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State of your marriage

How to Know the State of Your Marriage

Having been a counselor for marriages and hearing multitudes of stories, I was curious while in a social setting. When I attended a 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 to keep helping others “how to know the state of your marriage.” Beyond my clinical knowledge and experience, this was a perfect time to ask. 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. In fact, some couples are not living together. They are dying together.

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 Relationships. 

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.

Those long-term married folks at the High School reunion actually validated the premise of my book. Those who are open and willing to respect differences were clearly among the “masters.”

Your Next Step

Know the state of your marriage. Take the Relationship Stress Quiz 

Feature Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

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.

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