Will your relationship thrive in 10 years’ time?
The tendency for a lot of couples after getting married is to stop consciously investing into their relationship. They often think that all the hard relationship work has been done. You can almost hear them say: “We worked really hard to get here and now that we are married we can relax”. In reality, the real work is just getting started. Good marriages take work and a lot of it. So, to help you create a long-term, till-death–do-us-part marriage here’s a really good question to ask each other: “Where is our marriage going?” and “Where will our marriage be in 10 years?” No matter how you look at it ten years from now is likely to come. How it looks like from there will depend solely on what you do here. There is every chance you will arrive at ten years from now. Just hoping that your relationship will still be intact and thriving is the cross-fingered marriage approach. Now, it’s true that you could be doing well, but it is equally true that you could hit some bumps in the road to marital bliss. That is not uncommon. If your marriage is lacking in some important areas like fondness and admiration, shared activities or even sexual intimacy then it might well not be in good shape in ten years time.
If you suspect that your relationship is going in the wrong direction then the first thing to do is to stop kidding yourself. Will what you are doing now get you to a better place? To get to a better relationship you need to be investing into it. And to borrow from Jim Rohn you want to stop engaging in: Disillusion. That is where you are hoping without acting, and wishing without doing.
The number one question you both need to be asking is: “Where are we now in relation to where we would like to be”? What changes do we need to make to ensure that we take the right steps toward the kind of relationship we dream of? Start incorporating some daily disciplines into your life and be prepared to see some welcomed changes.
The Sabotage Trap
In the early days of my career, I often pondered why marriages failed and what were some of the reasons people gave. Well, as one would expect there are numerous ways in which the destruction of a marriage can happen but did you know there are often three real indicators that can be observed in any marriage that will guarantee failure- if not checked- that is. Much of what is here was researched by John Gottman from Seattle Uni. Think of these as the three big DON’Ts of marriage:
- Blaming (Or dodging personal responsibility): Spouses have been casting blame on one another since Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Blaming your partner is simply an attempt at shifting responsibility for your own unhappiness onto them. When they react angrily to your accusations and blaming, the cycle of anger, blaming, anger begins. Antidote= take personal responsibility
- Feeling Sorry for Yourself (Or having a pity party): When you are in the habit of wallowing in your own self-pity, it will eventually consume every aspect of your now ‘miserable’ Your primary form of communication with your spouse is now complaining, and this bleeds into other relationships as well, including family and friends. Feeling sorry for yourself makes your partner miserable, and self-pitying couples make their friends and families miserable. Your marriage can’t be happy if you’re stuck in self-pity. Antidote = an attitude of gratitude
- Resenting Your Spouse (Or holding onto grudges): This is a real big one. John Gottman even mentions resentment in his research. It’s normal to feel pain, anger, and disappointment when you’re treated unfairly, especially by the person closest to you. But be warned, if you are in the habit of brooding and holding onto those negative emotions they will eventually create resentment. Holding onto hurt means cultivating resentment which when allowed to thrive, grows like a cancer under the surface of your marriage. Antidote = Better communication
If you can identify any of these issues in your marriage or relationship then you need to act fast. If they have already become rooted firmly in your life, you really should seek professional counselling. Find someone with Gottman training because evidence-based therapy has the best chance of successfully changing the direction of your marriage. Remember: If no action is taken, the relationship automatically defaults to its current trajectory. Change takes time, healing, and hard work to change course, but it will be worth it. Keeping your marriage free of blame, self-pity, and resentment, means you are well on your way to lifelong happiness.
Marriage itself doesn’t make you happy. Instead, you make your marriage happy.
What makes a happy marriage?
When you think of what makes a happy marriage what picture comes to mind? It’s no surprise that thoughts like financial security, comfortable lifestyle, physical beauty or good looks, friendships, children, extended family and a thriving social life are among them. When couples find themselves in marriage counselling these are some of the things we hear. In reality, the wellbeing of a couple’s relationship has little to do with material wealth or external circumstances. These things can and do contribute to a happy life, but the real key to happiness in marriage is working together to create a culture of adaptability and gratitude.
Be adaptable to changing circumstances
We could be setting ourselves up for a fall if we rely on external factors for our relationship happiness. But one way of achieving a happy marriage is to develop the ability to be adaptable to your changing circumstances–this is particularly important if those circumstances are either challenging or out of your control. It turns out that those who are most happy in their relationships and marriages have learned to work together to adopt a positive mindset, especially when faced with issues that they can’t influence. The truth is, that we never know what each day will bring. As couples, we are destined to experience good times and bad times together. But if you can’t weather the storms and rise above unfortunate circumstances, you’ll never find the happiness you both desire.
Having an attitude of gratitude equals contentment
Being grateful for your marriage, the circumstances you are in, and life in general means being thankful, which equals cultivating contentment, no matter what’s happening around you. When you work to rid the relationship of negativity your focus naturally goes to the good things that are happening in your life. In the end, positivity will enable you to adapt to life more readily.
Next week we look at the reasons behind unhappy marriages.
Building better communication
When you’re in a committed relationship there is the expectation that the two of you should be able to talk to each other about almost anything. And the majority of the time this is the case. However, being available to talk about anything requires trust and authentic communication. You have to be able to trust your partner with your feelings, your emotions and your deepest darkest thoughts, hopes and dreams.
Trust is probably the underlying current of every committed relationship. Without it there is nothing to hang on to. It’s not something that can to be said but something that must be demonstrated.
Trusting your partner means you are able to have open, honest, thoughtful dialogue which is crucial to building authentic communication. If you don’t feel or trust that your partner will listen, care or will support you in something you need to talk out, you don’t have authentic communication.
Authentic communication does not mean “Say whatever is on your mind” because ‘it’s the truth’. No, authentic communication is about listening first for understanding them responding from a kind compassionate place within you. This kind of communication is what builds marriages and relationships not shut them down.
Remember that truth is often subjective. How you see the relationship might be completely different from how your partner sees it. Having authentic, honest, safe conversations around this requires a good deal of listening for meaning.
And when it comes to listening for understanding, it is best if you are present, in the moment, non-judgmental, and loving to your partner when they’re sharing their truth with you. It pays to go to your compassionate place when the hard things, the most difficult subjects, have to be discussed. It’s those conversations when the most painful words are said that need the most compassion when you’re sharing authentic communication.
While conversations have a start and finish, communication does not. To foster growth, love, trust, compassion and care you need to keep the channels of communication open and real. The truth is you can’t fix everything, and the truth is you’re not supposed to. Sometimes all that is required in moments of authentic communication is for you being there, being an empathetic and caring listener.
There is a deep well of discovery and connectedness that can only be found in a committed relationship. And making that a reality means treating each other gently when creating conversations. Don’t be surprised at the depths of emotional connection that you will share together when you do.
Getting the Silent treatment
You are probably familiar with the term: The silent treatment! Or perhaps you have been given “The cold shoulder”. If your tendency is to withdraw or back away when you are upset or angry then you are not alone. John Gottman calls this ‘Stonewalling’ Withdrawing or going silent is way more common than you might think, especially for those in a love relationship where they are struggling, but at the same time still trying to avoid conflict with their partner. Stonewalling or going silent, for whatever reason, are signs of a relationship that is heading for trouble.
Creating a ‘timeout’ or separating yourself from the triggering event in order to cool down is a smart move. There’s nothing wrong with that! This is a simple attempt at getting your emotions under control. And as a counsellor, I strongly recommend this. Stepping away from the conflict when you’re triggered or getting flooded is not the same as the lack of communication when you isolate yourselves from each other because you are avoiding dealing with the real issues behind what has you triggered in that moment.
Lack of communication is the top complaint of couples who come to see me. And this lack of communication can be far more damaging to the relationship than an argument. Arguments give us the chance to express ourselves and what we’re feeling and experiencing. They are a way of getting issues out on the table with the chance to discuss in the interest of finding a resolution. Even Gottman says arguments are a vital part of any relationship.
If you have the tendency to pull away then first consider why you are doing so. Then try to bring yourself back to remembering what you’re disagreeing about, what you’re upset about, and that this is something that can be solved. No argument or disagreement can be solved through the ‘Silent treatment’.
If it is a real issue it needs a real solution. And the only way to a solution is by communicating with each other. It may help to realise that you and your partner are really on the same side, and whatever is bothering you can actually serve to strengthen your relationship if you’ll work to communicate and resolve it. Don’t let the lack of communication drive a wedge between you so you become stuck in a cycle of argue/withdraw/blame.
Finally remember that there are two types of arguments according to John Gottman, solvable and perpetual. Be sure to know the difference and adjust expectations accordingly.
Losing someone you love is a horrible feeling.
The gut wringing pain you experience…
You feel helpless and shocked…you want to wind back time or wish you were dreaming…losing someone you really cared deeply for would rank way up there at the top 3. Imagine life’s changes if you lost your spouse. Perhaps you think I’m speaking specifically about losing your spouse because they have passed away, but I’m not.
I’m actually talking about losing your spouse through a marriage failure, and from my experience as a counsellor, this is real pain.
And here is the point I’d like you to consider. Relationships just don’t go bad overnight. Think of it like gaining weight… you don’t put on 10 extra kilos while binging on junk food and watching Netflix over the weekend.
However… if you consistently and continually eat that junk food…
And if you consistently fail to work out…
Well then, you shouldn’t be surprised if you gain weight over time. If the truth be told, you might be shocked by the size of the gain but not the reason for it. And it’s the same with your marriage. Failure to be consistent in nurturing and caring for your marriage will get the same kind of results. If you are reading this and it has failed then you know only too well to look back to understand why.
Does that make any sense to you? I sure hope so! Hopefully, you are reading this and your marriage hasn’t failed. Hopefully, you are in tip-top shape and things are going well. However, in the interest of preserving your relationship, and perhaps making it even better, answer this question for me.
When is the last time you and your spouse had a relationship check-up? You get a health check-up, a car check-up, heavens you even get your dog checked up. Would it surprise you to learn that many of the small issues that are now major issues for couples could have been avoided if they were addressed while they were still small issues?
Here’s some sound advice.. even if you think things are going well…
Get a marriage check-up. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. You can contact us to arrange for a Gottman assessment and strategy planning around safeguarding your relationship by following this link.
We save marriages
There’s got to be a better story
Recently I was down at my local Fitness First busting my gut over some weights when I saw an older gentleman chatting with one of the PT trainers. He is a regular in my jungle (Get it! Jungle gym) so I recognised him. Anyway, he was smiling and talking and although I could only just catch a couple of words I recognised that he was relaying a story from his past.
And this got me thinking. What are the stories you will be telling and sharing when you are at the pointy end of life? Are you going to have any stories? Are you recording events of your life today?
Research has shown that when we share memories that we created together then we build meaning between us. If you can recall a memory of an event that you both shared and you can recall it with fondness then this enhances your relationship.
What are you building into your relationship that is going to stand the test of time? What activities are you doing together and what life events are you celebrating that will bring fond memories back to you when you are past the age of working? When there’s no second chances and where you have no more time to create new memories.
Each year is full of opportunities to create memories: date nights and dancing; movies and music; birthdays and weddings; Christmas and Easter, to name a few. Are you investing into your marriage things that will pay dividends in retirement? Good memories pay dividends and the best thing of all is they are the gift that keeps giving. You may be reading this and thinking that because you are young you don’t need to create good memories. But I beg to differ. What sort of memories do you want to recall when you are older? I would imagine not bad ones, right!
Do you want to remember a string of relationships and remember some of the good times you had in them? Or would you rather share, with just one person, a lot of special memories that you were both involved in when creating them? I think most people would choose the second option because memories are best when they are shared. To guarantee any kind of success in creating great memories for the future you are going to have to work hard. But the good news is we can help you do that.
Before we get into the tools of memory-making I want you to imagine sitting around a table sharing stories of the past. Which would you prefer to share? Not-so-good ones or really fantastic ones? Because remembering memories all depends on how you make them now.
So, are you creating a better story for your relationship? Are you being intentional because that gets results.
Will you be bringing back blindingly good memories at the drop of a hat or are you going to struggle to recall any past events without some pain? It is up to you. Start creating great memories now!
And finally in the immortal words of singer/songwriter Cyndi Lauper “You never know when you are making a memory”
The Three P’s Technique: For better communication
This technique was prompted by one of my clients. He had found that the arguments between him and his wife were all about reaction and no listening for meaning or understanding. He called it the Three P’s. Pause, Process and Respond. Ok, that’s two P’s and an R. But for simplicities’ sake and making it memorable let’s stick with the three P’s.
In communication with your partner, when you feel yourself getting heated or feel that you are going to say things you might later regret then you can use the 3P’s technique. Before you read on, do you know the difference between react and respond. Well, think about those two words while you read the rest of this post.
The first P is for Pause: Firstly, you pause, take a moment, recognise what is happening. The second P is for Process: Process the event, what is being said, why it is being said and what is it about. To process effectively you need to consider your own behaviour. If there is a hint of blame in there somewhere then best to do some more processing. Then when, and only when, you think you can respond effectively to your partner, then speak. Pause process and respond.
It works like this: Your partner says something to you that would normally get a rise out of you. Normally you may react to the statement or request for example by either getting defensive or biting back. You may even do the stonewall thing, that’s the John Gottman term for shutting the other person out and going cold on them.
I would imagine that this behaviour yields little return. I mean, imagine you serve an Ace every time in a Tennis match. Yes, it is true that you might feel like a winner the first 2-3 times of acing your partner but that gets pretty old pretty quick. After all you are there to play a game. Relationships and communication are much the same as tennis only the outcome should be that both parties win. Volley, return, volley return, and volley. Makes for a great game of tennis and back and forth with mutual respect and understanding makes for good communication.
So, when she or he says something you might want to disagree with, take a moment. Pause and think what is being said. Consider if it is directed at you and your character or a statement about your behaviour. Or is it something they always say that has nothing to do with you. Process the statement, request clarification if needed are and then, after careful consideration, respond. And please remember to ask yourself this question: Is your response going to increase or decrease the pressure? Are you responding in an adult like fashion or is your need to be ‘in the right’ getting the better of you?
Men and women: Like Waffles and Spaghetti Part 2
Navigating the world of communication waffles and spaghetti. Last time I explained the difference between men and women in terms of a waffles and spaghetti analogy. You can view that post here. In regard to better couples communication and discussion outcomes, the aim should always be to connect first. Intimacy is created out of better connection and whatever follows from there is created out of intimacy.
For the men reading this, if she is wanting to talk about some things then your job is to listen first. Check in with her, ask her about her day and so on. The main objective is to connect with her on an emotional level and show empathy for what’s going on in her world. Identifying with her situation demonstrates care and love and that you are there for her.
When you engage on this level you get a better appreciation of the spaghetti reference and why it is so important to understand. It then helps you appreciate context and how everything is interconnected. If you are able to hold this space you will be able to help her unravel some of the issues going on for her and she in turn feels valued and understood.
So, context is to her what opportunity is to you, the male. The context will always influence her decisions and behaviour in a way that is different to you. If you think things and events can be taken in isolation then recognise that she sees the opposite. Imagine the context is the hub of a wheel and the spokes are all the other events in her world. But for men we often only see the wheel.
Speaking of wheels, when you see a flat tyre you automatically know that it will affect the driving of the car. But you know that. Your focus is now just on the wheel and the wheel only. Once it is fixed everything is fixed. But that is not how she sees events and situations. All other things must be considered like, the passengers in the car, the safety, the drivability and so on. You only see a tyre that needs to be repaired. So, keep in mind context and you should see a different way of communicating emerge.
Men and women: Like Waffles and Spaghetti
A very popular book was released years ago that suggests that men were from Mars and women from Venus. You may remember it. It was a best seller and almost galvanised the belief that we are totally different from each other and don’t even speak the same language. Well here is another take on the man/woman relationship. The difference between men and women can be like the difference between waffles and spaghetti. When couples come in for counselling in my Brisbane office I explain their difference like this.
The reason the waffle reference is used is because men tend to compartmentalise things, events, relationships, hobbies and any number of other things that are in his life. These things can and are often unrelated and unconnected. At least from the point of view of the man. For example, it is often said that we men have a ‘nothing’ box. When you ask him, “What are you doing?” He says “Nothing”. He means it! He is doing nothing. Just chillin’ out. The nothing box fits perfectly into his waffle cone world and is not affected by any other compartment. After all, you can’t be ‘doing nothing’ and ‘something’ at the same time. Please don’t say sitting on the couch and watching TV counts as two. If he is watching TV, that box is called “Watching TV”.
The subject of intimacy and sex is often raised in couples counselling and what expectations there are around these topics. Using the waffle and spaghetti analogy we can gain a better understanding of why the different genders view them very differently. It is well known that men view and think about sex very differently from women. That is no secret. And I mention that because, no matter what might have happened in that man’s day, whether it be overloaded work schedule, bad traffic, a demanding boss or noisy kids, if the offer of sex is even remotely on the table he will more than likely say ‘yes’. Those other events are not forgotten but just compartmentalised.
However, if his wife or partner has had a rotten day where her students played up, her mum is struggling with an illness, an unexpected bill turned up or she is feeling out of sorts, then the prospect of sex is very, very remote. Why? I am glad you asked. Well because everything is interconnected. All these things and events have an impact on the other parts. So, the spaghetti reference is about everything being mixed in together. You cannot tell where one strand begins or ends or whether there is a thousand pieces or just one. Nothing in a woman’s world is isolated or compartmentalised, at least not like a man’s world.
Next time I will show you how to navigate this world for the benefit of both of you.