How Healthy Is Your Marriage Relationship
By: Michael Fuchs
Romantic relationships are about attachment. We need all the same things we needed when we were children: assurance that they won’t abandon us, demonstration that they care, reason to trust them, etc. The more you foster these kind of attachmenst, the healthier your relationship will be. The weaker this attachments, the unhappier and more likely to break up you will be.
- Do you use a “harsh startup” to bring up difficult topics?
One of the strongest predictors of divorce in Dr. John Gottman’s empirical research on marriage was a “harsh startup” to fights. “You don’t care about me!” “You never take out the trash!” “There you go again, going into la la land.” Instead, use a startup that doesn’t attack your significant other. “I’m not feeling happy with the way we’re dealing with the garbage right now.
Remember that communication is: 8% words, 55% tone and voice fluctuation, and 37% non-verbal. This means to choose your words with love, and present your words wisely is crucial.
- Do you criticize or show contempt for your spouse?
Criticism means, when you bring up issues, you attack them as a person, rather than raise complaints about actions or situations. These usually take the form of superlatives. “You’re lazy. That’s why you don’t help me”. Or “Why can’t you ever consider my feelings”? Do not attack your spouse. Focus on the issue and how to solve it.
Avoid using the word ‘you’ will provide two things:
- You will not be attacking the person.
- This will direct focus on to the issue.
- Are you defensive?
When our significant other brings up an issue, do we immediately try to justify our actions? Do we defend ourselves? This is natural if they’re criticizing you, but even when that’s the case, defensiveness escalates the situation, rather than defusing it. If even when they’re aggressive, you can ask “what’s wrong?” instead of “no I don’t!” you dramatically increase the odds of resolving the issue.
Conflicts are going to happen. How we handle the conflict is the secret. Knowing the steps to a resolution is the answer. (Steps for Resolving Conflict in Marriage)
- Do you make repair attempts?
First you need to be able to recognize when a fight or conflict is starting to develop. Secondly you need to know what to do to repair or de-escalates the fight. It can be an apology, a hug, or a comment. “We’re getting heated. Let’s slow down.”
Sometimes it requires putting the issue aside and re-addressing it at a better time and /or place. This requires you to be prepared and to have a plan in place on how to deal with the conflict. There are several Studies on how to resolve conflict. (Closing the Loop in Conflict)
- Do you recognize your partner’s repair attempts?
Even more important than making your own repair attempts is accepting your partner’s. If they reach out to you to de-escalate tension, and you ignore them, or attack them, this was the single strongest predictor of divorce in Gottman’s research.
Striving to get to know your partner is crucial in solving problems. Learn to communicate to understand. Don’t talk about a problem to ‘Win’ the argument. Seek to understand their perspective and find a solution that both partners can agree on. Seek to protect your marriage by keeping the relationship more important than the issue.
- Do you know your spouse?
What’s your partner’s favorite food? What’s troubling him or her right now? What is he or she trying to achieve? You should know these things off the top of your head. If you don’t, you need to talk to them more. Learn all that you can about your spouse.
Strive to see your partner’s perspective. This does not mean you will always agree with their perspective, but will allow you to better understand them.
- Do you make frequent small gestures of love?
Relationships don’t live on grand gestures. The big fight you had won’t kill your relationship, and the trip to the Bahamas won’t save it. It’s when you hold each other when you get home from work, or you cook for each other, or you remember their birthday. These are the moments that reinforce your attachment every day.
Learn to appreciate your partner. Learn to increase their relationship value. Let them become more valuable to you today than they were yesterday. Allow the marriage relationship to appreciate in value unconditionally. Not just because you get your way, but because: of assurance that they won’t abandon us, demonstration that they care, reason to trust them, etc.
- Do you pay attention to your spouse?
Just as it’s the small things that build attachment, the small things destroy it. If they come home upset and you don’t do anything to comfort them, they will feel abandoned, and this will chip away at your relationship. Learn to share with empathy and compassion the things they deal with.
Always remember that a shared burden is only half a burden. Work together to create a safe place to openly talk and share each others: dreams, wishes, fears and desires.
- Do you use “I” statements?
A habit of highly successful couples originally proposed in the ’60s by Dr. Thomas Gordon is to speak in terms of “I” rather than “you.” This keeps you talking about facts. “I feel XYZ,” as opposed to “you are doing ABC.” It avoids the criticism and contempt mentioned before.
This takes practice to get it right. Be careful not to let become a selfish, “it is all about me” practice. This requires humility and transparency to get it right. It will also require patience, grace and mercy for your spouse.
- Do you let your spouse influence you?
The more hierarchical your relationship is, the more likely it is to fail. If you are unwilling to consider your significant other’s perspective on things, and everything must be done your way or the highway, there’s a high chance it will lead to the highway.
Marriage needs to be a union of two people working together for a common goal. Couples need to form a committee of two where both partners have equal say. Keep the marriage relationship a priority over the issue. Always apply humility, grace and mercy to build value in the marriage. This is the key to survival.
- Do you schedule quality time?
This could be a weekly date night, a daily cuddle session, or an annual honeymoon. It is important to schedule time to build the marriage relationship. Quality time means undisturbed time. This is quality time to reflect on where the marriage relationship has come from. Where it is going and what it is going to take to get it there. (Incredible Intimacy)
Quality time is a time to share your dreams, wishes, fears and desires.
- Do you practice “Jealousy?”
It is popular to believe that jealousy is a sign of love and affection. Jealousy is actually a sign of distrust and insecurity. If you are not comfortable with spouse visiting friends, talking to the opposite sex, or doing anything in general, your relationship flounder if and when this happens.
This is a trust issue. Open communication, transparency and accountability is essential to avoid Jealousy. Learning to build and maintain trust between both partners is what will produce: assurance that they won’t abandon us, demonstration that they care, reason to trust them, etc.
- Do you hold your spouse responsible for your happiness?
It is important to be sensitive and attentive to your spouse. However, it is not their responsible for taking care of your happiness. Guard yourself from selfishness. Do not allow your dreams, wishes and desires to become expectations that your spouse has to fulfill.
Communicate with each other and about your needs. Learn how to serve each other in a God honoring ways. (Dreams, Desires and Expectations)
- Do you continue to improve the marriage relationship?
It is easy to get complacent in a relationship. This is something you need to guard against. Keep developing hobbies, interest or a ministry to serve in. Do not be afraid to try new things. If you try something new and it does not work, then stop that activity and look for something else.
Don’t stop until you find that one activity that is unbelievable for your marriage relationship. It may be one of the most important events in your marriage and your life.
- Do you deal with your unsolved problems?
Most problems in relationships are solvable. They might be big arguments, but they can be resolved. Couples who sweep these problems under the rug tend to stop working on their marriage.
It is necessary to have a practice in place to maintain a healthy marriage and to deal with unsolved problems. Here is a daily practice that will help marriages both maintain and deal with these unsolved issues. (Questions and Practices for Your Marriage Relationship)