If you could wave a magic wand and make your marriage more of what you want it to be, what would you see? How would you and your spouse be interacting, communicating and relating? Our focus is so often on what is not working, we fail to consider what is working and how to accomplish more of that.
We come into marriage with hopes of living happily ever after. We want to love and be loved and feel safe and free to be ourselves. Unfortunately, we bring with us into our marriages unfulfilled needs and old messages from our past that become triggered and transferred to our spouses.
Some of the reasons why marriages get into trouble are poor communication skills, a lack of commitment, inability to resolve conflict and feeling unhappy and unloved. When our communication with each other is reduced to criticism and attack/defend, we have turned our marriage into a battle field. When we constantly blame, rigidly refuse to listen, we will become disdainful and contemptuous of our partner.
So is there any hope for us? And if so, where do we start?
First, do you want your marriage to survive? Without resolve our attempts for healing will be sabotaged. Are you committed to doing everything you can to make your marriage work? Remember, whatever problems you are having now that is not resolved will be taken with you to any other relationship.
Second, if you are committed, then ask God to help you become aware of your own unspoken needs from your past that you are bringing to your marriage. Ask Him for clarity, courage and strength to be honest with yourself. Sometimes it is a desire to be nurtured, loved and respected. Sometimes it is a strong belief that I have to do everything right to be okay.
Third, learn the skill of listening and mirroring back what you have heard without judgment or interpretation. “If I understand correctly, this is what you are feeling…” Understand that each of us wants to be heard and validated. We want to know that we are loveable and loved by God.
Fourth, be willing to be vulnerable. We are fearful of being honest and genuine because we fear we will become less acceptable, less loveable. It is easier to blame instead of accepting we aren’t perfect, don’t have to be perfect, and we can accept both our strengths and our weaknesses.
And fifth, accept yourself for who you are. Develop your core beliefs and inner strength. You can be loving without becoming a doormat. You can listen respectfully without having to agree with everything. You can accept responsibility for your emotional responses without attacking. You can put up appropriate boundaries for what you will accept and will not accept. This is especially important if there is emotional, psychological or physical abuse. You cannot fix another person. If you are in an abusive relationship, I strongly suggest you see a good licensed marriage counselor.
How do we build an open, sharing dialogue with our spouse? How do we build a safe environment where each of us can share with the other?
You can’t change anyone. But we can change ourselves. We can make choices that are healthy for both us and our marriages. We can be loving and respectful but put appropriate boundaries in place. Establish some communication guidelines agreeable with both of you. You will not have a relationship is there is no way to communicate your needs and wishes.
Relationships that have mutual respect, acceptance and commitment require work. But it is a work that is joyful because of the benefits that you will receive. It’s worth all the effort you can bring.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
My thanks to my friend, Marlene Anderson, for her excellent marriage advice. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Marlene’s website: http://focuswithmarlene.com/