Tips for keep­ing your mar­riage on track

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - PSYCHOLOGY - • DR. MIKE GROPPER The writer is a mar­i­tal, child and adult cog­ni­tive-be­hav­ioral psy­chother­a­pist with of­fices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. www.face­ dr­mikegrop­per ; dr­mikegrop­[email protected]

Di­vorce is not un­com­mon to­day in Is­rael, with 30% to 35% of mar­riages end­ing in di­vorce. In the US, close to 50% of mar­ried cou­ples di­vorce, sim­i­lar to the rates in France and Eng­land. Most di­vorced in­di­vid­u­als, 75%, do opt to re­marry, but a whop­ping 60% of those mar­riages end in di­vorce.

Af­ter look­ing at the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture on this topic, I have tried to out­line some of the ma­jor fac­tors to be con­sid­ered and pre­ven­tive mea­sures that can keep your mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ship healthy, for both a first mar­riage and a re­mar­riage.

Dr. John Gottman, a lead­ing re­searcher and mar­i­tal ther­apy prac­ti­tioner, be­lieves that cou­ples need to stay at­tuned to each other. This is the most vi­tal com­po­nent in mak­ing a mar­riage work.

So how can cou­ples stay at­tuned to each other?

• Try not to blame your part­ner. It is okay to ex­press a spe­cific com­plaint as fol­lows: “I was wor­ried when you didn’t come home on time. We agreed that we’d check in when one of us was run­ning late.” Don’t ex­press it as a crit­i­cism: “You never call me, you’re so self­ish.” “I mes­sages” are al­ways more ef­fec­tive than “you mes­sages.” Happy cou­ples com­plain without blame by talk­ing about what they feel and about what they need, not about what they don’t need.

• Stay in the present and fo­cus on the is­sues at hand. If you are an­gry, talk about what is both­er­ing you without name-call­ing. Re­mem­ber, anger is usu­ally a symp­tom of un­der­ly­ing hurt, fear or frus­tra­tion.

Keep things in per­spec­tive by do­ing healthy things to deal with your anger. First, try to cool down. Do what­ever works for you. For ex­am­ple, try ex­er­cise, med­i­ta­tion or lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. Then sit down with and talk to your part­ner. First try to iden­tify what is hurt­ing in­side your­self that got you so an­gry, and then share these feel­ings with your spouse.

Re­sent­ment can build up when cou­ples sweep things un­der the rug, so do not bury neg­a­tive feel­ings.

• Boost phys­i­cal af­fec­tion. Phys­i­cal con­tact releases feel-good hor­mones. Hold­ing hands, hug­ging and touch­ing can re­lease oxy­tocin (the bond­ing hor­mone) that causes a calm­ing sen­sa­tion. Stud­ies show that it is re­leased dur­ing sex­ual or­gasm and af­fec­tion­ate touch as well. Phys­i­cal af­fec­tion also low­ers stress hor­mones, cor­ti­sol and adrenalin. Phys­i­cal af­fec­tion is not only good for your emo­tional bond, but also good for your health.

• Step away from your work or house chores and kids – ar­range a baby-sit­ter – and do some­thing to­gether. Look at your part­ner rather than at your phone, es­pe­cially dur­ing meals. Take a walk, play ten­nis or shoot bas­ket­ball hoops; just do some­thing to­gether that you both can en­joy and can take you away from daily rou­tine.

• Com­pli­ment your part­ner at least twice a day. Ex­press your pos­i­tive feel­ings out loud sev­eral times each day and say some­thing nice about your part­ner of­ten. Feel­ing ap­pre­ci­ated is pos­i­tively cor­re­lated with good feel­ings about one­self and your part­ner.

• Take re­spon­si­bil­ity for your part in the con­flict or dis­pute. A per­son’s abil­ity to do this can change the dy­namic of the re­la­tion­ship.

• De­velop a hurt-free zone pol­icy. This term, coined by au­thor David Akiva (2014), refers to a pe­riod when crit­i­cism is not al­lowed. Akiva writes, “Your prime di­rec­tive right now is to elim­i­nate the most toxic neg­a­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and re­duce in­tense neg­a­tive emo­tions for three to four weeks.” This time­out pe­riod can help many cou­ples to defuse the ten­sions and get back on track with each other.

• Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­flict is in­evitable, and cou­ples who strive to avoid it are at risk of de­vel­op­ing stag­nant re­la­tion­ships. How­ever, the goal is to get back on track with each other af­ter a fight, if you do not want is­sues to fes­ter.

• Prac­tice apol­o­giz­ing and grant­ing for­give­ness. Apol­o­gize to your part­ner when ap­pro­pri­ate. Of­fer a sin­cere apol­ogy when you have said or done some­thing to hurt him/her (even if not on purpose).

For­give­ness is not the same as con­don­ing the hurt done to you, but it will al­low you to move on. This does not mean that you ac­cept your part­ner’s hurt­ful ac­tions. What it does mean is that you and your part­ner will feel bet­ter and closer by get­ting through those painful mo­ments.

• Do your best to re­mem­ber why you fell in love with your part­ner in the first place.

I of­ten sug­gest that cou­ples look at photo al­bums of the be­gin­ning of their re­la­tion­ship. These pic­tures of­ten cap­ture the happy mo­ments and can help re­mind you of what you love about your part­ner. This per­spec­tive may help you re­vi­tal­ize your re­la­tion­ship at a time of ten­sion and feel­ing dis­tant.

The most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is that we seek at­tach­ments and in­ti­macy be­cause they are the most im­por­tant dy­namic in hu­man life. There­fore, if we want to suc­ceed in our mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ships, we have to work hard to prac­tice be­hav­iors that help make this hap­pen.

(Kyle Al­cott/TNS)

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