can feel very good. Anger can weigh you down and feel awful. We each bear the responsibility for creating meaning within our relationship. Like, love, laugh heartily, have fun and enjoy being together.
7. Give each other non-material gifts such as caring, compassion, commitment and a massage. Give a gift of time – a chat, a phone call, a cup of tea. Go on dates, just the two of you, without the kids or friends; not to a movie – to talk.
8. Physical intimacy is essential to a good relationship. Maintain intimacy, closeness and understanding by reevaluating your values, seeing what’s important in life and making it a priority. Create intimate moments and heart-to-heart talks through shared interests.
There are no guarantees in life. One has to work every waking hour, every single day to nurture a marriage and enable it to grow. If you take it for granted, there will be no marriage. If you would like your relationship in five years to be like it is now, pat yourselves on the back and stay with the formula. Love each other with all that you have to give, live in the present, see each day as if it were your last and each moment as precious. If, however, you ever feel there is a void in your relationship, seek professional help and work on changing things right away and before it is too late. You deserve to be as happy in 10 years as you are at this moment.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana.