Having a healthy marriage or other committed relationship is a subject that often comes up in my sessions with clients. It is something we all need to work on on a regular basis and is crucial to our well-being and happiness. Here are 3 perspectives that can be helpful in cultivating a healthy marriage.
1) Avoid The Comparison Trap
When we are having a fight with our spouse or are going through a challenging period, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of comparing our relationship to others’ relationships. We can put a magnifying glass on what is “wrong” with our spouse or our relationship and see around us examples of people or couples that we imagine have better relationships. This comparing can make us feel even more discontent and dissatisfied.
But the truth is that *every* relationship has struggles. Even the couple on Facebook that always looks so happy and loving in their photos? Yep, even them. Even the couple you know who’ve been married for 30 years and seem perfectly suited to each other in every way? Yep, even them. Even the couple that insists that their relationship is great? Yep, even them. *Every* relationship has challenges.
I’m not sharing this to be depressing, I’m sharing it because I think it is crucial to take off the rose colored glasses when it comes to other relationships, and instead focus on the strengths in our relationships and the unique path we have to walk together. We can’t see all the great things that are possible in our marriage if we are constantly looking at other people’s relationships.
2) Look For What You Love
When we are in the midst of a challenging time with our partner and we feel hurt and misunderstood, it can be very hard to bump ourselves out of that negative place and into a more positive, productive place. But, I’ve discovered in my own life and in my work with clients that doing so can become much easier with practice.
So, for example, if I feel my husband hasn’t acknowledged something important to me, I will feel hurt. It is very easy for me to act from that place of hurt and say things that will make him feel defensive. For example, I could say, “You never listen to me the way I want you to listen to me!” or “Why can’t you be more considerate?”
But if I can step back, take a deep breath and remember that we are a team and need to work on things together, I can bump into a different perspective. I can remember all the things I love about him. I can remember all the times he does listen to me the way I need him to. From this perspective, I can say something that is much more likely to result in what I actually want, which is to have him realize what I need and help me meet that need. I could say, “You know, I really love it when you listen to me in a focused way. When we are too busy and that doesn’t happen, I really miss it and I feel upset. Can we try this again?”
3) Have Compassion For Each Other & For The Relationship
Being in a committed relationship is one of the most beautiful and growthful experiences we can have in this lifetime. Because having a long-term relationship requires constant effort and growth, there are necessarily wonderful times and there are challenging times. When we are in a difficult period, it can be very helpful to stop blaming each other, take a step back, and say, “Hey, we are having a rough time right now. Every couple goes through rough times. Going through this is hard for both of us. Let’s take a minute to just have compassion for each other and for our relationship. Since we have some problems to solve, let’s try to solve them together rather than being at odds with one another.”
Along with this, it can be incredibly helpful to do an exercise in which you see your relationship as as its own entity, in need of its own things to flourish. So, for example when you are having a disagreement, and it feels like you are butting heads, you can try saying, “OK, this isn’t productive. Our relationship needs some mending right now. What does our relationship need?” You may find it needs more compassion, more input of love and fun, or some help from a professional. Taking the focus off of either one of the people in the relationship and onto the relationship itself can be a great way become a team again and have compassion for each other.