Collected wisdom from the field of marital therapy

The marriage vow is a promise to stay married, not to stay the same.

married couple 311 (photo credit: Michael Tercha/ Chicago Tribune/MCT))
married couple 311
(photo credit: Michael Tercha/ Chicago Tribune/MCT))
• Research has shown that most couples have approximately 10 issues they’ll never resolve. Even if you switch partners, you’ll still have irresolvable issues. Therefore, while some conflicts and differences will be resolved with good communication, don’t expect a perfect marriage.
• More than 90 percent of all arguments between couples are over money, time, kids, sex and jealousy, in-laws and friends. Learn how to live with and accommodate your differences.
• Love ebbs and flows depending on how you treat each other. Learn new ways to interact, and the feeling can come flowing back. Be creative and try to remember the little things that you used to do that worked in the past to please your partner. You’ll be surprised how, with just a little bit of effort, a spouse can rekindle the flame or put a warm smile on the face of his/her partner.
• Remember marital satisfaction drops with the birth of a baby. It’s normal. Hang in there. And remember, that even in a triangle, there is room for a dyad to emerge. Don’t forget about the dyad.
• Sex ebbs and flows, too. Enjoy the flows. Communicate with your partner about what in lovemaking are the things that turn you on. Remember, your partner cannot read your mind.
• Welcome change. The marriage vow is a promise to stay married, not to stay the same. Learning to see change as a challenge for personal and relationship growth, not devastation, is the true test of making relationships last. Give each other permission to change.
• It is fascinating to note how much more couples know about each other early in their relationship than they do once they have been together for years. The reason? People stop paying attention. If you aren’t learning something new about each other every week or two, you simply aren’t observing closely enough. You are focusing on other things, not one another.
• Clear up little mysteries before they become suspicious.
• Effective conflict resolution starts with the self-awareness, self-caring, self-honesty, knowing what one wants and valuing it enough to speak up for it clearly.
• The starting point for relationship enhancement is empathy, learning to see things from a partner’s perspective. Empathy is what people are really seeking in marriage, and that expectation represents a major break with the past. People are looking for someone to be emotionally supportive, an emotional friend, a helpmate, a soul mate.
• Don’t personalize all of your partner’s bad moods; you’re not that powerful and certainly not guilty for the 90 percent of the time that your spouse is simply having a bad day. Get beyond the over-identification with guilt, and try to be your spouse’s friend by asking him or her what is wrong. You may just discover that this is all your partner is looking for is source of empathetic understanding to help overcome those negative moods.
• Think “team” when making decisions, such as whether to work overtime or accept a transfer or promotion. Ask yourself this question: What will the choice I am making do to the people I love? Try to make the decision that will have the least negative impact on your marriage and your family.
• Manage anger better. This is a big one for a lot of people. Don’t turn a small problem that needs to be solved into a catastrophe. And, try to solve the problem rather than blaming your partner. Placing fault on your partner only serves to create more distance and hostile feelings.
• True long-range intimacy requires repeated affirmations of commitment to your partner. And don’t forget that love is not only in what you say, but also in how you act. Buy flowers or offer your partner a back rub. Do the dishes without being asked.
• Forgive and forget. Don’t be too hard on each other. If your passion and love are to survive, you must learn how to forgive. You and your partner regularly need to wipe the slate clean so that anger doesn’t build and resentment won’t fester. Holding on to hurts and hostility is a way of blocking real intimacy. It will only assure that no matter how hard you otherwise work at it, your relationship will not grow.
• Listen to your feelings instead of being swayed by others when it comes to your relationship. Your emotions are the inner radar that helps you to navigate the stormy moments that occur in your relationship.
• Don’t ever hesitate to seek professional guidance when it comes to your marital relationship. Going to a professional when there is a problem is not a sign of weakness or failure, but instead, it is a sign of strength.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in both Jerusalem and Ra’anana.