Welcome to My Marriage Helper! If you are looking for some common sense ideas on how to save your marriage and avoid troubling times, then you have arrived at the right place.
Before we get started, I want to make a pretty bold claim. If you feel your marriage is on the rocks and is in dire need of being saved….if you have arrived at a point in your life where you and your spouse are struggling to make things work…if you have come to the realization that your marriage is in trouble….then you will benefit from exploring some of the most successful principles that have proven to keep married couples together.
Throughout this website you will find helpful articles whose aim is to help you with improving your marriage. For example, in the post below we talk about the things you can do to get your spouse to notice you.
I enjoy reaching out and helping married couples and creating this website enables me to create some of the best content on the web around fixing broken marriages.
My aim is to provide you with an in-depth article designed at identifying the key principles you and your husband or wife should embrace in order to not only save your marriage, but also help you erect a strong foundation so you need not have to come back to the marital drawing board.
In fact, I challenge you to find another one that rivals this one in terms of scope and depth.
Chances are, you’ll be hard pressed to find one.
You see, most of the time when you go around the internet to search for advice on saving a marriage, you get the generic “list articles.”
You know what a list article is, right?
They are those generic articles that have titles like,
“10 ways to Save Your Marriage”
“The 5 Things You Need to Do to Fix Your Marriage”
Oh, and my personal favorite…. “15 Unconventional Ways to Save Your Marriage”.
Now, I don’t want to start any wars with any other webmasters out there, but oftentimes these generic articles do little to actually help you with saving your marriage. The title may be attention getting, but the content is often lacking.
Sure, maybe some of them have some great tips on helping your marriage, but the truth is that it’s rare for them to get into the details that you actually need to hear to succeed.
What Do Married Couples Really Need When They Encounter Trouble?
I have helped a lot of couples over the years and there is always one consistent “want” among the people seeking my help. They are looking for details and ideas that can help them turn things around. Here is another article I wrote that you should take a look at on the question of what makes for a great marriage.
Whoever you are, I know you are looking for clarification. You probably have a lot of questions if you and your lover are in a struggling situation.
You may be wondering….
What should I focus on?
How does this work?
How does that work?
What does this mean?
What do I say here?
What do I do?
Well, you won’t have to worry about that with this article.
In fact, I am not even sure “article” is an accurate way of describing what this is.
Perhaps a more accurate way of describing this page is to refer to it as a comprehensive workshop and it’s sole purpose is helping you save your marriage.
But before we get into that, I think it is probably a good idea to introduce myself.
Who I Am
My name is Chris Seiter and I am a professional relationship consultant.
I currently own and operate three world class websites in the relationship industry, “Ex Boyfriend Recovery”, “Ex Girlfriend Recovery” and “My Marriage Helper”.
To date, these three websites have reached over 7.5 million men and women. I have also authored 6 comprehensive books on the topic of relationships. I will discuss this a bit more toward the end of this article.
So I guess you could say that I have seen a lot. I have been around the block more than just a few times. I have corresponded with, coached, counseled, advised and motivated many millions of individuals seeking help with their relationship woes.
On any given day, over 25,000 visitors will seek my advice on all matters of love and relationships and about half of my audience will return seeking more answers to the challenges they face.
In developing these three websites, I have sought to provide more than a simple template to follow. After all, when it comes to relationships, nothing is simple.
I strive to look at relationships in a holistic manner.
My academic background is in the Humanities.
In other words, I like humans! I love the fact that we are such complex creatures and am fascinated with the intricacies of human behavior and how it relates to our relationships.
I received my Associate’s Degree from San Jacinto College and University of Houston is where I set up camp for my Bachelor’s of Arts Degree.
For years I have been fascinated by relationships and all of the disciplines that affect relationships including biology, sociology, psychology, and social media.
In other words, I help people with their relationships and I enjoy it immensely.
I guess it’s coded into my DNA!
But you probably don’t care about any of that do you? Well, hopefully you do! I think it does matter what a person’s preparation, motivation, and practical experience is when it comes to their field.
What you probably care about a lot is HOW I can help you today.
As you read on, I am sure you will notice one of the biggest differences between My Marriage Helper and other “save my marriage” websites is the fact that my writing is influenced by my multi faceted approach.
It is grounded in my real world experience with marriage and relationship coaching, extensive research into revolutionary findings from science, neuroscience, sociology and psychology on why marriages succeed and fail, the dynamic learnings derived from owning and operating large relationship websites and interacting with many thousands of visitors and clients.
Oh, and I suppose right about now is a good time to mention that I myself am a married man. Indeed, my entire life has been influenced and shaped by marriage success in that my parents and grandparents, along with my wife’s parents, have provided long term (35+ years on average) relationship models of success.
That’s me and my wife, Jennifer, on our wedding day,
I think it is vital that a person practices what they preach, otherwise one is poorly equipped to advise others.
I have seen cases of relationship consultants offering marriage advice to couples and the person offering the advice wasn’t even married or had little real, practical experience with visitors and clients.. I don’t think that disqualifies the person from possibly helping others, but it sure can make it difficult for the person to fully understand, empathize and identify with some of the marital challenges we all face.
You know, the way I look at it is that we are all on a journey and should be willing to learn more about finding ways to experience a fulfilling marriage. I count myself as part of that journey. I am eager to learn new things and sharpen my own competencies. And I consider it an honor to help you as we journey together.
Anyway, I want you to know that I know firsthand what it’s like to be married. I can genuinely empathize with your pain and misfortunes as I am uniquely tuned into your suffering as thousands of people reach out to me weekly.
More importantly, I know what it’s like to have a good marriage (which is something that you are seeking help with right now). It is my mission to help those in need.
My Readers Love to Weigh In!
One last thing before we get this party started.
Everything that you read on this page is 100% free and is completely original. The content is from me. I don’t cut and paste or peddle someone else’s content. What I do is bring my own unique set of personal and professional experiences to bear on what I believe are the salient issues. And I love it when you comment and share your view or unique situation. If you visit my other relationship websites (i.e. see bottom of this post for website urls), you can see for yourself the unique relationship I have with my readers.
I am also skilled in synthesizing information and boiling it down to the things that matter. So what the devil does that mean? Essentially, I read a lot. I stay abreast of relationship research which is a very wide and extensive field including multiple academic and scientific disciplines. I take this information and match it up with my own set of extensive practical experiences. I look for relevant commonalities….greater truths….so as to shed light on the marriage and relationship puzzle.
Relationship Layer Cake
So I guess it would be fair to say that I offer a unique brand of expertise. I think of it as offering up a relationship layer cake. Everyone in the business of relationship coaching in a way offers a “layered” perspective. They owe many of their insights to others in the field that preceded them.
And if they are creative and have relationship insights that they have gained from years of practical experience and if so motivated, certain people can develop their own unique layer cake. Possibly adding another layer or two or changing the filling or frosting to address certain specific tastes and situations..
Ok, enough with the metaphors! I think you get the picture. I will be serving you up my own specially branded and well informed relationship layer cake.
So should this most delicious layer cake be offered to you for free?
But my motto is,
“Give and you shall receive.”
My main goal here is just to help you and I think when money gets in the way of that, then you end up as the loser because the content certain people may put out there for free is limited. There is a tendency to hold back and not deliver the most critical information you can benefit from.
I am NOT wired that way. I have found that if you go above and beyond, people really appreciate and they will return for more. And I will offer more. If the content is engaging and dynamic, then I can help people. When you help people, they remember.
This field of marriage and relationships is huge. So there is plenty to talk about. 50% of my visitors to my websites are returning visitors. Do you remember that movie with Kevin Costner, “Field of Dreams”? “Build it and they will come” was what the voice told him. I guess it spoke to me as well.
As you read on, be aware that you are participating in a very special relationship workshop. When you are through reading, you will have weighed through over 20,000 words and will have completed to one of the most novel, original Marriage Building workshops available (for free).
Will I write an E-Book one day and sell it?
Definitely. There is so much to talk about and people motivated to improve their marriage want details and examples….they want to learn the “right” things. So a special book is in the works. But my process is slow. I could write it now, but I will wait to incorporate the thousands of inputs I will be receiving from the followers of this website.
But for now, I am very excited to be focusing on YOU and your needs.
So let’s do that now.
How The “Synergistic Marriage Workshop” Will Work
You know what synergy is, right?
Well, for those of you who don’t, synergy is defined as:
Synergy: The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
In other words, with synergy if you take three things and have them all join and work together, then that means that the sum of those three things will end up creating something more powerful than if the three things were all working separately.
Having a successful marriage works in the same way. It is at its heart, a synergistic union.
I can’t tell you how many times I get approached by a man or woman who asks me:
“Chris, what can I do to save my marriage? Just give me one thing to work on.”
Well, unfortunately the smartest way to save your marriage isn’t just to work on one thing, but to work on multiple things. But you need to seek balance. You cannot try and work on everything, otherwise you may (if you are lucky) only do a little good with a lot of things. Your efforts will be diluted with very little to show. I call that the “shotgun” approach. I see that tactic with some relationship consultants and it makes me cringe. You need to draw the focus down to those things that matter…..those things for which you will get the most bang for your buck.
How can I put this in a way so that it’s easy for you to understand?
Ok, I got it!
As you will learn in a moment, I have identified five things that every marriage should have to optimize success.
Let’s just call those five things, “The 5 Synergistic Principles Of A Successful Marriage.”
(You will soon notice I have written a HUGE section on these Principles below.)
I bet you are wondering what the 5 principles are, right?
- Spending Time Together ALONE
- Balanced & Transformative Communication
- Revitalize Your Relationship
- Become The Best Version Of Yourself
Let’s pretend that you start working on Principle One in tandem with Principle Two. In other words, you start spending more alone time with your spouse and work on being more positive around them.
Well, as a result of your work with Principle One and Two, you start to notice that your communication gets better. As your communication gets better, your relationship starts becoming more and more revitalized. Oh, and as your relationship gets more revitalized, you feel more happy and ultimately take steps towards becoming the best version of yourself which you will learn is actually HUGE, but more on that later.
This kind of “domino effect” is what we are shooting for here with the five synergistic principles.
Did you notice how one Principle bled into the another and affected it positively?
That is what part of this workshop is all about. It is to help you zero in on the important things you should focus on and see how they correlate to each other.
Basically, I am going to be compiling the ultimate step by step guide to make your marriage as fit as possible.
Speaking of a fit marriage…
Importance of a Fit Marriage
I would like to take a moment to introduce you to this idea of a “fit marriage.”
Let’s pretend that a marriage could take a physical form. And by the way, when I think of “marriage” I really do think of it as being a spiritual entity. We will give it a first name. Let’s call it “One”. Ok, it needs a last name too. Let’s call it “Union”
What’s the physical form?
Well, my wife and I always say that we are “One Person”, so let’s go with that.
Basically in this little fantasy world that I am creating, your marriage can take the form of a human being with spirit and aspirations to improve.
So, here is my question to you.
What would your marriage look like if it were a person?
Would it have a fit body?
Would it have a fat body?
Would it be morbidly obese?
Perhaps I should define the parameters a bit more.
Fit Body = SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE
Fat Body = Troubled Marriage
Morbidly Obese = On The Verge Of Divorce
Ok, let me ask you again.
What kind of body would your marriage have?
Its probably not as fit as you want, right? Maybe your marriage is close to fitness. Maybe it is far from fit. This is what we have to fix!
I mean, if your marriage had an exceptionally fit body, then you probably wouldn’t even be on My Marriage Helper trying to improve it or prevent a separation or divorce.
Heck, you wouldn’t even need my help. I would be studying your marriage.
My guess is that your marriage either has a somewhat unfit body or fat body. It may have taken on far too much weight in the form of anger, distrust, boredom, resentment, frustration, and conflict. Possibly, these negative behaviors and outcomes have occurred with such frequency that your marriage is evolving to be morbidly obese.
So, I have some good news and I have some bad news.
What do you want first?
The good news?
It is very possible for your marriage to lose the weight of these negative behaviors and relationship outcomes. You can have a more fit “Union”. You and your spouse can be “One Person”.
In other words, it is very possible for your marriage to move from its poor fitness level to one that can run the marathon with vigor because you don’t have all of the negative things pulling and weighing you down.
Of course, I haven’t told you the bad news.
The bad news is that it’s not going to be easy. But it is very doable for many couples.
I am getting flashbacks of that TV show, “The Biggest Loser”, in which they take people who actually are morbidly obese and put them through a workout regimen so that they can lose weight.
That workout regimen is very tough and the entire process is a little grueling.
Now, I don’t want to scare you, but getting a fit marriage is a little like that.
It’s not going to be easy and I am going to be giving you some pretty challenging things to work on, but just know that if you accomplish most of these things that I tell you to do today, then you will assuredly have a better chance of not only saving your marriage but having a better one.
Now, since we are staying with this theme of marriage fitness, I would like to introduce you to the perfect analogy that sums up everything I am trying to teach you.
I like to call this the “Marriage Tennis Analogy.”
Marriage Tennis Analogy
I am a huge fan of tennis and it just so happens a fit marriage ties directly into tennis in so many different ways, that I couldn’t help myself and had to include it.
So, what I have done here is created an analogy for you.
Basically this section is the blueprint to marriage fitness and like I said, it ties directly into tennis.
Here we go!
Though tennis may look like a simple game, if you have ever played it (and tried to get good at it), you will find that it is actually one of the most complicated games in sports.
Let me give you an example.
In order to be successful at tennis, you have to have a complete game.
Are you aware of what a complete game is?
It basically means that you are competent at every area.
The list goes on and on.
So, how do you even train for tennis?
Realistically, you only have a finite amount of time that you can dedicate to training, so what do you spend your time on?
The answer is everything! But some shots are more important than others and those are the ones you devote more of your time.
Like I said, in order to succeed in tennis, you need to have a complete game and that means that every area of your game needs constant work. Though there are some shots that you need to improve that will really shape and round out your game. Just as there are key Principles that can positively impact your marriage, in the game of tennis there are 4-5 shots you just really need to get down.
Oh, and if you think you can get away with just practicing all of the important shots except one are two, like overheads or drop shots, guess what?
When you play in match (i.e. marriage) where things count, the shots you didn’t practice and improve, can set you back.
In other words, over the course of a match, your weaknesses will eventually be revealed.
I have found that marriage works in the same way. Let’s compare it to a doubles match. We have two players coming into this “union” looking to do their best and win. If either of you have not prepared well, you could struggle with your shot making.
Just as in a marriage, your weaknesses will be revealed and exploited and if you don’t work to shore up those weaknesses as a couple, you can find yourself in trouble.
So, what I have done for you below is compile my marriage fitness tennis checklist that you are going to have to work on (using this workshop.)
Think of it like the ultimate preview for what’s to come.
Let’s get started!
A strong doubles team is like a strong marriage.
Take “The Bryan Brothers” for example.
Together, they make up one of the greatest doubles teams in tennis history and they are perfect compliments to each other.
One is left handed and one is right handed.
One is a great server and one is a great returner.
Oh, and did I mention that they are twins?
Yup, they dress alike…
Heck, they even walk alike.
The are constantly practicing together, honing their skills.
If you watch their match play, they are constantly communicating.
And, this union of players are constantly encouraging, praising, and uplifting each other.
It is remarkable. I am not kidding. Pull them up on Youtube and just watch them.
In marriage, you have your doubles partner for life and in order to make it through, you are going to have to do multiple things together.
You are going to have to communicate well, practice together, “invent some new shots” and most important you will need to be remarkably positive towards one another. Ok, I admit. I shoot high! I am trying to push you! Even if you and your partner are “solidly positive” to each other, that works.
Look, right now I know that you and your partner are probably not a very good doubles team and that’s ok.
That’s what marriage fitness is all about.
With practice you are going to get there.
It’s funny, out of all the online relationship gurus out there,you don’t hear them talking about being the best version of yourself very often.
In fact, most of their advice revolves around “partner activities” which is all good and fine, but if you really think about it, you can actually hone your skills for doubles by playing singles.
Perhaps a better way to say this is that sometimes in order to give your marriage the best chance to succeed, you need to have some time alone to work on your own shots so that you can bring more to the table down the road.
In fact, as you’ll learn later, this is one of the BIGGEST things that you can do for your marriage.
It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
I mean, the average married person would think that in order to make sure their marriage survives, they would need to go on more dates or give their wife or husband more attention.
But I want you to think about what I said earlier when I was talking about synergy.
Do you remember how I talked about this awesome snowball effect that can happen when things work in synergistic fashion?
How one thing can positively impact another important marriage fitness component?
Well, that happens when you work on yourself.
Later on I will talk a great deal about how the Principle of Positivity & Kindness can have a huge impact on your marriage.
Keep that in mind and listen to this example.
Let’s pretend that you just had the worst day of your life. You are feeling really bad about your appearance, since your best friend made fun of your looks. You got into a fight with your boss at work and got fired. Oh, and to make matters worse, you can’t make rent for the month.
That’s a pretty horrible day, right?
Now, when you come home to your significant other at the end of the day, do you think you are going to bring a lot of positivity and kindness to your relationship?
Chances are quite high that you won’t.
Now, lets turn this over and look at the other side of the coin.
Instead of experiencing the worst day of your life, you just experienced the best day of your life.
You stepped on the scale this morning and lost 5lbs (your monthly goal). Instead of being fired, you got a promotion and as a result you got a massive bonus of 100,000 dollars.
Coming home that night to your significant other, do you think you will bring a lot of positivity to your relationship?
I am willing to bet you would.
Do you see how self improvement can lead to a positive things happening in your life and do you see how those positive things can lead to a positive attitude?
Just as every tennis player benefits from singles play and practicing on unique shots, improved conditioning, and improved confidence…..you too can benefit by becoming the vest version of yourself and bring that back to your marriage.
Building Blocks of a Great Tennis Union
Remember when I talked about your need to focus on certain critical shots and other elements? Let’s walk you through those that matter most. In tennis they consist of the following things:
- Core Groundstrokes
- Return of serve
Interestingly, there are 5 key components. Just as there are 5 essential synergistic Principles you need to learn about and work on to have the fittest marriage. I won’t spend much time telling you about the elements of each of these shots, because after all, we are not really here to talk about tennis. But it suffices to know that all these building blocks of a great tennis player or doubles team, work together in a synergistic fashion.
If you are in great shape (i.e. conditioning), then it can positively impact all of the shots described above. If you work hard on improving the speed and variety of your serve, it can really make your volley a lot easier to execute. And if you have solid groundstrokes, it lifts up all the other parts of your game as you build rhythm and confidence. You get the picture, right!
Well, the strength of your marriage is also built upon a foundation. Certain aspects of your marriage need a good deal of attention. I want you to be good in all aspects that lead to a fit marriage. But I really want you to excel in 5 key areas. More about that later, as promised!
Special Situations on the Court
I am sure you have watched a few tennis matches, right? Well, during the course of the match there will be times when the players will get into arguments. They might start fighting with the chair umpire who oversees the match They might get angry with the lines person who calls shots in or out. A player can even get fussy with the opposing player to the point where there is a physical altercation.
Well, fighting usually brings out the worse in us. Now, imagine playing a tennis match with someone when you have no lines persons or chair umpire. In fact, every non professional tennis player must call their own lines. More specifically, they have to decide if each of their opponent’s shots are in or out. Imagine the fireworks that can ensue.
In your married life, you also have to call your own lines and resolve your disputes. There is no marital umpire sitting up high on a chair looking overlooking everything. You and your spouse are on your own so you best learn how to deal with conflict and keep the marriage lines of communication wide open.
Later, we will be discussing a fabulous technique that is proven to work that you really need to wrap your mind around. It does a wonderful job of keeping the lid on fights and softening your approach in settling disputes.
Serving Love & Sex
So long as we are talking about how marriage is analogous to the game of tennis, then we can’t ignore the importance of serving up a steady dose of sex in your relationship.
But I need to point out that while having a healthy and imaginative sex life in your relationship is very important, it not the primary focus of marriage. Without it, you are hard pressed to keep the marriage alive. Though there are exceptions.
The game of tennis is once again instructive in helping you understand how sex plays an important role. The flashiest and most thrilling of shots in tennis is the ace. Not every service shot you attempt will be an ace, but when you do execute an ace, it can be the high point of your service game.
When I think of the importance of intimate relations within a marriage, I am reminded of the server. An excellent server (or marriage partner) is one who understands the importance of mixing in a lot of different “looks”, “spins”, “angles”, and “speeds”. It is variety that makes for a great server, just as in a great lover. Keeping things fresh and exciting are all part of maximizing the effect of a good server (i.e. lover).
Now, this section of the workshop is not designed to go into details about improving your sex life. We will cover that in a future post. But I must point out that you CAN’T “win” in tennis or in your marriage with just a big serve or a great sex life. While it helps a lot, you need to have a complete game to achieve your potential and this is what I seek to teach you.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Finally, to conclude our tennis analogy, there is one other very important learning you need to appreciate. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the results will be short of what you aimed for. You may encounter unforced errors, faults, and defeats when competing in tennis, just like you and your spouse may have setbacks and disappointments, ultimately reverting back to old, destructive habits.
Remember, this is not unusual. If you play any sport or are married for any appreciable period of time, mistakes or other more serious problems will likely occur. Expect it and come to understand the underlying causes of what has your marriage in a funk.
The key thing to realize is that for every problem you encounter in your relationship, there is usually a solution. So, perseverance is really important. You cannot just throw up your hands and give up at the first, second, third, or more signs of trouble. Marriages are not short sprints, but rather they are long marathons where you adapt to the changing conditions.
What your focus should be on is understanding how you (and your partner) can take specific actions in certain areas of your life that can heal the wounds and put the focus back on the positive.
Remember, you need to have a complete game to excel. You can’t just throw in the towel when the going gets tough. And i know you are not that kind of person, otherwise you would not be here at my website looking to improve.
The Truth About Saving Your Marriage
Before we start getting to the meat of this article, I feel there are a few more things I would like to cover with you.
Having a successful marriage is not easy.
If it was then this website wouldn’t even be needed. Heck, thousands of therapists would be out of a job.
The truth is that the art of marriage consists of numerous variables operating within the complexity of human behavior.
There are literally hundreds of skills that you can acquire to safeguard your marriage and just when you think you have mastered every skill, you will find that there are many more that you didn’t think of before.
Truthfully, it’s not all that surprising given how complicated human beings are in this world.
But that’s the beauty of the synergistic marriage system that I am going to teach you about in this workshop.
You see, the synergistic marriage system takes into account the multitude of factors that relate to a strong and fit marriage and distills them into the most important and essential elements.
5 factors to be exact.
Think of it like this.
I basically “filtered” the hundreds of factors that relate to a strong marriage into five workable principles.
Now, you may be sitting there thinking,
Easy, if I told you that in order to get your marriage back on track you were going to have to master one hundred things, you would probably start having a panic attack and pace around your house wondering if this was even worth it.
So, to prevent anything like that from happening, I concluded that it was necessary to identify the most important, impactful things you need to accomplish to better your married life. If it was more workable, it would be more effective for you. It turns out there are 5 incredibly important elements.
Now, I know what you are thinking.
“There are only five principles. Mastering them should be easy…”
Well, don’t get up on your high horse yet.
Becoming a superb practitioner of all five principles is going to take a lot of work and commitment on you part.
Is it achievable?
Is it going to be easy?
However, I have found that it’s the most challenging things in life that often bring us the most pleasure when it’s all said and done.
So, without further ado I would like to introduce you to the five synergistic principles for a successful marriage.
The 5 Synergistic Principles for a Successful Marriage
There are so many things we can talk about when it come to helping couples with improving their marriages or relationships. What I have learned from talking with thousands of motivated individuals looking for marital advice is they want something that they feel they can understand.
What they are looking for is something to fill in the gaps in their marriage. I love that Rocky Balboa quote on marriage. He says to Adrian…
“I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other’s gaps”.
Sometimes we just need to focus on our key “gaps” to better our married life.
If you look at a lot of the marriage advice literature out there, one of the common themes I see is what I called the “shotgun effect”. Literally, these love gurus have 30, 40, or 50+ things you can work on. I don’t know about you, but if you give me a recipe for marriage success that requires I have to sort through many dozens of things to figure out how to make my relationship better….well I am going to get bogged down…confused…and most certainly frustrated.
Well, I don’t want to do that to you. What I think is a much better plan is using common sense, coupled with verifiable research findings that point me to the “few” things I really need to master.
Ok, so maybe you won’t be a master in every critical aspect of marriage, but certainly you will be able to make progress over time. But tell me I have to juggle 47 things to make my marriage successful, well, I will probably go nuts. You might as well check me into the insane asylum for failed marriage partners.
So what are these critical few things that every successful marriage must have? Why are they important? Who says they are important? And how do they work together? Well, part of the answer lies in Nature.
The Long Pole in the Relationship Tent
I love going camping. Have you and your significant other recently gone out into nature to experience what living away from all the clutter and noise is really like? I am telling you, it can really be a bonding experience!
But I bring up my love of nature to make a point. When you are out in the wilderness, there comes a time to set up camp and make a tent. I come from a family where my parents have been married over 35 years. And my parent’s parents also had very long marriages. Same on my wife’s side of the family.
Anyway, my family loves to venture out into the wild. One of the most important lessons I learned was about setting up the tent. I have done so many times. And if you do it correctly, a tent (like a marriage) can withstand just about any force of nature. Whether it be rain, hail, or wind….a strongly constructed tent will see you through your trip.
So what makes a tent strong? How can a married couple benefit from the lessons of tent construction? I will let you in on the secret. It is basic to tent making, just as there are critical elements you marriage requires to be strong. Every tent has poles. Some have a few more than others. But every strong and effective tent I have come across has one “long pole” from which the other poles connect. Together the poles of the tent, along with the longest pole, as well as the canvas (i.e. covering) of the tent make this place of shelter strong and reliable. But is the “long pole” in the tent that keeps the tent from collapsing all around you. Just like a highly effective relationship requires at least one essential element to keep it afloat, a tent stands on the strength of its main pole. And like any good marriage system, all of the poles of the tent have a synergistic connection with each other.
Well, I suppose now, you are dying to know what is the “long pole of the tent” when it comes to your marriage and all other marriages! I am about to tell you and if you truly want to build something special within your marriage, then you must come to know and understand these 5 essential Principles (i.e. like the sturdy poles of your tent).
I will walk you through each, telling you what I firmly believe is the “long pole” in your marriage. But here is the deal! To master these 5 principles, you have to make a concerted effort to put them in practice. Knowing and doing are two completely different things.
Of course, it takes two to tango. You can make inroads and progress by just working on each of these principles yourself. But to optimize marriage success, you should talk to your partner and gain their commitment. There are many ways to do this with varying degrees of involvement from your spouse. Even if you just bite off one of these principles and gain your partner’s commitment to improve, that is progress. I often find that it is one partner that “leads”. When the other spouse notices, they eventually follow.
So ready yourself, fellow campers, as we are about to enter into the construction phase of a greater marriage. I would like to talk to you first about one of the essential Principles that often gets overlooked.
It is mind boggling to me, but it is true. One of the most critical components of a happy and sturdy marriage is the one that researchers have discovered is lacking in many marriages. I think of it as the blood that courses through each of the other 4 essential relationship Principles. While a lot of couples are suffering from this anemic condition, guess what? It may be the easiest of all the 5 Principles to improve.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Spending Time TOGETHER Alone
In today’s workshop, the first Principle we will cover is “Spending Time Together Alone.” Without “alone” time together as a couple, it is nearly impossible to have a healthy marriage. If the two of you are not committed to making time together to be alone…..well it is can to be a tough row to hoe.
Now, you might be thinking, “ah ha, so this Principle is the “long pole” in the marriage tent.” Nope, sorry. Close, but no cigar! Why do people say that? (“but no cigar”). It probably has something to do with when a baby is born and the cigars get handed out. Ok…I digressed. It happens!
The synergistic nature of the 5 principles for a successful marriage becomes very clear when we take a deeper look at why spending time together as a couple is so important. Without that quality time together as partners in marriage, it becomes most difficult to address any issues that may be plaguing the marriage.
Nor can a couple build on the progress they worked so hard to achieve. Without quality time together “alone” as husband and wife, your marriage will likely take one step forward and two steps back.
I see this happen frequently as couples drift apart. It is as if the inertia of just their ordinary routines takes hold and before the partners realize, the marriage begins to show signs of weakness. It can become brittle and fractured or old and stale. This is why I refer to this Principle as the “lifeblood” of any marriage.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t? “Let’s just spend time together”, one of the partners of the marriage may think. Certainly, if we do that, things will have to get better, right? My experiences with relationship coaching has informed that, no, it is not easy. Obtaining commitment from each partner to increase the time they spend together is not a surefire thing to pull off. And if both partners do agree to diligently spend quality time with each other, it begs the question of just how will they spend that time together?
More time with your husband or wife, does not automatically translate to a healthy bond. And even if you and your spouse do work through all of those time challenges, a marriage or relationship between two people is usually not high functioning unless the other essential synergistic Principles of an effective marriage are being successfully practiced.
Easy as pie, right? Well, no, not quite. This is what makes us humans the most complex creatures on earth. There is no one “sure fire” factor that you can put into practice that will solve all of your marriage woes. I don’t say this to discourage you. Not at all. I just want you to understand that this relationship Workshop I am presenting to you is designed to help you understand the key things you need to put into practice.
Spending time together is one. And like our circulatory system that runs throughout our body, experiencing quality time with your spouse starts with understanding what that might look like in the healthiest of marriages.
The Marriage Time Bandit
With that understood, let’s peel back a few layers to become more acquainted with what we are talking about here. For some of you, very little in “lessons learned” is required. You instinctively know what you should do with this quality time. It may be that your marriage is already on solid ground, but is suffering somewhat from an anemic condition that I call, the “time bandit”.
The time bandit is that force that invades marriages and take away, little by little, the quality time that husbands and wives really need to spend with each other. There is a host of reasons why this happens. Careers can get in the way, causing one or both of you to shortchange your marriage. It is like you take a deposit of time out of the marriage and invest it into your job or hobby, or other interests.
As months and years pass, the withdrawals of time out of your marriage grow. Before your even realize it, you and your spouse are operating under a different paradigm of how our marriage operates.
The Time Bandit makes its appearance in many forms. When you have children, the marriage becomes most fulfilling as now there is a new and strong bond that fuses the marriage couple together. It is a beautiful thing to see these little human beings you and your spouse created, come into the world and give you joy and pride. But as with most things, there are two sides of the coin. These wonderful children require a lot from both of you.
So you can see how it is tempting to shortchange the “alone time” each of you spend together. Certainly, in the beginning stages of child rearing, you will be challenged to balance your time between all of the important things in your life. This is perfectly normal and expected..
Just don’t lose sight of the importance of this Principle. Just know that the time you spend alone with your spouse is one of those factors in your marriage that has an outsized impact on the success of your marriage when compared to almost every factor influencing your relationship.
So, how do you defeat the marriage time bandit? Well, you cannot entirely eliminate this relationship gremlin. It is just a fact of our lives that the arrow of time moves in one direction at the same speed. Well, I suppose you could travel at the speed of light and slow down time. But I suppose we all have to wait awhile before that come along!
You can set the time bandit back on its heels. It starts off as recognizing that your marriage has a problem in this department. Acceptance is a key step to recovery. Denial is the time bandit’s friend.
Once you and your partner in life have accepted you need to increase the time you spend together, then you need to take specific action to do just that. Commit to it and build it into your schedules.
So what are you to do with this special time alone with your spouse? Well, I think of it as the premium opportunity for you to make long lasting “deposits” in your marriage. Just like you do when you put money in the bank, you need to build a foundation in the “marriage account”. As more deposits are made, the balance grows. The “interest” in your marriage account accumulates. The relationships feels protected and secure.
The key here is to use this time together alone with each other wisely. And just to be sure we are all on the same page here, when I talk about time spent together alone, that does not mean time alone with yourself. Nor does it mean time you spend with your spouse in the company of friends or family. It means both you and your spouse are together, ALONE. You may be in a private place. You may be in public. But you are together doing things with each other or talking with each other or just physically with each other…..and your friends or family or children are not with you.
Deposits of Love
All of the marital deposits you make need to be positive and genuine. I think of them as love deposits. These deposits can come in the form of opportunities to work on your communication skills, which we will get more into a bit later. The love deposit can also be things as simply as asking each other questions and getting to know what the other person thinks. When alone with your spouse, you should make every opportunity to understand what they may be feeling….what they may need support with.. Even if you cannot solve their concerns or completely share in their joys, a deposit of listening is a most wonderful gift. Making love or just holding each other are also wonderful deposits you make into your marriage bank.
Eli Finkel (Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University) talks about the problem of a suffocating marriage where the time the couple spends together is diminished to such a point that it takes all of the oxygen out of the relationship.
I like to think of time together alone as the lifeblood of a marriage. Another wonderful way you can make long lasting deposits in the marriage account is to use this special time together to try something NEW with your spouse. Forge new experiences. It is these types of new experiences that cause the relationship to bond tighter, reinvigorating the marriage.
When a couple is not committed to investing alone time into each other to allow for expressions of love, then the prospect of strengthening the marriage becomes more difficult. So do me a favor! Talk to your partner about making some deposits into your emotional marriage account. Here are 5 actionable suggestions on things you and your relationship partner can do to beat back the Time Bandit and increase your marriage wealth.
- Create a special code word that either one of you can invoke. Once spoken, both spouses agree to immediately spend at least 1 hour of special alone time together. Each partner can use the code word once every week.
- Play Tennis together. Set up a fair competition contest. Whoever wins, gets a sensual back rub.
- See a movie every week. Then do dinner alone with each other
- Once a month, arrange for a fling in a nearby hotel. Pretend you are new lovers.
- Jog or walk together. Listen to the same music as you do so.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Embrace Each Other With Positivity & Kindness
Well, in case you guessed it right, congratulations! You have arrived at the “mother of all Principles”. If you and your partner can each practice faithfully just this one Principle of highly effective marriages, well guess what…you have an outstanding chance at having a solid marriage. Now just to be sure you understand, there are a total of 5 synergistic principles I encourage you to learn about and put into practice as they will insulate your marriage from just about anything that could harm it. But if you are so inclined to start first with the Principle of Positivity, well you are definitely knocking on the right door.
Positivity is a State of Mind
When I think of positive communication and behavior in a marriage, I always start first with a very easy to understand behavior. Now, that does not make it easy to consistently implement and we will get into that later as there are a horde of reasons why we can descend from positivity to less attractive behaviors. But let’s talk first about the positive!
Positivity is a state of mind. When we drill down to more specifics, I think of words like “kindness”, “nice”, “generous”, and “upbeat”. A positive and kind person’s demeanor is one that infuses the marriage with a gift that just keep on giving. Kind of like that old commercial with the “Eveready battery” that just keep powering on. Kindness is like a cool breeze in your face on a hot summer day. Kindness is like our friend and we want to be in its presence….all of the time.
The Kindness Study
One of the most amazing and well known studies by researchers (i.e. Dr. John Gottman, “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”) revealed, after studying married couples for decades, that the most important thing a married couple can embrace is kindness. Kindness is the most common thread that shows up in successful, highly functioning marriages. So even if your marriage is lacking in some areas, if you and your spouse have this positive and revered way of treating each other…offering praise and bestowing kindness much more often than not, then your marriage is on very solid ground.
Ty Tashiro, psychologist, also talks about this phenomenon in his work (i.e. The Science of Happily Ever After). He talks about “kindness” as being like a muscle that you can exercise. While some people may bring into the marriage a high level of innate positivity and kindness, it is still a behavior than can be learned, practiced, and become more of the norm.
And therein lies the science behind this interesting phenomenon. When people become committed to practicing positive behaviors, such as exhibiting kindness in small acts, generosity in spirit, friendliness in behavior, these acts and behaviors can take form and shape in your brain from a neurological perspective and influence other aspects of our relationship.
Scientists and behaviorists have learned that to form new habits, it typically takes on average about 66 days. It can be many days less or many days more, but that is the statistical average. The firing of neurons in the brain when practicing the new habit will take shape and become more dominant with repetitions of the desired behavior. Some habits form sooner. Some take longer. But the idea here is that we are not doomed to behave or act a certain way, all of the time. The way people behave can literally change as a result of our evolving brain chemistry.
One interesting finding is that couples who practice kindness in relation to how they interact with each other and do so at the ratio of 5 to 1 (kind acts vs. negative encounters) have a remarkable 87% success record in marriage. That is how powerful the act of being positive truly is in our marriages and in our lives.
Exercise that behavior through repeated acts of kindness toward your spouse. Even if your partner is reluctant to change at first, you may be quite surprised at how highly suggestible your behavior turns out to be.
Couples are well know for mirroring each other, which means that what one does, the other often does. Something about a biblical verse comes to mind. Irrespective of what you think about religion, it is wise to adopt the lesson of “doing on to others, what you would have them do on to you”.
So since we are on sort of a religious theme, when was the last time you listened or watched this guy named, Joel Osteen? Now, I am not one of his followers so to speak, but wow, take a listen to what this individual has to say both about marriage and particularly everything else in life. If there was ever a man that manifested positivity, well, his name is Joel. His presentations are “positively” hypnotic!
The Pied Piper of Positivity
Let me give you a few examples. And by the way, do you think he is just lucky to have many millions of followers. No, I think not. Positive thinkers and doers are like the Pied Pipers of spreading the message of kindness and praise and generosity. My point is that even if your can’t bring your husband or wife to truly believe in the Principle of Positivity, then you become the Pied Piper of positivity and drag him or her along with you.
Ok, so here are some gems from Joel Osteen, who by the way also appears to be a huge believer in the significance of kindness and generosity in marital relationships. He wisely goes on to point out that “no two people are completely compatible” and therefore the knot that keeps couples tied together are their willingness to practice “sacrifice and praise” within their marriage.
The criticality of adopting this mode of thinking cannot be emphasized enough. The belief is that if the married partners nurture their admiration and fondness for each other through both small and large acts of kindness, they influence the most valuable of all marital deposits.
I like it when Joel says “turn toward each other instead of away”. Now trust that I am not trying to round you up and send you off packing to the next Joel Osteen speaking engagement. But if you need a few positive thoughts to carry you through your day, then enjoy these pearls of wisdom:
- “Marriage is a Commitment, not a feeling”
- “We have to learn to become One. That means we may have to make some sacrifices….overlooking things”
- “You have to make a switch, start to appreciate your spouse’s strengths… downplay their weaknesses”
- “Listen carefully to the words and tone of voice you use with your spouse…are you doing like Solomon: blessing, encouraging, uplifting.
- “At times you will get angry….but we don’t have to blow up and say hurtful things… learn to step back and collect your thoughts…”
Contempt is the # 1 reason for the tearing apart of marriages. If there is a glue or bond that holds relationships together, it is the positive frame we place our marriages in. How easy it is to understand how kindness can uplift your relationship and strengthen your marriage. But, how hard it is at times to practice that which you know in your heart is true.
The answer to our marriage difficulties and problems are almost always right in front of us. As you are read about these concepts I have laid out before you and you may be thinking, “yes, I agree…my spouse and I need to interact in these ways”.
But as clearly as we think we can see the solution, implementing the principles I have outlined can be cumbersome for many. So why is that? Why do we understand what we should do on a conscious level, but when it comes time to implement some of the ideas, we fall short. There is a simple, but powerful reason why this is so. It is the force of our old habits that dull us to changing. Once a behavioral habit takes root in our everyday actions, it becomes a routine in our lives. And when we have two people, such as in a marriage, they must learn to modify their behavior to make improvements with their relationship. Tearing down that wall of negative habits can be challenging.
But it can happen. It starts with a commitment to change. It starts with embracing that something as simple sounding as “kindness” can rock your marriage back into its healthy stride.
Your Marriage Summit
If you believe the Principle of Kindness is the single most essential factor in your marriage being successful, then you have cleared a very big hurdle. Your journey has begun. There are more hurdles to clear. You need to tear down those old habits of how you interact with your husband or wife. I mentioned earlier that habits can take up to 66 days to take root. So patience and commitment are needed achieve the marital bliss you seek. You also need to understand the powerful force of synergy and how all 5 essential Principles to an effective marriage come together to help you and your marriage partner overcome the tidal wave of old, negative habits.
So how do you break the vicious cycle of old habits and behaviors pulling your marriage down? Well, in my honest opinion, once you and your spouse agree that you both want to change some of the ways in which you interact with each other, you then need to do something to shake the core of your routines. You need to get out of your regular environment and go someplace different.
Choose a place that you have not been before. Someplace beautiful, serene, quiet, and private. Call it your “Marriage Summit”. And it is there that you and your husband or wife can decide to make a vow of starting new habits.
If you genuinely agree that incorporating much more kindness in your relationship can be a pivot point for getting your marriage back on track, then write that down and provide examples of those behaviors you will do more of.
Write it all down and then exchange these written vows with your loved one. From here, it becomes a matter of practicing what you preach long enough so that it takes root as your new habit….your new, healthy routine. Then celebrate this exchange of vows at this place where you chose to have your own personal Marriage Summit so that the experience is cemented in your memory.
Ideally, you want to do all of this with your spouse. But you can achieve results even if you do it by yourself if you spouse is unwilling. Just be sure to tell them what you did as that can have a highly, positive and influential effect.
Angular Velocity in Relationships
There is a law of nature that deals with angular velocity. Think of the ice skater that starts spinning. They first start with their arms and free leg stretched far apart. Then as they start pulling in the their arms and their one free leg, their angular velocity increases. Magically, they start spinning faster and faster.
When I think of the Principle of Positivity & Kindness, I am reminded of the powerful effect of angular velocity. Just as in figure skating, the relationship truth of “positivity/kindness” will speed up the recovery of your marriage. It is that powerful and if implemented consistently, can amplify the positive momentum in your marriage.
This is why the Principle of Positivity & Kindness is the long pole in the tent. It is magical and powerful and stands as the core element of the 5 Principles of a synergistic marriage.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Practice Balanced and Transformative Communications
A lot of people who profess to be experts or relationship coaches will tell you that you that you and your spouse need to improve your communication skills. So what does that usually look like? Does that mean you should talk to each other more? Or are we talking about better listening skills, coupled with honest questioning? Could it mean other things?
Well, the short answer to these questions is all of the above. To be in a highly functioning marriage, you need to be able to talk to each other freely, without a feeling of it being forced upon you. You need to practice “attending” communication skills which is essentially listening to what you wife or husband has to say without interruption. This skill is really important to the men out there. If you can consistently master the art of really “Listening” to your wife or significant other with minimal interruption, then the heavens will open up and rain upon you its gratitude.
And you also need to employ the use of positive non verbal skills. Sometimes, less is more. If you spend all your time talking, you can miss out on those times when you can achieve a close bond through non-verbal communications.
But here is where some of the relationship Gurus get it wrong in my opinion. They talk about communications, but they do not describe the synergistic nature of how communications should fit into our relationships.
So let’s peel back the layers and understand what effective communications is really about. You are probably beginning to see the synergistic connection between the Principles we have already discussed. For example, if you spend time together alone (i.e. Principle I) and employ a good deal of positivity in your relationship (i.e. Principle II), these behaviors connect with Principle III, Balanced and Transformative Communications.
Having an opportunity to spend quality time together alone (Principle I), enables you to experience quality and positive communication opportunities. The way I see it, every chance you have to talk to your spouse is a communication opportunity.
When you are alone with you spouse, that communication opportunity is enhanced. When there are no distractions and the two of your are together alone, then what you say and how you say it is very important in building trust. This is where you and your spouse can make a difference if your marriage has been suffering from the blahs or worse. Combining what you know about the importance of “positivity” (i.e. kindness, praise, generosity) and incorporating that type of communication behavior into your daily interactions, is a powerful marriage and relationship cocktail.
Bear in mind though that quality communications is more than just talking in a positive way with each other. It is also very much about finding balance. Ideally, you want to achieve a 50/50 split in talking and listening. This a general guideline and while there will be times when you or your wife or husband will tend to dominate the conversation for a score of good reasons, more often than not, having balance in your conversations will afford each person a chance to share what is on their mind.
So what do we mean by Transformative Communications? What is it about talking to each other in a positive and constructive manner that makes it transformative?
For starters, if you have been married for some time, it is very likely that you have fallen into some communication routines. It is very likely that some of these routines or habits are not altogether healthy. The communication routines I refer to can take many forms. It may be that very little is said to each other as each of you just fall into your established patterns of going about your own daily activities. An even more destructive behavior pattern is where one or both parties of the marriage give in to sarcasm, criticism, or even contempt.
If you recognize any of these unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship, then you may need a transformative experience to change these destructive routines.
Since you and your spouse are largely in control of your future in terms of how you communicate and respond to each other, this transformative experience need not be a negative…meaning that you do not have to have a knock down, drag out fight to awaken the better communication angels within yourself.
My experience in coaching couples is that when they build from a negative event, the path to the desired place you both want to reach is more difficult. Memories of the ugly and petty comments and gestures take root in your subconscious. Your efforts to reconcile and improve your communication routines become even more difficult. We are after all, very vulnerable creatures and when confronted with negativity, we often respond with negativity.
So what I want you to think about with regard to this Principle is breaking the unhealthy routines you and your spouse may have established. To make this transformative break from your normal communications, you first have to recognize the present state. So what the heck does that mean? Well, it’s pretty simple. Often what happens is a couple becomes caught up in routines and habits that are not conducive to a healthy marriage. After some time, this way of communicating with each becomes the norm. You may not even realize it, until you step away and evaluate how you talk to each other. So the first step is to recognize that you have a problem. Discussing the problem helps with eventually changing the pattern. But changing how you talk to each other will not happen overnight. It is road you both commit to taking, but the journey will cover many days. Why so long? Because the power of your current habits and routines have been shaped over many months and years. Defaulting back to your old patterns is a lot easier than it is to learn and practice new habits and routines.
Relationship Wisdom from Yoda
So transformation is partly about recognition and acceptance of the problem. And it is also about commitment to change. Just as we discussed with Principle II (i.e. Positivity & Kindness), the way you can jump start a transformation to adopt new communication routines that are positive and balanced is to SEED this change by doing something that is big and meaningful…that gets your attention. Make it an event.. Just as that little fellow Yoda said, “you must unlearn, that which you have learned”.
Hence, your challenge is to break the pattern. Yoda also said, “Do or do not, there is no try”. This is where commitment come into play. So if the two of you are in serious need of improvement in your communications….if you find that you seldom talk…or when you do there is little in the way of balance or positivity….then you need to TRANSFORM your communications through a memorable event that neither of you will ever forget.
Message in the Bottle
I like big symbolic gestures that underscore intentions. Let me tell you a story of a couple I know that was experiencing communications issues. Their names are Stacie and John.
They were both caught up in their own busy lives. Seldom would they take time to connect. Almost like drones in colony, they got caught caught up in routines where they went about their day, seldom scheduling quality time together and rarely saying anything that would equate to kindness and praise. So they came to me for some advice.
I could see from the get go that this couple was spiraling away from each other by just how they described their daily communications and interactions. Achieving balance in how they spoke to each other was the least of their problems. But they definitely got failing grades in the area of frequency of communications and the quality of content.
I firmly believed this couple had all the ingredients of a successful marriage. They just needed a little good ole fashioned coaching….a little push in the right direction. I decided they would benefit most from a healthy dose of revitalization in this department of their relationship. And what better way of accomplishing that then to tell them to go somewhere special (and affordable) where they could reconnect and revamp the way they talked to each other.
I love symbolic acts. I love moments that are unusual. It is these things that get lodged into our minds and stick. This is what you and your married partner should seek….really nice and sticky memories. They help you form good habits.
So I told John and Stacie that this one event will not by itself change their old patterns and routines of which they had slowly become prisoners to, but that it would kickstart and symbolize a new beginning in how they communicate. I explained that if they continued to practice the certain vows, then in time they would form new communication habits and routines which would enable them to draw even closer to each other.
I told them I wanted them to plan a weekend trip to Galveston island, located along the gulf coast of Texas. I wanted them to check into a hotel in the late afternoon. I gave them an empty wine bottle with a cork and told them to each write down 2 things they vowed they would do much, much better on the verbal communication side of their relationship; and 2 things they commit to doing on the non-verbal communication side of their relationship. I explained that these things they vowed to do going forward had to be focused on a new level of communication filled with kindness, praise, and generosity. Then I instructed them to take their paper writings and the bottle and stroll along the beach until sunset. At the moment the sun touched the horizon, I told them to take out their respective messages and read them to each other. Here is what they ultimately came up with:
“I will greet you each and every morning with a smile and praise you for caring for me.”
“If I get angry at you, I will remember first to tell you that you have been a most wonderful husband to me and only then will I express my concerns”
“I will hug you everyday”
“I will look into your eyes each day with appreciation”
Stroking your hair and telling you I love you will become a way I show how I feel about you”
“I will surprise you each week with a small surprise”
“You will get hugs and kisses every day”
“I will hold your hand every opportunity we have”
I thought they did really well with their pledges of how they would communicate in the future verbally and non-verbally. Then after reading their vows, I told them to roll up these messages and place them in the bottle, then cork the bottle and cast it into the ocean.
This all happened several years ago. I am very happy to say that both Stacie and John are still happily married and that moment in time on Galveston beach is something they still talk to me about.
This is what I mean when I talk about transforming your communications. It takes an event…a happening…. or an unforgettable occurrence that can shake you loose from the old, tired out and negative communication patterns. It takes a sincere vow or commitment that is the fuse that seals the memory of this special thing you do together as a couple to improve your communications.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: REVITALIZE Your Relationship
It is essential within a marriage that the two people avoid getting stuck in old habits. There is nothing worse for a marriage than repeating the same, tired out routines and habits. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of your routines and habits are very healthy and necessary as they forge a bond of familiarity and security. But relationships change as they age. Both you and your marriage partner change over time. Sometimes these changes are hardly noticeable when examined in the short term. It’s like a tide rolling in from the sea. As you walk the shore line, you cannot even notice the tide rising. But after a great many hours, you will see the difference as you reflect back on earlier in the day. Well, relationships are similar in that they are fluid and change. The person you are and the things that you may be interested in, change with time. It is the norm and you should embrace such changes if they support a healthy lifestyle and relationship.
What you don’t want to do within a marriage is cling to always doing things the same way. You don’t want to just repeat the same activities or vacation to the same spots or eat at the same restaurants or etc, etc.
It is essential that you and your husband or wife experience new things. Not only will those experiences serve to revitalize your own set of personal experiences which you will find fulfilling, but they will immensely benefit your marriage. When you experience new things together, you also bond together without even realizing it. And bonding does not happen by itself. There needs to be a catalyst….a memorable experience of some kind….preferably new and exciting or interesting or thrilling or curious events or activities you both participate in.
Too often I see couples suffer from the slow pull of stagnation. Attachment to the past way of how to always do things is a blueprint for stagnation or worse. Stagnation leads to a couple tearing apart…growing apart.
This happens partly because one or both couples seek new experiences to fuel their passion in life. When they do this apart from each other, then this “tearing apart” manifests itself within the relationship. This usually happens slowly….but assuredly, a slow descent into stagnation can lead to emotional separation.
I think it is a central core element of our personality to experience new things. This is how we learn and grow. It is perfectly OK to do this by yourself for your own individual self fulfillment. But we need to strike a balance such that you and your spouse also experience new things, together. But to do this, you sometimes have to work at it. New things or new marital experiences do not necessarily come knocking on your door saying, “hey, try me out, I am a lot of fun and am fulfilling”.
Marriage Entropy Trap
In my view, it is critical that you do not fall into what I call the “emotional entropy trap”. So what do I mean by “Marriage Entropy Trap”? Well, it starts with understanding a fundamental law of nature.
Entropy is defined as “a gradual decline into disorder”. It is a wasting away…a deterioration….a breaking up. This is what science tell us about the universe we live in. Things eventually go to a disorderly state. Things wear out, rust, collapse, and degenerate. Yeah..I know, it’s kind of sad we live in such a universe, but I have good news for you!
Every day we buck the system. Nature allows for that. You can put “energy” into other places to fight these forces. You need not just give into these random, boring patterns that just ever so slowly, pull your marriage apart. Once you recognize that all relationships can get bogged down in mediocrity, you can actively do something about it. The problem is when married couples do not recognize the entropy marriage trap and just follow along with the same routines and patterns.
You know something? If you talk to some of these great minds of science…..and yes, if you understand just a bit about science, it can help you with your relationship. Science teach us that our very existence is a result of breaking the original pattern. Life evolves from breaking the pattern through adaptations and change over time.
We live in an ever changing universe. So why is your marriage different? Well, it’s not! To breathe renewed life and vigor into your marriage, you need to shift your paradigm. You need to get out of the box. And the sooner you start incorporating some new activities and adventures for the two of you to experience, the greater your bond of common experience will be.
Bonding with your wife or husband through new experiences create new memories that the two of you can cherish. But better, such bonding through these new sets of experiences cements the relationship.
A lot of very smart people, they call them neuroscientists, have learned that if you set out to experience positive new things with your spouse, new neural pathways (i.e. electrochemical pathways) are formed. Like with the growth of a healthy tree, the idea is you want to prune the problem causing neural pathways (i.e. those old, negative, and stagnant pathways) and grow new, positive pathways. Through these sets of positive, new experiences, your relationship continues to grow.
By now I am sure you are starting to see the way in which the essential Principles of Effective Marriages are intertwined with each other. We talked about having time alone with our spouse. We discussed the importance of positivity. We covered the topic of effective communications. And now we have touched on the significance of revitalization of your relationship by incorporating new, positive experiences and doing things together. This is the synergistic and holistic effect of the 5 Principles.
So far, we have covered 4 of them. Hang in there! We will soon be talking about the 5th. But before we do, I would like to provide you with some actionable things you and your relationship partner can do to stimulate and revitalize your marriage.
- Revitalizing your relationship is not just about going to places and doing new things. It can be something simple, yet powerful such as executing the 5 Principles of Highly Successful Marriages. Get started TODAY with the process and you will make great inroads into pruning the old, tired out habits and replacing them with new, fulfilling routines.
- Revitalize your relationship through improving the sexual intimacy in your marriage. There are many good books out there that can help you with changing up your patterns and routines when it comes to sex. Buy one and tell your spouse you are committed to both of you achieving more fulfillment.
- Do something you never would dream of doing. Perhaps it has a slightly elevated risk. For me, it was taking my wife on an incredible hot air balloon ride.
- Get your nervous system engaged. Studies show that excitement and thrill can form some powerful neural pathways, with the added benefit of leading to sexual arousal. So go to a rock concert and then check into a nearby hotel and rock each other’s world.
- Psychologists tell us that after some time, we get to know a great deal about each other and as we repeat familiar routines, the mystery and challenge is largely removed from our lives. So break the mold. Challenge yourselves to something you have never done and accomplish it. Behavioral Scientists say that the sense of positive accomplishment will transfer over to how you think of each other. You will feel closer together and more attracted to each other because you teamed up to do something difficult, and succeeded. Hike up the face of Pike’s peak. Its 13 miles. Enter a mini triathlon. You get the picture!
PRINCIPLE FIVE: BECOME the Best Version of Yourself
So now we have arrived at the 5th Synergistic Principle of Successful Marriages. Because I discuss it last does not mean it is less important than the others. Nor does it mean that it is the “best” of Principles which I saved for last!
What it does mean is that if you fail to take care of principle 5, then you will not optimize your marriage success.
So what is the mysterious X factor that if we practice, we can better both ourselves and our marriage? The mysterious relationship “x factor” in a successful marriage is founded in each partner’s willingness to develop themselves. This benefits you before, during, and after marriage (hopefully not an outcome). What I ask my clients to do, whether they are presently seeking to improve their marriage or getting over a break-up, is to seek to become the best version of themselves.
You may ask, “why would I want to do that? I want to have the best version possible of my marriage.” Well, I would want you to strive for both. By becoming the best version of yourself, you enable your marriage to be successful.
I think it is wise sometimes to take a step back and look at the big picture. Do you remember that quote I provided earlier from Joel Osteen? He said, “no two people are completely compatible”. The simple reason is that we are all unique. We all have different aspirations and goals. We all have areas in our life that we seek to improve.
When we get married, these things do not entirely change. Marriage is a union of two people who are not completely compatible. Your mission, if you should accept (Ok..this is really not a “mission impossible”!), is to strive to perfect that union. But to do so, you need to look within as well as outside of yourself. No marriage is healthy if all of your accomplishments are defined within the circle of the marriage union. Just as we discussed earlier, when we were talking “tennis”, to be a great doubles player (i.e. or marriage partner), you need to seek improvement within yourself.
The Holy Trinity
Your individual personal growth can take the form of psychological, spiritual, hobbies, or success in one’s chosen field. Researchers have discovered that those partners of marriage who are allowed to pursue their “intrinsic goals” (i.e. things such as personal growth) are happier than those who entirely focus on “extrinsic goals” (wealth, fame, popularity in social media).
As with most all things we talk about, a balance needs to be struck between one’s focus on their marriage and efforts to become the best version of themselves. These two goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the pursuit of a balanced set of goals associated with “marriage” and self is “synergistic”
Arthur Brooks (“Love People, Not Pleasure”) at University of Rochester speaks eloquently about why the focus should be on “loving” people and not on a sole pursuit of one’s own pleasure. I think we can all learn from this sentiment.
There is a term I coined as it relates to this Principle of becoming the best version of yourself. I call it seeking the Holy Trinity. In the relationship jungle and particularly those who have suffered through the trials and tribulations of a break-ups, I advise individuals to do a number of things, but embracing in the Holy Trinity is probably the most important.
So what is this Holy Trinity? Ok…first let me clarify I am not talking about taking up a new religion or anything like that. Whatever your faith is, keep it. I am sure it will help you in many ways. The Holy Trinity I refer to revolves around bettering yourself in 3 areas:
Before we take a closer look at each one, I want to point out that what makes the Holy Trinity somewhat magical is the synergistic way in which these 3 essential life components interact. Take away something from one, you can adversely impact the other two. Likewise, if you improve in one area, it often has a positive added force on the others.
Few of us can honestly say we have mastered each of these three life components. The idea is you should strive to make continuous improvements in each of these three areas.
I remember doing a podcast for one of my other websites a few months ago. A woman had called in to explain that her boyfriend had left her and she was devastated. After purchasing one of my ebooks, she was inspired to strive to be the best version of herself and part of that was embracing the Holy Trinity.
She took it upon herself to lose a good amount of weight and improved her general fitness and health which made her feel pretty darn good about herself. She started eating better and getting more sleep. Then she did something that even surprised herself. She took a business idea she had always had and put it into motion and over the months her small business began to really take off.
So not only did she make positive changes with her health and wealth, but she also began spending more quality time with her friends and family. These relationships were so important in helping her stay grounded. She even credited her visits to my website with lifting her up.
About one year later, she ran into her ex boyfriend and he could hardly recognize his former girlfriend. It was as if they had met for the very first time. It turned out that they eventually resumed the relationship. I was happy for her. But honestly, I was most happy that she embraced the Holy Trinity because her attitude in how she embraced these central life components will always carry her forward.
I do want to emphasize something that I think is important to understand. It has to do with the “wealth component. Most people think of wealth as increasing one’s net assets or growing their capital. But when you embrace the Holy Trinity, I want you to also think of wealth in terms of “spiritual” wealth.
I believe spiritual capital includes feeling really good about yourself. Spiritual wealth could be a sense of connection with an organized religion. Or it could be the feelings that are evoked when you attend your Yoga class. Spiritual wealth is many things to many people. If you create wealth of this kind in your life, your marriage will benefit in many ways.
Becoming the best version of yourself is all about finding balance between achieving self expression and development vs investing sufficient time and energy in the marriage. As we discussed, there is a synergistic relationship between these two endeavors. When the balance is lost, the marriage suffers and so does the individual sense of fulfillment. We are talking about two sides of the same coin. This is why I like to characterize marriage as a “Union”.
The History Of Marriage
But things were not always this way. Eli Finkel (Northwestern University) pointed out that in the late 1700s (American Revolution Period) the focus of marriage was to realize “food and shelter”. It may be hard to believe for us now, but times were tough in those days, particularly for women. Love and romance often took a back seat to the practicality of basic survival. Food and shelter are by definition, basic human needs. Marriage was more of a partnership, sometimes forced upon individuals. People seldom married for love.
In the 1800s the next shift in marriage occurred with more of a focus on love & companionship. The woman was often not considered equal to the measure of a man in many respects. But things were looking up in the love department! A lopsided union would be how I would characterize marital relationship in those days.
In the first half of the 1900s, the man as the breadwinner and the woman being the homemaker shaped the form of marriage. We still have a lopsided union and that lasted for decades.
Then in the 1960s, the next titanic shift occurred where personal growth and self discovery became increasingly important within marriages. Eli Finkel argues that a “a fulfilling marriage is strongly linked to a spouse’s support of the other spouse’s personal growth and self expression.
Obviously, the rest of the 20th century further shaped the institution of married life as the imperfect union was further refined. Today, I like to think that the vast majority of people would agree with my wife and I that being married is akin to being “One Person”, but within that context each individual should strive to be the best version of themselves.
So, if you are inclined to define yourself only in terms of your marriage, then I would argue that you are short changing your personal growth and natural need for self expression.
On the contrary, if you take a more holistic approach to your marriage, recognizing both you and your spouse’s needs to explore inner potential and self growth, then both relationship partners can improve and that brings many positive benefits to your marriage.
Recap Of The Five Principles
Now, before we wrap this massive section up I would like to take you back to recap what the five principles of a synergistic marriage are,
You may notice that four principles are all pointing at one.
Did you happen to read what that principle in the middle of the graph is?
It’s positivity and kindness which is arguably the most important factor to a successful marriage.
In other words, what I am trying to tell you here is that, that little factor in the middle of the graph above may very well be the one you want to focus most of your energy on.
While the others are certain important the one in the middle is arguably the number one thing you can do to have a positive impact on your marriage right away.
If Your Are Not Married Yet, What Are The Predictors Of Success
I often get this question from my clients. Essentially, they want to know if they should get married to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Of course, this is a highly personal matter and given the massive complexities associated with human beings, it can be one of the most difficult questions to answer.
First, let me tell you what you should not do. Do not think that the answer is in the stars! So astrology won’t help you. And please…promise me…do not rely on one of those online assessments that presumably tells you if you and your significant other are compatible.
When it comes to matters of love and marriage, I tend to be more inclined to place more stock into verifiable, empirical research. So what does that mean? It means that the social scientist and psychologists that spend their life studying and researching such matters, probably have more value to offer when it comes to questions of compatibility.
Certainly having the ability to become a Jedi Knight in the ways of the 5 Synergistic Principles is very important! But no one I know has ever mastered that.
And it takes two to tango! Not every individual entering into a marital relationship may be motivated enough to firmly embrace these principles. You know what I mean? For example, some people are just not very nice or pleasant.. Kindness may be like a foreign virus that they come down with only now and then.
Some people have little internal motivation or ambition to become the best version of themselves. They may be poorly self motivated, almost slothful.
These 5 Principles I have laid out are not rocket science, but they are very important to embrace and you can use them as a measuring stick. So what I am saying is that if you are in a position to take stock of the strengths and weaknesses of a guy or girl in terms of their readiness and capital when it comes to marriage….well by all means do so.
I need not preach the statistics of failed marriages. You already know that around 50% of first marriages do not succeed. And 70% of second marriages also fail. Yikes. I know that sounds scary. But information and knowledge will serve you well.
What Does Science Say About Marriage Compatibility?
Research has a lot to say about this issue of how compatible you are with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Of course, it is a complicated issue. Human behavior can be pretty puzzling at times.
There is a highly respected study, referred to as the “Cornell Marriage Advice Project” that acknowledges that while their are many variables that influence whether we will be happy in our marriages, there are some factors much more important than others.
With all of the hit and miss outcomes of marriages, a lot of people think of marriage as a form of gambling or an art form that defies explanation. I tend to look at past results and science to help in making sense of things, particularly if the research looks at the big picture.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you look at the right thing long enough, certain patterns will emerge. That is what I like about the Cornell study. They studied 400 individuals who have been involved in marriage (or romantic relationship) for at least 30 years. When you look at success long enough, usually certain important findings will emerge and this what the people from Cornell University discovered. According to this study, if you had to boil it down to 3 things, it would probably revolve around:
(1) The strength of your current communication with your significant other
We have already established that balanced and transformative communications is really important. While you are getting to know your future husband or wife, you will have an opportunity to evaluate the strength of their communication skills. When it comes to verbal communications, does he or she open up and talk freely? Or does your potential marriage partner keep things closed off as tight as a clam?
Does your boyfriend or girlfriend dominate all of the verbal conversations, such that there is little balance? Do you have a hard time with getting them to listen effectively and respond to you when you are sharing?
On the written side of communications is your boyfriend or girlfriend balanced in how and when they respond to your texts and emails. Or is the individual a “me” person which I describe as an individual who thinks their time is much more important than yours?
Then there is the non-verbal side of communications. Is your guy or gal a hugger? Do they enjoy giving and receiving little subtle touches or make gestures that reinforce the positive energy you each seek? Do you feel serene and safe in their presence?
What about the quality of the communication?
Remember, we talked about how the Principle of Positivity was a very good predictor of marital success. If you had to measure your significant other’s “kindness in communications”, how would your rate it on a scale of 10 (i.e. with 10 being the highest quality).
If you have them coming in at a 3 or 4 or 5, you really need to ask yourself if this person has the generosity of spirit that will enable the marriage to succeed. When you fight, does it last a long time? Do you fight fair? Does your boyfriend or girlfriend genuinely apologize for the role they played in a fight?
The key take away is to keep talking to each other. If there is balance and a lot of words going back and forth with some degree of positivity, you are paving a great path that if followed consistently, will allow your marriage to be happy and successful.
(2) The demonstrated level of commitment
When you are in the dating stage of your relationship you have time to evaluate each other’s level of commitment. Now for the sake of this discussion, I am going to assume that you are committed to the relationship and idea of marriage and so my remarks will address the question of how committed your boyfriend or girlfriend might be. How does one know if a prospective marriage partner is committed? There are essentially two tactics you can employ. One is more aggressive, while the other is more passive.
Probably, the most effective way to to gauge one’s level of commitment is to specifically ask them. But you cannot just blurt it out. You have to do your due diligence. Like a good attorney, you should already know the answer to your question, even before asking. Why is that? Because you have already done your homework having spent a great deal of time with this person evaluating their behavior in all facets of the relationship, particularly when the conversations turns to issues and topics suggesting a future together.
So like a well versed and prepared attorney, when you ask “the question”, you will have a darn good idea of what they will say. Essentially, in this scenario, you are looking for confirmation of what you already believe. If you don’t get that confirmation…..if your significant other hedges….well it’s not the worst news. Just take things slow and allow “time” to sort things out.
The other tactic is never to ask the question, but direct the conversation in such a way that the other person feels compelled to explore commitment levels.
My experience with couples who cross the bridge of commitment is that they do so naturally over time and there is usually little doubt what each wants. If you are plagued with doubts or if the other individual does not seem very enthusiastic, then take a step back and re-evaluate. Remember, little steps can get you to your final destination.
(3) Your knowledge of each other
Before entering into marriage, a couple should have an opportunity to learn a great deal about the other. None of us are without fault and all of us have some wonderful qualities.
Knowing the “good” along with the “areas of opportunity” with regard to your prospective husband or wife, prepares you for whether you ultimately will be a good match. It is never wise to rush into things. As you learn about all of the qualities about your partner and what their life is currently about, you enable yourself to make an important decision.
I have seen the opposite happen far too many times when a person, filled with the raging hormones of love, jumps too soon into the decision of marriage. When emotions run high, logic runs low. Don’t be that person who is blind to the important things you should know about your future spouse.
The canvas of things you should look at in your potential partner for life is wide. Do you have a shared belief or faith? Have you met this person’s friends? What is this person’s experience with love? How is your sex life? Do you each share similar goals regarding family and children? What is this individual’s ideas around parenting? What is this person’s ambitions in life? What is their track record regarding financial matters?
Behavior psychologists and learning theorists are fond of saying that a person’s past history is “predictive” of their future. Meaning that what a person has done in the past, is often repeated in the future.
I place a great deal of credibility to this line of thinking as I have seen how an examination of a person’s history can be a very useful way of figuring out their future behavior. So please do not make the mistake of turning a blind eye to a person’s past or fall victim to only listening to the words they have to say. Actions do often speak “louder” than words.
Now, this is not to say that a person cannot learn from the mistakes of their past or lift themselves up from negative experiences in their life. You are looking for positive patterns of behaviors and decisions that makes you feel secure that this is a person you want to spend your life with.
So I think you are getting the picture here. It takes time to learn about all these things and it also takes discipline because you will be fighting against emotional urges to hook it up and get the marriage on its merry way.
But I would advocate you do something very, very, very important before getting married. Wait. Yes, I want you to wait and ensure you have had a lot of shared experiences with your prospective marriage partner. Get to know about these things we talk about. Don’t think of it has snooping or hesitation. Think of it as a relationship life insurance policy you are investing in.
The picture of the strengths and weaknesses of your significant other will come into clearer focus over time. And don’t be surprised if you marry someone with many of the same qualities that you have so says the experts. The road to happiness is often forged along a familiar trail.
3 Factors = Happy Marriage
If all 3 of these things are in place during the courtship, then a strong marriage is very likely according to the findings of these researchers. Marriage is difficult at times for all couples, so if you find that the two of you are highly correlated when it comes to commitment, knowledge of each other, and communications levels….then you position yourselves to succeed and weather the eventual storms couples typically have throughout their relationship.
The Habits of Highly Successful Married Couples
By making use of the 5 Synergistic Principles for Successful Marriages, you will be able to hone skill sets that enable you to achieve relationship success. I consider these 5 principles that we have discussed to be the framework for any strong marriage. As I have discussed, you do not have to master all 5. Few marriage partners can honestly say that they perfectly exhibit all of the behaviors that underlie these principles. But like building a home, you start with a foundation. In my view, that is the Principle of Positivity. With a solid foundation, the other principles should naturally fall in place, most notably the Principle of Balanced & Transformative Communications.
The Marriage Tree of Life
You can also think of a successful marriage as a healthy and growing tree. If being positive, kind, and generous is the seed and quality time alone with your lover is the nutrients, then the fruits of your labor will be revealed in the manner in which you talk to each other, seek to revitalize your relationship with new and fulfilling experiences, along with each of your efforts to become the best version of yourselves.
The study of Neuroscience has led to some fascinating findings in how to strengthen a marriage. As you know, every healthy tree requires commitment to care for its particular needs. Just as relationships can branch off into unhealthy routines and habits, a tree at times needs pruning of its unhealthy branches.
Scientists have learned a lot about how the mind works and why we behave in certain ways. You may have heard of the saying that, “you can’t teach an old dog, new tricks”. Well, I repudiate that kind of thinking as it applies to the behavior of marriage partners. It is completely wrong to think we are destined to act and behave the same way.
The science of the mind teaches us that new neural pathways can be created and with time, can become the norm. The key is forming the right neural pathways and repeating that behavior.
The idea is to “prune” problem causing neural pathways and create and strengthen the pathways of desirable behaviors/habits. This is a perfect place to talk about the 66 days it takes to form a habit….particularly the correct habit. Just to underscore what I covered earlier, habits it is believed take on average about 66 days to form. Earlier studies suggested it was closer to a month and in some cases, that is true. But more recent work suggests that if you want to change old, negative habits with new, positive habits, it will on average take a few months of repeating the new routine/habit.
There is some fascinating work that emerges from the research of Dr. Antonio Damasio on emotion and behavior as well as Dr. John Gottman (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail), that have led to a conclusion that if couples practice certain Skill Sets, these behaviors can lead to highly successful marriages. So what are these skill sets? How do you develop them?
First let me point out that that one way of looking at these skill sets is to think of us drilling deeper into the 5 Synergistic Principles we covered earlier. These skills sets, which I am about to describe, are borne from the essential Principles. But even more telling is that these skill sets are backed up by a great deal of academic research where actual married couples were studied for a very, very long time.
So let’s get back to defining what a skill set is. Consider a skill set as a behavior that you and your spouse exhibit frequently within the marriage. It could be also called a “practice” or a “belief system”.
Most telling, a skill set represents how couples interact and treat each other. To develop and hone such skills, the marriage partners need to first believe that their actions will make a difference. The couple must be committed to behaving and interacting with their spouse in this manner consistently. And as we outlined above, for this new way of behaving to take shape and form and become a habit within the marriage, the couple needs to consistently behave or support the behavior. Perhaps it could take a month or two before such skill sets take firm root within the marriage.
So what are these very special skill sets that researchers tell us make marriages very likely to succeed? Well, they are remarkably straightforward and easy to understand. If you find them completely missing from your relationship, well, you have some real work to do in my opinion, But typically all couples do some or all of these things to varying degrees. Your work on getting better in these areas can make a huge difference.
Sharpening Your Marriage Skill Sets
“Soft Start Up” – One of the skills that marriage couples need to embrace falls under two of the Synergistic Principles (Balanced & Transformative Communications and Positivity/Kindness). Indeed, if you make progress in this area, then you and your partner will truly have a transformative experience. And guess what? It is not hard to do at all.
What happens all too frequently in marriage is things will happen which can easily lead to upset feelings. Communications can get prickly. An issue will arise that needs to be discussed. Something may need to change or a topic may need to be explored. Invariably one or both of the marriage partners will default to their normal way of tackling the topic, which more often than not is very direct and head on. Fireworks ensue and soon the issue or conversation topic has grown to an interpersonal firestorm.
Here is what you should do when you want to breach a potentially sensitive topic. I want you to do the best job you can to channel Joel Osteen. Yes, I know, this may sound a bit odd. But I think you know where I am coming from. Whatever you think of Joel Osteen and his religious views, I think we can all agree the guy is incredibly positive and supportive and kind and generous in spirit and given to praising people a lot….you get the drift.
So if you find yourself at the communication crossroads where you need to delve into something that could be a sensitive issue, then use what is described as a “soft start up” approach. Never lead with the criticism or harshness or short and terse tones. That is a pathway to ruin.
I like to talk about the sandwich technique in describing the soft start up. When you talk to your spouse about something that has the potential to be prickly, always start off with a positive (i.e. that is one of the pieces of bread that comprise a sandwich), then get into the meat of the conversation though always remember the importance of tact and gentle conversational tones; then complete the sandwich technique with another positive (i.e.the other piece of bread). People remember beginnings and endings, so make those positive and supportive.
“Embrace Your Partner’s Ideas”
Studies reveal that if both partners can consistently avoid becoming defensive and remain open to their spouse’s ideas, requests, critiques, and upset periods, they will experience 80% marital success.
Now that sounds like an unbelievably high percentage. But the way I think about it, if both you and your spouse are able to have such a close relationship that you are able to genuinely talk openly about each other’s ideas and consider their proposals and accept constructive criticism and show a generosity of supportive spirit when your spouse is upset…..if all of these things can be done consistently, then an 80% success factor does not sound so high after all.
We are all incredibly complex, somewhat unpredictable creatures. Heck, sometimes we have not a clue why we feel or act a certain way. Even if we choose to behave this way, it can be difficult to consistently maintain this standard. Fatigue, stress, and confusion are just a few emotions that can betray the better angels within us all.
Once again, you see how the Principles of Communication and Positivity have a synergistic impact on the success of marriages. But the point here is that you should strive to embrace your partner emotionally when they are vulnerable.
You want them to feel safe and encourage them to share their ideas. You do not want them to become defensive. This does not mean you will ultimately agree with their ideas or requests. What it does mean is that your spouse will feel safe to discuss whatever is on their mind, without fear that it will be struck down or they will feel belittled.
If your marriage partner is experiencing a difficult time at work or a personal situation, you want there to exist a marital environment where your spouse will be secure to discuss this problem with you. Lend them your ear. Give them that hug. Show them earnest interest in their concerns..
“Hit the Refresh Button”
Another essential skill that married couples need to do much more of is learning how to quickly fix or repair a conflict situation and avoid the upset feelings from spiking.
If you and your husband or wife practice this conflict management skill consistently, the end result is a highly functioning and effective couple. Fighting or fussing over some issue is normal. Unless you are a robot, fighting with your spouse cannot be avoided. Hopefully, your relationship is mature and sound enough where fights are not commonplace. But even if that is not the case or if the two of you are exceptionally passionate people and fights occur more frequently than with the average couple, you can still learn some basic skills that will enable your marriage to continue to grow and prosper.
When a couple tells me how they should fight fair, I usually ask them, “What can we learn from professional fighters?” Whether they be boxers, wrestlers, or UFC fighters, all combatants have certain behaviors (rules) they follow.
The first rule is to avoid hitting below the belt. That just plain hurts! Any comments that are personal (as in personality based), mean spirited, ugly, or crude are prohibited. Any comments that are negative about one’s appearance is prohibited. If the couple cannot control themselves and begin fighting unfairly, then you both better take a “time out” before you cause some damage you each will regret.
But as I said, fights will happen and have you noticed that more often than not, the things you end up fighting about is usually insignificant in the scheme of things? Sometimes the fight is over something entirely stupid. But that is just one of the complex qualities of our species…we say and do stupid things at times. Sometimes the fight is a subterfuge to really discuss something under the surface. Perhaps the individual is reluctant to bring up a point and it eventually gets revealed during the fight.
Fights are often triggered by fatigue and stress. So just know that fights will happen for a score of reasons. The key point here is not just how you fight “fair”, though that is an important skill. Rather, what I wish to underscore is the aftermath of the fight.
When professional fighters are finished with their fight, they embrace and show respect and wish each other well. Research tell us that couples that learn to hit the “refresh button” and avoid carrying the upset feelings with them, such that they linger for days and days and get pulled into the next fight…..couples that understand the importance of both physically and emotionally embracing after the fight….these are the couples destined for success.
The Holy Trinity of Marriage
I think there is a Holy Trinity when it comes to the whole business of marriage. There is the man. There is the woman. And there is the marriage “Union”.
The man and woman will fight. But they must always revere and respect that special “union” they have created….specifically the marriage. Now, you do not need to be particularly religious to understand and follow this line of logic. Just simply agree with your partner that when you fight, the end result will always end on a positive note or otherwise the relationship suffers.
And remember my lesson of fighting. Once you are in the ring and find yourself in the midst of a fight, you are both responsible. Don’t get lost in who is right or wrong, if such a thing even exists. You are both at fault because as consenting adults, you agreed to climb into the ring and start fighting with each other. So you are both wrong. You have both caused injury to the Holy Trinity of Marriage. Two wrongs never makes things right. So get that straight!
Once you understand that, then commit yourself to not completing a 3rd wrong by failing to uphold the positive spirit of your marriage. Tell each other you are wrong. Tell each other you are sorry for your role in the fight. Tell each other that “we can do better” or “we can get through this”. Turn the fight from conflict to a solution based way of communicating.
If you do these things and do them all relatively quickly, then the fight you had ceases to become injurious to the Holy Trinity of Marriage. Rather, your fight can be instructive and helpful.
Learn from the fight what is on the mind of your loved one. Perhaps it is nothing particularly serious. Possibly it is fatigue and stress that shaped itself into a fighting spirit. Whatever it is, seek to learn from it. Then hit the refresh button and hold no lasting grudge or resentment for the negative things that happened or was said during the fight. Remember, when emotions run high, logic runs low and we all say and do some really stupid things when we are upset. If you learn the value of hitting the refresh button, your marriage will be well served.
“Be a Dreamcatcher”
Couples who respect, honor, and demonstrably support their spouse’s aspirations, dreams, and important goals are what I call “Dreamcatchers”. If you look up the definition of a dreamcatcher it is described as a small hoop construction made of yarn or wire and feather and beads. It is thought to originate with the American Indian and usually artfully decorated. Once made and given to an individual, it is suppose to confer good dreams to that person.
I don’t know about you, but I love this notion of a dreamcatcher. I seriously doubt that it really works on any physically level. But as a metaphor, a Dreamcatcher is exactly what I would want couples to be for each other.
To often, when I coach couples to better their marriage, I discover they get bogged down in just their “own” dreams and aspirations. Now, there is nothing wrong about being focused on your important goals. Indeed, that is one of the 5 Synergistic Principles (i.e. becoming the best version of yourself). But I will tell you, as I have told thousands of others, you gain more in the long run if you make a SPECIAL effort to be a “dreamcatcher” for your spouse.
Help them with their aspirations. Enable them to fulfill their dream. This is the generosity of spirit we talked about earlier. Good things come to people who help others. Helping your husband or wife achieve what is really important to them is like putting a huge deposit into the marriage bank. The dividends you will gain will be beyond what you could have imagined.
Let me tell you what I did for my wife when she wanted to change jobs. For her, this move carried some risk but there was considerable upside. Now, I find myself extremely busy these days in managing my relationship websites and growing my business. There are literally many hundreds of actions items for me to perform each day and they continue to mount.
Ok, enough of my sob story! But my point is that I am exceptional taxed with far too much to do. But when I learned my wife wanted to undertake a challenging job change into a completely different industry, I made it priority #1 to support her in every way I could think of. This involved long conversations about the prospects…conference calls with others who understood the practical tactics involved in a job change…preparation for interviews…and development of special personal profiles to suit the job.
There were many things I could do to help and I did those things. But by far, the most meaningful thing I could have done to help my spouse was to give her unconditional support. That meant the world to her.
Well, to make a long story, a lot shorter, she got the job on her very first interview and successfully made the transition. But let me tell you the great part to this story. Just as I helped my wife with her aspiration to secure a new position, she seemed to take an even greater interest in the things that I do with my business. Don’t get me wrong. My wife is awesome about such things. She has always been interested in helping and supporting me when she can with my business goals. But in the process of helping her, we discovered that some of the things I do came up as “analogues”, which essentially means that she got more exposed to my work and some of the unique challenges I face and those experiences were helpful in preparing her for a job change.
As a result, she has taken an even greater interest in my business of relationship coaching. Honestly, I think it is partly due to the fact that she is so intuitive and has had considerable experience in helping other couples and individuals with their relationships. Her degree and work experiences are also a good fit. But naturally, I think she felt compelled to help me even more as she was appreciative of my sincere desire to help her.
Well, this may sound incredible, but my wife is now my business partner. Our business aspirations are one and the same. We became Dreamcatchers for each other and our aspirations have merged to become one.
“Positive Beats Negative”
Emerging from the Principle of Positivity is this fascinating discovery that if marriage partners observe a 5 to 1 ratio of positive encounters with their spouse versus negative encounters, then the chances of a successful and fulfilling marriage is highly probable.
So how do you accomplish this? For some people, it is a natural form of their behavior. They seem perpetually happy and positive, with a generosity of spirit we can only dream about.
For others, being positive takes work. Look, I understand. It is a tough world out there. And if you are dealing with the woes of a broken relationship, it can be even tougher to lift yourself to a place where you frequently exude positive qualities. But do so. You must. Unless you forgot, the Principle of Positivity as it pertains to a successful marriage is the “long pole in the tent”. Even if it’s just primarily just “you” striving for positivity, then be the lightening rod. If you lead, your spouse is likely to follow. After all, most couples subconsciously follow what is called “mirroring”. If you behave in a certain way, consistently, then your behavior can have an influential impact on your husband or wife’s demeanor.
Think of the attitude you adopt as a choice. You can strive to be consistently positive and pull people up with you or you can flood your zone of influence and pull people around you down. Negativity is a path to toxic thoughts and outcomes on all levels. Relationship research reveals that when people dwell on the negativity it can have adverse effects on both their physical and emotional health.
Marriage Positive Theory
Negativity promotes chaos and ugliness. Chaos theory teaches us that everything we do and every negative act we set in motion affects everything else, most often in a negative way.
Well, I am asking you to embrace positivity. Be a role model for positive behavior. This type of attitude is highly contagious, even affecting your own outlook on life in the most wonderful way. Anger, fear, frustration, resentment, hate, depression, and the other negative feelings poisons your soul like a growing cancer. Worse, it spill into all areas of your life and the landscape around you.
I am not suggesting that the occasional rain clouds will not burst upon the scene and dampen your mood or negatively impact your relationship. But learning to weather these natural occurrences are all part of the seasons of your marriage. When the tide turns against your marriage, know that this is normal. Put it behind you quickly. Seek constructive solutions and get back on the positive track.
Grabbing the Marriage Tiger by its Tail
Imagine you are walking along a trail. I really love walking in nature and as you will see below, it is one of the behaviors you should practice frequently to train yourself to become the best version of “positivity” you possible can. Well anyway, I digressed! So you are walking along this trail and a tiger jumps out. Of course this won’t happen to you, but just pretend! People will almost always act in one or two ways. This is because a certain part of the brain takes over. Chemicals come flooding through you and the fight or flight syndrome will kick in. What happens is that your field of choices of how to act and how to process the information gets very narrow. You might not see the other choices available to you like picking up a stick or rock or climbing a nearby tree. This is just the way our brains work after millions of years of evolution. The brain is programmed to shut off the other potential solutions when confronted with this negative outcome.
Well, when your are fighting within your marriage, your field of choices also become narrow in that moment. You may feel temporarily paralyzed by the flood of negative thoughts. This is normal, though it is not optimal. What I mean is that when confronted with an adverse situation, people are conditioned to give in to the survival instinct. And often, they make the wrong decisions. I am sure you have heard the saying, “blinded by rage”. Well, it is partly true. So how do you train the tiger that resides within you?
Barbara Fredrickson, psychologists from the University of North Carolina, published a landmark research paper that discusses the role of being positive and how it impacts your mental and physical health. She discussed how a positive mindset can create real value in your life.
She performed an experiment putting various groups of people into situations where they viewed positive, neutral, and negative images When later asked to complete a task, guess what happened? The people dealing with negative images were blunted in how they saw they saw the world. They had considerable difficulty in completing the exercise. Whereas the individuals who were exposed to positive images, were highly functional, coming up with numerous solutions to the task.
Clearly, positive emotions opened up these people’s minds to many possibilities. Fredrickson coined the phrase “broaden and build theory”, which she described as the person’s capacity to take the positive experiences they engaged in and turn them into new positive experiences and accomplishments in other areas of life.
So what do these behaviors look like within a marriage? I think we all have a pretty good idea. But if I was to build a template of habits you should strive for it would look like this:
- Frequently express appreciation
- Smile and laugh a lot and when you are finished, do it some more (releases endorphins which are brain chemicals that lead to pleasurable feelings)
- Praise your husband or wife
- Plan fun outings so you can express appreciation, smile, laugh, and praise
- Share affection
- Sing and dance
- Hug, kiss, and touch gently
- Surprise with delight
- Walk with nature. Listen to the wind, the birds, and smell the freshness of the air
- Write about positive experiences
- Play and go on adventures
The Legend of the Thorn Bird
I am going to tell you something that few relationship experts will ever talk about. My jaw drops when I read about some of the claims that other relationship gurus make about their teachings and methods. I particularly find it bordering on the ridiculous when certain individuals claim these super high success ratios, such as 90% or higher.
Though, I suppose it depends on what you are measuring, right! I could say I have a 100% success ratio because if you just try out everything I recommend, it will certainly help you to some degree.
Of course, to get access to some of these relationship guru’s marvelous products, you have to pay $400, $500, or often much more. If you get individualized personal coaching or couples therapy, the costs can run even higher as the sessions mount. Often, you may eventually invest thousands of dollars trying to get your marriage back on track.
Forgive me for being skeptical. But I really get upset when I see these kind of claims. I have purchased some of these products and they vary from below average content to very solid advice in my humble opinion. And I do not offer my opinion blindly without practical experience in this field.
My experience is that individuals and couples who are seeking help are more often than not in a vulnerable place. Sometimes, they fall prey to these slickly written sales pages that promise them the moon.
Really, give me a break, does anyone really believe that there exists a marriage recovery system that is so highly effective (e.g. 90%+ success rate) that couples all over are dancing in the aisles ready to renew their vows. Frankly, I doubt it. Relationships are extremely complicated and ideally both parties need to be properly motivated just for starters. Then the marriage recovery system needs to be pragmatic, focused and grounded in sound practice.
So let me be one of the few relationship recovery experts to tell you that while I genuinely feel my advice has great potential to make a meaningful difference in your marriage, I would be delusional to suggest that it will always absolutely save your marriage.
It is hard enough for us human beings to understand and control every aspect of “love” and human behavior, so for anyone to say they have a near foolproof marriage recovery system…well as they say in the South..they are probably not the sharpest tool in the shed.
So let me tell you something else that most other relationship coaches will not. Some marriages are dysfunctional and will not work.
Now, if you are married, I want you to commit yourself to everything you can do to make your marriage successful. I believe you and your partner need to take extraordinary steps to improve the marriage. The words “can’t” or “won’t” should be stricken from your marriage vocabulary. And remember, your first, second, and third attempts to make things right…to make things better between the two of you may not succeed. But if everyone quit on their marriage after encountering rough waters, then failure rates would be even higher.
Nevertheless, once in awhile, despite extraordinary efforts to turn things around, a marriage may prove to be detrimental for both people.
There is a story that comes from a Celtic legend that helps us understanding how dysfunctional marriages can wound one or both of partners, pulling them down…way down into an abyss.
According to this story, there is a very special species of bird called the Thorn Bird. This bird is most beautiful and filled with love and song. The Thorn Bird is driven to find a thorn tree, upon which this lovely bird nestles into what it believes is a place of peace and sanctuary. Both the Thorn Bird and the Thorn Tree are magnificent examples of nature.
As times goes by, the Thorn Bird from its perch begins to slowly suffer from the nicks and pricks of the Tree’s thorns. As the Thorn Tree inflicts pain, the tree also suffers as it becomes scarred and broken in places. Neither the bird or tree meant to injure the other, but with the passage of time, it becomes evident that neither bird or tree are suited for each other.
Then the Thorn Bird sings the most beautiful song ever heard in the lands while it is suffering from the wounds of the thorns, finally realizing that if it was to achieve its own inner beauty as well as support the magnificence of the tree, it would need to fly away so to recover from its wounds and become renewed.
In the original Celtic version of the story, the bird chooses not to depart and dies singing while impaled by the thorns. Well….I don’t really like that ending. I always believe there are options for most everything in our lives.
The lesson of the Thorn Bird is that despite our best intentions, even after suffering great pain, we may need to lift ourselves up and away in order to heal and become the best version of ourselves.
Sometimes this happens in the form of a separation or formal Time Out. It is possible, that with time, even a prickly tree can lose its thorns. I will discuss this concept in much greater detail in future posts. And once in awhile, the marriage should end to the benefit of both partners. That is a painful process too, but sometimes it is necessary.
My hope is that by coming here to My Marriage Helper, you are seeking not to end a marriage, but to succeed with your Union. I am reminded by what Mark Twain said about being married:
“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”.