Wednesday, November 9, 2011

7 Principles for Making Marriage WORK!

#1 Enhance Your "Love Map"
Dr. John Gottman describes how couples need a "richly detailed love map" which means continually seeking to understand your spouses current needs, stresses, worries, friends, thoughts, hopes, dreams ...  

Try to better understand how you and your spouse perceive love.

CLICK HERE to take a quick, free online QUIZ to assess your TOP LOVE LANGUAGES (words, physical touch, service, quality time, gifts) 

#2 Nurture Your Fondness & Admiration

Write a list of 10 things you really LOVE about your spouse!  I surprised Steve with this list taped onto our door.  Brayden had to draw a picture for Daddy on the back :)  I'm definitely pasting this into our "love journal"!

#3 Turn Towards Each Other Instead of Away
I joke with Steve that marriage is one continual blabbing session - where you hopefully do want to hear what the other person has to say!  It's the day to day connections, even seemingly mundane shared moments, that form a deep, solid friendship. As soon as the kids are asleep or even as soon as Steve gets home, I feel the window of freedom and wonder of all the many things I could actually finally do... and I find it tempting to go do my own thing.  Which, can be find and dandy at times.

But I've also discovered the beauty of turning towards my husband and giving him my undivided attention, laughing with him, connecting with him even about our most random or profound ideas.

We need to remember that WE (both spouses) are on the same team, we fight for each other, we support and encourage one another, we believe in each other.  When you start to notice an emotion that would propel you to turn away - remind yourself - that your husband is your very best friend who does in fact love you.  When a dispute comes up... test yourself.  Try to be willing in that very moment to put away your pride and selfishness and apparent hurt AND TURN TOWARD YOUR HUSBAND in humility and kindness.

#4 Let Your Partner Influence You 
At the heart of many marital issues is self-centeredness which can show its face in a myriad of ways: feeling victimized, blaming others, clinging to pride, acting defensive, seeing only self needs, unwilling to change...

One uncomfortable aspect in marriage is we are completely vulnerable with all our strengths and also our greatest weaknesses exposed - we are known as we are.  But when there's an atmosphere of love and kindness and respect, we can have the greatest amount of growth in such a relationship.  As we begin to identify in the moment when we are contributing to negative interaction, then we can see our need for change and for Christ.  I love how the Bible Dictionary defines "repentance" as a "change of mind" and a "turning of the heart and will to God"!  The more we accept Christ into our lives, the more we can be open and let our partner and our relationship influence us for the better!  

BEST chapter I’ve ever read on MARRIAGE:  #5 Solve Your Solvable Problems

Every marriage has conflicts – even extremely happily married couples.  But, we all handle conflicts differently.  Some people get silently angry while others have screaming matches.  Some conflicts result in feeling closer to each other through working through it together while other conflicts leave us feeling distanced from our spouses.  Some people try to avoid confrontation while others bring it on.    

Marriage therapists typically teach couples to resolve conflicts by: trying to see the others’ point of view, listening intently, and communicating empathetically.  This is a good method; however, Dr. Gottman interestingly found that “many couples can’t – including many very happily married couples… But they were still able to resolve their conflicts.”  From the plethora of couples he did observe through his “love lab” research center, he discovered what these happily married couples DID DO:

Gottman’s research shows that “discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. … If you start an argument harshly – meaning you attack your spouse verbally – you’ll end up with at least as much tension as you began.  But if you use a softened startup – meaning you complain but don’t criticize or otherwise attack your spouse – the discussion is likely to be productive.  And if most of your arguments start softly, your marriage is likely to be stable and happy.”     
  • Avoid criticism & contempt (which is in anger, globally attacking or blaming your spouse's character or personality rather just the issue at hand)
  • Think before you speak: “If you are angry with your spouse, it’s worth taking a deep breath and thinking through how to broach the subject before leaping in.  It will be easier to do this if you constantly remind yourself that by being gentle, you are more likely to resolve the conflict.”  You may need to wait to discuss until you have calmed yourself down and are ready to discuss kindly and without attack. 
  • Be appreciative: “If your partner has, at some point, handled this situation better, then couch your request WITHIN an appreciation of what your partner did right in the past.”
  • Shared humor in the midst of conflict deescalates tension and helps couples feel “positive about themselves and their marriage.”  
  • Don’t store things up.  “It’s hard to be gentle when you’re ready to burst… so don’t wait too long before bringing up an issue – otherwise it will just escalate in your mind.”

When learning to drive, the first thing you learn is how to stop the car.  In our marriage, we also need to learn how to “put on the breaks” when a discussion starts on the wrong foot and we find ourselves in escalated negativity.   CLICK HERE to learn about essential “repair attempts.”  

3.  COMPROMISE:    “Negotiation is possible ONLY after you’ve followed the steps above…. These prime you for compromise by getting you into a POSITIVE [and open] mode.” 

4.  BE ACCEPTING OF EACH OTHER’S FAULTS: “Too often, a marriage gets bogged down in ‘if onlies’…. 
Until you accept your partner’s flaws and foibles [and yes we ALL have them], you will not be able to compromise successfully. … Conflict resolution is not about one person changing, it’s about negotiating, finding common ground and ways that you can accommodate each other.”

REMEMBER: It’s not so much what you say exactly that matters.  People really respond to the emotion and intent behind your words and actions.  That’s why working on your overt communication skills is not enough – you have to go deeper and look at the condition of your heart towards your spouse in a particular incidence.  And the BEST self-help book about this is "Leadership & Self-Deception" by the Arbinger Institute.  It will totally change you and your marriage!

I AM SO GRATEFUL to have found my very BEST FRIEND!!!  I feel like the luckiest girl in the ENTIRE world to have him as my husband!  And, I hope you feel that way too about your spouse :)

#6 Overcome Gridlock
Both the government :) and marriages deal with "gridlock" issues.  Dr. Gottman explains that every couple has certain issues that seem unsolvable because of differences.  He says, "The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue.  The gridlocked conflict will probably always be a perpetual issue in your marriage, but one day you will be able to talk about it without hurting each other [meaning emotional pain or offense].  You will learn to live with the [issue]."

"Acknowledging and respecting each other's deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage."

  1. For a certain issue, explain each of your desires and dreams
  2. What are the few things that are your "non-negotiable" items
  3. Define your areas of flexibility
  4. Devise a temporary compromise that honors both of your needs/desires  

#7: Create Shared Meaning
After a stretch of stressful and busy weeks, at times it can seem that you and your spouse live parallel lives. With tending the children, doing the dishes, working long hard hours at school or work, folding the laundry, fulfilling your callings... at times we all feel the need to better re-connect with our spouses!

As a couple, ASK YOURSELVES: 

Here we are at a BYU service activity back in the day :)
  1. What are the values that mean the most to us?  How can we better set goals to make those things happen? (For example, Steve and I really enjoying doing various service projects together when we were dating.  After being married for a while, we felt that void because it had been a while since we had intentionally thought of someone we could help.  We grow so close together as we serve together.  Or for another example, it's really important to us that we stay physically fit, but we have a hard time making it happen!  So, just tonight, we were brainstorming how we can better support each other in exercising.)
  2. What family rituals do we already have that create shared meaning, and how can we implement more?  Examples: eating dinner together, reading scriptures/praying together, going to church together, Christmas/Thanksgiving traditions, date nights, early to bed/early to rise, surprising each other, taking care of each other when sick, weekend rituals, vacations, temple attendance...
  3. Think, what did we LOVE to do when we were dating, and how can we do some of those things now?
CLICK HERE to read about ideas to enrich the important exits and entrances in your marriage!  
CLICK HERE to get ideas for your next date night!

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