The first “R” is responsibility
For any marriage to be healthy each spouse must learn to take responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts, attitudes, actions and words. Our marriages become unhealthy when we start allowing our spouse to determine how we feel, think or act. I often tell couples that though the percentages aren’t scientific, there is what some therapists have called the “80/20” principle. This means that in healthy marriages each partner is taking responsibility for 80% of their own feelings, thoughts, actions, attitudes and words and their spouse is able to influence 20%.
When things are unhealthy, those percentages get switched. Marriages get stuck and we lose our ability to effect change in them when we give our spouse all the power to influence growth because we have stopped practising personal responsibility. We can never change our spouse but we can change our marriage.
The second “R” is respect
This may seem like a “no-brainer.” However, I am not just talking about treating our spouse with respect in our actions and words which is important. I am referring to the respect that accepts, values and affirms our differences. We often have heard the message in society that we need to practice tolerance. Tolerance is never good enough in marriage. To tolerate something means you are just putting up with it. We need to go beyond tolerating our differences to accepting them.
The difference in interests, temperaments, personalities, strengths and weaknesses is often what attracted us to our spouse in the first place. Very often these differences become annoyances after marriage because they have the day to day ability to affect our partner and in ways, he or she may view negatively. Accepting differences does not mean accepting inappropriate, immature or immoral behavior on the part of our spouse. However, we won’t have the freedom to move towards our spouse and find common ground when we aren’t accepted “as is.” One ingredient that seems to stand out whenever you hear couples that have been married for 40, 50 or 60 years or even longer is that somewhere along the way they learned to accept rather than try to change each other.
The third “R” is repair
Most of marriage is repair work, especially forgiveness. We have to be diligent to keep our hearts from becoming bitter, mistrustful or closed. The main way to do that is to develop the habit of forgiveness. Couples that are really struggling are usually at a point where neither partner feels safe or connected. The main path back to safety and connection starts with the willingness to forgive. There are plenty of resources easily accessible on how to forgive well.
However, here are the three main components of a statement of apology:
1. A clear articulation of the harm you feel you did
“I spoke in a demeaning way to you last night and not only that but in front of the children.”
2. A chance for the other person to express their point of view
A chance to present anger/wounding as well as unresolved past pain (*the past pain MUST be as a result of a wound closely related to the present one), which will be uncomfortable to hear BUT requires validation from you – “I can see that I was disrespectful and devaluing to you and set a bad example for our children.”
3. An authentic expression of remorse, from the heart
“I want you to know that I understand how deeply I hurt you, and I am so sorry. I ask that when you feel you are able that you would forgive me.” S. Lewis said, “To forgive for the moment is not difficult, but to go on forgiving; to forgive the same offence every time it recurs to the memory – that’s the real tussle.” When I say, “I forgive you,” I declare that the issue between us is dead and buried. I will not rehearse it, review it or renew it.” If you do the work of forgiveness you will reap the rewards of safety, trust and respect.
The fourth “R” is Repeat
Active listening is repeating back to the other person what you heard them saying in your own words. Spouses need to make sure the intent of their message is the same as the impact. The only way to do that is to do a “check in” which is to repeat what is heard and ask if you understood correctly.
There is a difference between effective communication and constructive communication. If I get angry and slam my fist down on the table when I am sharing something with my wife, I have effectively communicated that I am angry. However, I have not communicated in a constructive way. My communication is not likely to lead to a productive conversation. So, we need to remember that just because we get our point across does not mean that our communication was constructive or helpful. The second aspect of repeat is to recall past actions that were successful in tough times.
We have a tendency to forget when we hit tough times the helpful things that we did in the past to resolve conflict or move forward. Our emotions often take over. Take time to think back to things you each did that were helpful in similar situations. If you seek to understand before you seek to be understood your marriage can be radically changed or strengthened.
The fifth “R” is Remember
We need to remember the “golden rule.” We need to treat our spouse the way we would like to be treated. We need to know that marriage is always a work in progress. We don’t think twice about doing maintenance on our cars so they not only stay running but hopefully well. How much more do we need to remember to do the first four “R’s” as a way of providing maintenance for our marriages?
We need to remember that marriage is not necessarily about finding the right person but becoming the right person. Lastly, we need to practice the humility that one husband shared as he was asked about the longevity of his marriage. He said, “Every morning I wake up, splash cold water on my face and look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘well, you are no prize either.’”