When a marriage is volatile, when alcohol and drug use has become problematic, and when there is either physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or a combination, or when a strong voice inside of you is screaming, “I have made a dreadful mistake in selecting a partner,” consultation with a qualified and licensed professional is absolutely essential. It is also essential when parents of a couple are intrusive and demanding, causing friction between the couple they cannot solve, who then turn on each other.
That said, when there is a desire of both partners to fix what seems to be broken or lost, there are marital perspectives that ease and eliminate many marital conflicts that are painful, disruptive and seem to lead to only more discord.
Eleven perspectives – time-tested ways to view and treat each other — to save your marriage yourself follow. Changing ourselves and embracing positive attitudes can work greatly to save and improve the marriage. It would be great if partners could read and discuss them together.
1. Be “number one” to each other
Some parents as well as some husbands and wives, especially in young marriages, have a hard time with this necessary shift of loyalty. This does not mean that couples have license to be rude and dismissive of parents. What it means is that they need the time and space to carve out their own lives.
2. Love your partner
Understand the difference between being “in love” with your partner and loving your partner. Being “in love” is a state of being where one meets another who seems to fill a dream, a hope, a longing. There is a dramatic and intense high when thinking of the person, a piercing fear that the person will be lost, and a feeling of ecstasy when with him or her. But think about it: When the state of falling in love occurs, one does not (usually) know the other. The feeling has to do with you only. Plus, one could never perpetually live in this bubble and continue to think, work, plan and concentrate. It is far too consuming, too exhausting! Love develops as one gets to know, respect, and trust a partner as together you develop a history of loyalty, companionship,
Love develops as one gets to know, respect, and trust a partner as together you develop a history of loyalty, companionship, appreciation, and shared interests. In the latter, one still has times when being “in love” is a vital part of the connection; but it is not, and cannot, be a constant state of being.
3. Know each other’s individuality
Know that you and your partner are two separate people, not one person. It is vital not to expect your partner to be always at your side during free time, or in constant agreement on all subjects. This said, please read on.
4. Make the marriage a priority
Three essential components constitute a fulfilling marital relationship: each individual and the marital relationship itself. It is so important that couples view their relationship as a living entity, one that must be fed, tended to, invested in. This will not happen without shared time and devotion.
It is also important for couples to do things together they both enjoy, as well as sometimes participate together in activities that one enjoys far more than another. Whenever possible one evening each week devoted to each other, a regular date night, is so very valuable and replenishing. Of course, with children at home this is difficult, as well as sometimes not easily budgeted for. However, some couples rely on family members who are able to care for their children during these hours. Also, many develop a network of friends who care for each other’s children and in this way offer breaks to exhausted parents who need time to reconnect.
6. Respect at all times
It is wise for children to learn to knock before entering their parents’ bedroom, and as they get older, children deserve the same respect. This isn’t just an important guideline for protection of privacy (and of course necessary intimacy between a couple). It is an important learning experience: In this way children learn that each person in a family is an individual, and they begin a necessary education about respect for others outside of their family.
This is very important to replenish a marriage. Evenings with other couples offer relaxation, invigoration, and a break from responsibilities. Also, as long as there is trust between the couple, evenings with individual friends can also offer relaxation and a break from responsibilities. This said, if a partner begins to enjoy a friend more than he or she enjoys his/her spouse, this shift calls for counseling.
8. Learn to handle conflict maturely and respectfully
This is an essential part of a successful marriage. Two individuals cannot always agree, and conflict in a marriage is inevitable. Plus, each person understandably wants to be right. (Try to remember what a wise friend once told me: Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.) In negotiating and working through differing opinions each must be allowed to speak without fear and without interruption.
If the conflict involves how to spend time, mature couples learn that sometimes it is one way, sometimes it is another; and sometimes there is compromise. If the conflict involves issues of intimacy (“You never allow us to be close. You are always pushing me away”), control (“Everything must either be your way or the highway”) and unfulfilling, frustrating communication (“You will not allow me to speak. You will not agree to time for us to discuss things.”), this friction is a “cry for help,” and counseling or therapy is called for. Two issues that couples frequently argue about are money and sex. When difficulties and frustrations in these areas cannot be addressed and solved together, counseling or therapy is necessary. It can also necessary if there is disagreement about values and ethics.
9. Self-care strategies are necessary for each partner
In this way energy is preserved and good emotional and physical health is protected. I recently completed 6 years of research on burnout and self-care. One becomes burned out when on overload and unable to carve out protective self-care strategies in areas of physical (including rest, exercise, and time off), personal (the cognitive, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional aspects of one’s life), professional ( safety, mentoring, fulfillment, etc.) and social (one’s intimate relationships, friendships, etc.) functioning.
A self-care approach that works for one will not necessarily work for another, as we are each unique. Learning to think of strategies that are “outside of the box” is stimulating, invigorating, and exciting. Although my book, “Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work” that evolved from this study was written for mental health professionals to allow them to remain in work they are committed to without the depletion of burnout, the findings have relevancy for all of us. In workshops and in my office we review the various evidence-based strategies in each of the areas noted above and put together an individualized Self-Care plan that can become part of one’s on-going life. You can find out more by going to www.sarakaysmullens.com.
10. A good marriage involves time and work
It is a choice. Each marriage has hard days and rocky times. Life will offer hardships, burdens and challenges. Plus one with a full life will always meet other interesting, vital people. However, a fulfilling marriage where two understand the joys of protecting love, respect and devotion is the most wonderful gift imaginable. It is gift that couples give to each other, and are enriched by individually each and every day.
11. A sense of humor is essential in a successful marriage
Perhaps you know the marvelous song, “Send In the Clowns,” which Stephen Sondheim wrote for his 1973 musical, “A Little Night Music.” A final line is, “They’re already here.” We are each clowns who must learn to laugh at our own folly and silliness, understanding how easy it is for two who love to lose connection and miss each other. A delightful, very happily married couple, who have been together for over 50 years, told me that their marriage has succeeded because each morning, each looks in the mirror and says, “I am no bargain. I just lucked out in the spouse I chose who wanted a life with me also.”