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State of your marriage

How to Know the State of Your Marriage

When my husband and I attended his 45th High School Reunion, there were a handful of couples who had been married over forty years! I was curious about the secret to their success. Of course, I want wisdom for my marriage. And I want to help others with “how to know the state of your marriage.” Beyond my clinical knowledge and experience, this was a perfect time to ask. Besides, my husband knew these couples since adolescence. And it was the best environment outside my counseling office to get insight.

40-year Marriage Testimonies:

“We’ve been through a lot. And we have some major differences. But when we go hiking, all those differences fade. We appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“I don’t know why it’s worked for us. I guess we’ve been blessed. My spouse is my best friend.”

Of course, not all long-term marriages show a comfortable partnership. Some couples look worn down and admit they’ve lived like room-mates.

We all go through seasons or years of unhappiness or dysfunction. That’s why I steer away from the term, “happy marriage.” It’s more valuable to work toward a growing marriage. And that was my takeaway after listening to the couples at the reunion.

It's more valuable to work toward a growing marriage rather than a happy marriage. We can all choose to grow through temporary feelings and seasons. Click To Tweet

We can categorize marriage as Dr. John Gottman, does who is world-renowned for his research on marital stability. We’re showing up in our relationships as either the “masters” or the “disasters.” In other words, those who grow beyond their marital messes are the “masters.” Those who get stuck are the “disasters.” Certain behaviors and attitudes put us heading in one direction or the other. You can find more about this in my book, Beyond Messy Marriages.

Know the State of Your Marriage By What Direction You’re Heading

Remember geometry class? Imagine a horizontal line with arrows on either end. Anyone of us can be an “x” on a continuum line facing either right decisions on one end or wrong decisions on the other. This idea helps us see the fluidity of our choices. We can change our dance (relationship) patterns. Imagine that same horizontal line with an “x” represents our marriages. Are we heading in the direction of the “masters” or the “disasters?” In other words, we can which way we’re heading with the smallest of decisions.

Our lives and relationships are never static even though we feel stuck. Click To Tweet

Know the State of Your Marriage By Adjusting to Perpetual Conflicts

Gottman’s research challenges how therapists help or hinder couples they work with. For example, we shouldn’t focus solely on conflict resolution skills. The reason is that 69% of conflict in our relationships are perpetual. They have no resolve. The couples I spoke with at the reunion validated these findings.

So you could divorce one spouse and marry another. But you will experience a different set of perpetual conflicts. They’re likely to add up to the same percentage as the old marriage. The wisdom here is for couples to learn how to solve the 31% of conflicts that are resolvable. And grow through accepting the rest.

Know The State of Your Marriage By Resolving Resolvable Conflicts

We can learn to grow through, adapt, and even appreciate the remaining perpetual 69%. Unless, of course, part of that 69% dishonors the dignity, value, and worthiness of either spouse.

My husband’s old friends became my new friends while at the high school reunion. Those long-term married folks validated the premise of my book. Those who are open and willing to respect differences were clearly among the “masters.”

Your Next Step

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Marital Growth

One Thing You Must Know About Marital Growth

One thing you must know about marital growth is this. There’s a difference between closeness and intimacy.

We’re all designed for relationships. We may be single, married, widowed or divorced. But when it comes to marriage, there’s one thing you must know about marital growth – the difference between closeness and intimacy.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Yet we balk at knowing and being known. It’s risky because our spouse may not accept us. As a result, we keep an emotional distance to hide our vulnerability. Or we’ve been authentic in the past and it wasn’t worth it.

We desire to be loved by another human being in spite of our flaws. Click To Tweet

Marital Growth Can Heal Our Childhood Pain

It’s during our early experiences that we learn how to protect ourselves from pain. We learn ways to hide our real selves. The ways we hide keep us from being intimate in our marriages. Here’s an example.

I learned to hide my vulnerability when I was “held back” in the second grade. Our family moved in the middle of the school year. I had difficulty reading at grade level. A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder didn’t exist then, and while I was diagnosed as an adult, it didn’t stop me as a child from believing something was wrong with me.

“You’re eight and only in the second grade?” kids would say.

“Yes,” I said trying to make light of it. “I was held back.”

“You flunked,” they laughed at me and pointed their fingers. “You flunked,” they said over and over again. I wanted to hide. And I learned to keep my past a secret. Instead, I pretended to be a year younger than I was. It was too painful to admit I “flunked.” As most children do, I chose to hide. I learned to keep my distance from people who would cause me pain.

We all need to grow beyond our childhood pain. A growing and partnered marriage is the way to do it. Otherwise, we fall into stagnation and mediocrity. But we long for energy and vibrancy.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Closeness”

An example of being close is cuddling up on the couch with your loved one. As a couple, you’re watching a Netflix movie or an episode of your favorite TV show. You share a bowl of buttered popcorn. Physical touch between the two of you adds warm fuzzy feelings. It doesn’t take effort for either of you. It’s easy and comfortable.

To clarify, closeness could be:

  • Enjoying time on vacation together, whether it’s a cruise or a camping trip.
  • Having fun during a shared activity.
  • Comfortable silence between husband and wife.
  • Predictability of routines.
  • Finishing the sentences of another.
  • Knowing what the other wants on their pizza.

Being close because of shared experiences is a vital feature of marital growth. Yet, every marriage needs to be intimate. And I’m not talking about sex. Here’s what I mean.

Marital Growth Needs a Healthy Dose of “Intimate”

Most people think of intimacy as sex. But that’s not all it is. In some cases, sex is the opposite of intimacy. It can be a facade for real intimacy. Close physical connection through sex can be like super-glue for married couples. But it’s not enough. Authentic knowing of another comes through vulnerable conversations.

Here are examples that can apply to either spouse.

When a wife tells her husband she’s attracted to a male co-worker, she’s being vulnerable. As partners, they could be stronger by breaking the power of secret attraction. But she also bears the risk of rejection, insecurity or judgment. The husband could accuse, misunderstand or resent his wife. Even though she chooses integrity, he may reject her vulnerability.

But when her husband welcomes her internal struggles, they can strengthen their union. They can show up as partners for each other. And it takes two to do it.

Vulnerability plus acceptance equals intimacy. Trustworthiness increases. The marriage grows a stronger bond. They know each other’s weaknesses and have each other’s back. Intimacy invites partnership between the two. They both fertilize their unconditional love for each other. They grow through intimacy.

Intimacy in dating is seeing the other person as worthy of dignity and respect. It’s honoring the other’s differences. Resist the attitude of “what can my girlfriend do for me” to “how can I honor her?” Choose to nurture a friendship before a romance. Be willing to grow through relationship.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. One may pave the way for the other, but both are willing. Reciprocity is key.

Intimacy requires two people in the relationship to choose to be real. Click To Tweet

Marital Intimacy Is:

  • Leaning into giving and receiving love when you’d rather run away.
  • The confession of a shameful past to allow the other to forgive.
  • Saying a heartfelt, “I’m sorry” without the “but” or “if” words.
  • Letting go of bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.
  • Being willing to risk comfort and choosing to live in truth.

Remember, a growing and partnered marriage needs both comfort and intimacy. Our risk of intimacy and acceptance by our spouse helps us overcome the pain of childhood. When we reciprocate, we can grow our marriages with energy and vibrancy.

Questions to Ponder about Marital Growth

How are your relationships close?

What does the word “intimacy” mean to you?

What do you think of with the word “vulnerability?”

Your Next Step

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How to Get Positive Results In Your Relationship

We all have different stories in our heads about how secure or satisfying our relationships are. It’s common for one person to be satisfied while the other isn’t. That’s why it’s important to know how to get positive results in your relationship.

Some of us take pride in managing our money and then later found out a check bounced. Or we’ve balanced the checkbook and then discovered we spent more on the eating out category than budgeted.

Using another example, have you believed you were eating well, then were surprised the scales registered 10 pounds more than expected? Have you written down everything you ate? Then saw you were taking in many more calories than you were actually burning?

Uncertainty in Your Relationship

Many couples enter counseling with a lot of uncertainty. One is usually dragged in by the other.

One person says, “We need help.”

The other says, “We’re doing fine. . . We can work this out on our own. . .We’re not as bad off as you think.”

It makes sense that couples who detect problems in their relationship, on average, wait an additional six years before they get help.

Tiger/Turtle Syndrome in Your Relationship

It’s very common for one spouse to minimize and the other maximize. I call it the “Turtle/Tiger” syndrome.

Unsplash Photo

Turtles typically hide in their shells and avoid conflict or accuse their partners of blowing things out of proportion.

Turtles tend to see things “not as bad” as they really are. Tigers, on the other hand, roar and persist until they are heard. Many times they DO see things worse than they are.

Unsplash Photo

Consider Charting Patterns In Your Relationship

A couple years ago, I created The Partnership Pattern chart which helps you keep track of both positive and negative behaviors in your relationship.

For those who like to check things off, it can be a great way to balance the check book of your relationship. All you have to do is observe, experience, and rate measurable items that are going on now in your relationship.

But after I created the chart, I hesitated to share it. Why? I’m glad you asked.

  1. The tendency is to focus our attention on what our partner is doing wrong rather than what we are doing wrong. What we choose to focus on, we’ll find. Yet, it’s vital we don’t ignore clear behaviors that minimize our dignity. Generally, if you look for the positive behaviors, you’re likely to find them. And, of course those negative behaviors scream for your attention.
  2. Normally, we don’t realize how our own responses and reactions invite negativity from our partner. We’re paving the way to get the things we don’t want. Most relationships follow the law of reciprocity. But we need to be aware when the character of the relationship isn’t reciprocal.
  3. Filling out the chart objectively may reveal serious relationship issues such as emotional, mental, or physical abuse. Don’t hesitate to get immediate help if you’re living in fear or danger.

Here’s why I’m offering The Partnership Pattern chart anyway.

Get Clarity in Your Relationship

It’s vital we don’t ignore clear behaviors and attitudes that minimize our dignity.

If you could be honest with yourself, it can be revealing about how to get positive results in your relationship. And get the help that you may be minimizing.

Ideally, it’s great for both Tigers AND Turtles to participate. But if the Turtle in your life is still hiding, you Tigers will have a great outlet for grounding in reality.

The idea is to check off what you experienced most in the relationship that day. Do it every day for one month and get a clear picture of what you need, whether it’s a marriage enrichment weekend or crisis intervention with your local counselor. Know where your relationship stands.

Sign up for your free Partnership Pattern chart.

Or, Sign up for your free 20 minute consultation.

Relationship

3 Requirements of Real Relationships

I’ve been blessed to hear multitudes of stories counseling couples over the years. As a result, I’ve come to believe there’s three requirements of real relationships. The reason I say “real” is because some relationships don’t operate from the same reality. The story of defining real relationships begins with my learning to dance.

Relationship Patterns Are Like Dance Movements

I grew up in a faith tradition that doesn’t believe in playing cards, smoking, and drinking. Most of all, it was an unpardonable sin to engage in pre-marital dancing! As a result, it was like I denied a “real” part of myself. And it wasn’t the smoking and drinking I was drawn to.

Rather, I began to integrate freedom, movement, creativity, and music. I discovered an emotionally safe partnership through taking ballroom dance lessons. I quickly discovered dancing was like sparks of light into deeper places of my soul.

The light-hearted atmosphere of learning to dance helped me take myself less seriously. And it was a contrast from the crisis counseling work I was doing at the time. The positive energy provided joy and the lighter side of life.

After a few group and private lessons, I became more aware and skilled. During group lessons, certain dance moves felt different when we switched partners. Each dancer had their own style, frame, and posture. Each one carried a unique energy, rhythm and frame.

In a sense, we relate to our spouses through relationship patterns similar to dancing. From our family of origins, we all learned behaviors and styles. Of course, those automatic “dances show up in our adult relationships.

If we want our relationships to be real, we need to be aware of the automatic dances. Then, be willing to change them and grow. The three requirements are reciprocity, change, and fun.

Requirement # 1 – Your Relationship Requires Reciprocity 

During romance, we feel the connection and familiarity. Both partners energetically want to be together and have fun.

When the chemistry wears off, our default patterns take over. The ease of the relationship dance works for a while until normal life stressors enter. They include child-rearing differences, financial habits, career transitions, moves, and in-laws difficulties. What began as exciting and bigger than life becomes boring and irritating.

This is the time to change relationship dances. New seasons and stressful transitions are the times to change those steps and styles. And it certainly takes two to make that happen.

Remember, your relationship requires reciprocity. Here’s requirement number two.

Requirement # 2 – Your Relationship Requires Change

Every stage of life is an invitation to discovering your authentic self. As a result, you begin to discover parts of your relationship that were previously hidden. For example, the transition from couplehood to parenthood opens up new and different roles.

Research indicates a 70% drop in marital satisfaction within a baby’s first year of life. The husband/wife roles change to dad and mom. One parent may become jealous of time and attention a young child requires. It’s normal to experience anxieties during life transitions. Of course, the responsibilities of developing another human being can be overwhelming at times.

Every stage of life is an invitation to discovering your authentic self. Click To Tweet

Additional financial pressure, household chores, and caring for a baby requires a shift in perspectives. Expectant parents should consider couples’ counseling. It’s better to be pro-active when anticipating major changes.

Not only in the child-bearing years, but the dance of a marriage changes with each season of life. What may have worked early on in your relationship may not be relevant now.

Remember, your relationship requires change. Here’s requirement number three.

Requirement # 3 – Your Relationship Requires Fun

We all need fun-loving energy in our partnerships. Unfortunately, negative thinking and limited beliefs take their toll on a marriage. Dr. John Gottman’s longitudinal studies of couples give us insight. The problem is not a matter of having less conflict than the average couple. Rather it’s the couples who don’t recover quickly from conflicts who are more likely to divorce. Happily married couples still experience 67% of unresolved conflict. But they’ve learned to shake it off quicker than troubled couples.

We all need fun-loving energy in our partnerships. Click To Tweet

The energy we carry in our relationships affects the neurons in our brains. Plus, our body and mind holds memories of experiences and tensions. We need to be intentional about light-hearted laughter and fun activities. Especially with those closest to us.

Remember, your relationship requires reciprocity, change, and fun. But let’s examine your next move.

What’s Your Next Move?

You might have guessed that my husband and I met through ballroom dancing. And we had a great couples dance teacher. In order for any of us to learn a new rhythm in our relationships, we need help. It takes a trained relationship therapist or coach.

Remember, the three requirements of real relationships.

1. Your relationship requires reciprocity.
2. Your relationship requires change.
3. Your relationhip requires fun.

Find out what your relationship needs now. Take the relationship stress quiz.

Or you can sign up to schedule your free consultation.