"HOW TO SAVE YOUR TROUBLED MARRIAGE"
--By Cristy Lane & Dr. Laura Ann Stevens
Most studies show that fewer than 15 percent of married people describe their marriages as "very happy." Another third describe their marriages as "happy," which leaves about 50 percent of all marriages (& remember, we are talking only about those who stay married) in moderate or serious trouble. Even these figures are conservative. In a recent survey only 5 percent of married people rated their marriage as great & 25 percent as good. A whopping 70 percent said that their marriages were downright bad!
Yet a happy marriage remains not only what most of us want but what is actually best for us. Research shows us a lot of positive data associated with happy marriages. Happily married people have longer lives, fewer illnesses, higher self-concepts, less stress, fewer suicides (as well as homicides & fatal car accidents), less mental illness, more economic stability, children who do better in school, & on & on. Happily married people do better economically, emotionally & physically.
We will seek to provide you with the skills, principles, habits & insights that you can use to help your own troubled marriage. They are based on solid research, an accepted body of knowledge within the field of marriage counseling, & material from hundreds of couples counseled over the years.
The following guidelines may make using this book easier & more meaningful. These guidelines, however, are not set in concrete. You may find that some other method or time frame works better for you, & that's all right.
Proceed slowly. Various skills & concepts must be initiated, discussed & practiced before you can go on to more advanced concepts. If you don't take the time to practice the skills & activities you will not be making them a habit. That means they will not become a part of you or a part of your marriage & any changes will be superficial & temporary.
We would like to suggest that one partner read one chapter, then give it to the other partner to read within twenty-four hours. After both of you have read the chapter, get together to discuss the concepts & practice the skills. After you have practiced for about a week, start on a new chapter & repeat the process.
CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS MARRIAGE COUNSELING?
There are several things that marriage counseling focuses on. The most important of these is the time frame of your focus.
As of now your focus is on the present & future--not the past. As a matter of fact, we are going to have to put up a chain link fence (with a barbed-wire top) between the past & the present, one that you can't cross under, over or through! Yes, we know that the past is where all these problems originated (& where your ungrateful spouse did all those obnoxious things to you), but that's over & done with. Even God can't change the past. The only thing you can do is start this very day & ask "What can we do now to make it better?" Concern with the past will lead only to blaming & defensiveness. It will not solve your problems. Until you get this idea clearly in your head, you will stay on a merry-go-round of attack, defend, counterattack or retreat. So memorize these sentences: "That's over with now. What can we do today to make things better?" Every time your spouse drags up the past, say these sentences. Also say them to yourself if you are tempted to drag up the past.
The skills this book teaches you are only the beginning of your learning. Compare it to driving. Remember when you got your driver's licence? You probably weren't a very good driver, although you knew the basic skills. You had to practice the skills under all kinds of conditions for thousands of miles before you were a competent driver. Similarly, your marriage will get better & better for years as you practice the following skills.
WHAT MARRIAGE COUNSELLING IS NOT
Just as it is important to know what marriage counseling is, it's important to know what it is not. To begin with, it is not finding fault or assigning blame. The concepts of fault or blame have absolutely no place in marriage counseling. Some of the reasons for this are:
--Determining who caused a situation is irrelevant nine times out of ten. There is no courtroom or judge whose decision as to who's at fault will make a whit of difference.
--Blame & faultfinding keep the emphasis on why things are like they are instead of how they can change. Perhaps your spouse did something "wrong." Well, humans frequently do wrong things. What can you do to see that it doesn't occur again?
Please notice that there is a difference between responsibility & blame. I have to be responsible for my behavior. If I caused an unfortunate situation to occur, I need to realise that I am responsible for the consequences. Seeing the relationship between my behavior & its consequences is critical. But that doesn't mean it helps for me to be condemned & blamed for my behavior.
Perhaps an analogy is in order. If you see a forest fire, which question is more important: "Who started the fire?" or "How can we put it out?" Let's start putting out the forest fires!
CHAPTER 2: GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Principle 1: Your Success is Determined by Your Commitment
Your success at improving your marriage depends almost entirely on one thing--your commitment! By that we mean how much you want to save your marriage. Improvement in your marriage does not depend on how many problems you've got, how long you've been married, how many years you've been fighting (or so alienated you don't even fight), or even if you think you don't love your spouse anymore. It depends on how badly you want to stay married, for whatever reasons! If you are really committed & want to improve your marriage & are willing to work at it, you will be successful. If not, you won't. It's that simple.
Picture a scale from 1 to 10. A 10 means that you really want this marriage to work & will do whatever it takes to make it work. A 1 means that you really couldn't care less. Now put yourself on this scale. If you are 7 or above, continue with this book. If you are below 7, you have some decisions to make because this book probably won't help you. All marriage counselors are familiar with people who come to counseling because they want to show their family & friends, "Look how hard I tried." But all the time their eyes are on the door. They want out. Obviously, marriage counseling won't work with such people. So using this book won't work if it's used just to get your spouse off your back.
Principle 2: Expect Resistance due to Hurt, Anger & Pride
You will meet resistance because of three factors: Hurt, anger & pride. You may have been badly hurt by something your partner did; the pain can be very real, even physical. Sometimes it seems impossible to see beyond it. Or you may be so angry that all you can think about is revenge. "It's not fair that he/she shouldn't have to pay!" Or maybe it's pure pride. "How could he/she do such a thing to me? I can never forgive that." These feelings will never help you improve your marriage. They will always get in your way. You have the power to set aside these feelings if you give yourself permission to do so. Let's symbolically do that right now.
Take a big sheet of paper & write down all the hurts that have come your way, all the anger you are feeling, all the statements that capture your hurt pride. Now roll this paper up in a ball, put it in the fireplace, & light a match to it! As it disappears in the flames, say good-bye to these feelings. Any time these feelings start to come back, picture the fire again in your mind. Remind yourself you have told these feelings good-bye & have burned them. (Editor: Have real prayer together, asking the Lord's & each other's forgiveness--then count it done!)
Principle 3: Changes in Behavior Precede Changes in Feeling
This must be one of the best-kept secrets in psychology because so few people seem to know it. Most of us think we do something because we like it. We eat ice cream because we like it. We play tennis because we like to. We act loving because we feel loving. While all this is true, it is equally true the other way around. We like ice cream because we have eaten it. We like to play tennis because we have played it. Most important, we feel loving because we have acted loving. It is important to remember this--especially if you feel as if you don't love your spouse as much as you once did. If you begin to act loving, those loving feelings will return.
Acting loving may be especially difficult for two reasons. The most important is that you just don't feel like it. You probably feel decidedly unlike it! You might even think that you would rather hug a cobra than your spouse! (If so, think of it like taking medicine; you've got to do it to get better.) You might also feel "phony," as if you are acting or pretending to feel something you don't. That's OK! It's like wearing new clothes. A new outfit can certainly make you feel & act differently, but you're not being phony--you're still you. Remember, change the way you act first, even if you don't feel like it. Soon you will feel like it!
Principle 4: Each Spouse Must Change First
Both of you must be willing to be the first to change. It is vitally important that your behavior is not dependent upon your spouse's behavior.
We know your pride can get in the way here. It's easy to think, "Why should I be nice to him while he's still being so ugly to me?" Or, "Why should I even try to reason with her since she's still screaming at me?" Well, let us tell you why. You have absolutely nothing to lose. Changing first may be unfair, but it's in your own self-interest. In the first place, it can get you the changes you want in your marriage. You cannot change without your partner changing. For example, if one of you says something different during a recurring argument, the other can't respond in the same old way.
Second, even if change doesn't occur, you've still come out ahead. You have learned the skills & concepts that make for a healthy relationship & have grown in the process.
Principle 5: Change is Neither Fast nor Direct
Your marriage did not get into trouble overnight. It will not get out of trouble overnight. Marriages usually get into trouble after months & years of negative patterns of relating to one another. So change will neither be fast nor easy. Your marriage could even get worse before it gets better. You might be expressing some dissatisfactions, hurt feelings & misunderstandings that you've never shared before. Furthermore, change never occurs in a straight line. There will be some advancing, then retreating, then advancing again.
Remember that negative habits are hard to unlearn. Unfortunately the discouragement after setbacks is usually worse than before you started. But if you become discouraged & give up during one of your dips, you will lose sight of your overall progress. That's not fair either to you or the concepts presented here!
Identifying Major-Change Goals
Let's take a moment & try to identify some major-change goals you have for your relationship. Change is hard to accomplish unless you have a clear idea of what change you would like. Look at the two Goals Worksheets. Put a check in the column beside the specific issue if you believe your marriage needs change in that area. If everything is fine in that category, write "OK."
Now write down what specific changes you would like to see occur in your relationship in that area. As much as possible, try to think of changes you would like to see in your relationship, not just your spouse.
Finally, prioritize the changes you would like in the column "Rank order of importance." Number 1 will be the change you want most, number 2 the next, & so on.
Now come together with your spouse, share your worksheets & try to come up with a list of goals that both of you can agree on. Write your goals on a separate piece of paper. This will not be difficult if you phrase the goals in terms of the relationship. For instance, "to have a more satisfying sex life" would probably be agreeable to both partners, while "to make love more often" would probably cause resistance in one. "To agree on & abide by a budget" would be better than "for my wife to stop spending so much money." If you cannot agree on all of your goals don't worry about it now. You may write separate goals on the paper.
Fold up the piece of paper you have written your goals on, put it in a box, & label the box "The Back Burner." Now put that box out of sight for the time being. We are going to forget about the issues until you learn the skills necessary for solving your problems. The process must come before the content! Trust us, we will return to them in good time.
WIFE'S GOALS WORKSHEET
Category Is this a problem? Order of importance Specific changes you'd like
Alcohol & Drugs
HUSBAND'S GOALS WORKSHEET
Category Is this a problem? Order of importance Specific changes you'd like
Alcohol & Drugs
CHAPTER 3: VALUING & APPRECIATION
We're now going to switch our focus from the negative things about your marriage to the positive. One of the first things that breaks down when a marriage starts getting into trouble is openly valuing & appreciating each other. Yet this is one of the most important cornerstones of a healthy marriage. As partners in a marriage affirm, value, & express appreciation for each other, there is an increase in self-esteem for each person. The marriage becomes stronger & the couple experience the intimacy & togetherness they desire. As partners are put down, criticized & discouraged, the marriage becomes weaker, & the partners more & more alienated.
Openly valuing your spouse is one of the most important things you can do to keep your marriage happy!
Take a moment now & write down five things that you like, value or appreciate about your spouse. They can be large, global concepts like "high integrity," or small things like "I like the way you wrinkle your nose when you smile." You may also list something you like or enjoy in the relationship. After each of you has done this, share what you have written with your spouse. As you do this, discuss when the last time was that you heard these things, whether you have told your spouse these things lately, whether there were any surprises, & most important, how it felt hearing these things.
Your assignment now is to tell your spouse at least once a day something you value or appreciate in him/her. No matter how angry, hurt or tired you are, you must express appreciation or affirmation to your spouse every day.
This simple technique alone will have amazing results. You will never, never change your spouse by harping on his/her negative characteristics. A heavy dose of positives works wonders. Dwell on the good! Praise your spouse daily!
Catch Your Partner Pleasing You
Distressed couples are usually in a cycle of negative communication about what each didn't do.
Take a moment now & make a list of ten things you do that please your partner & ten things he/she does that please you. We will call these things "pleasers."
After your lists are completed, the wife should read aloud her list of ten things she does that please her husband. Then the husband reads aloud his list of ten things she does that please him. Then discuss the following:
1. Are the lists similar, or are you way off base as to what pleases your partner? Often couples in trouble demonstrate an astonishing lack of awareness of the things that please each other. Wife, did your husband list things you had no idea he liked?
2. Do you even know the category of things that please your partner? Often one person thinks his/her partner likes the "loving" behaviors, like a good-bye kiss, when the partner would prefer the garbage to be taken out!
3. Are your lists worded in vague or general terms such as "She's a good mother" or specific behavior language as "She helps the children with their reading?" It's important to describe pleasers in concrete & observable terms.
Then read your lists about how the husband pleases the wife & discuss the same questions.
Your homework assignment is to show your appreciation to your partner once a day for doing or saying something that pleases you. Do this immediately after the pleasing behavior occurs. Examples are: "I love it when you hold hands with me." "It really makes me happy when you feed the baby."
Every day record one pleaser received that day from the other & share that written record with your partner at the end of the day. You are "catching your partner pleasing" & reinforcing him/her for it twice: Once when it occurs (this is critical!) & once at the end of the day. We have included a form for "Catch Your Partner Pleasing You" that you can copy. You will need many copies of it.
CATCH YOUR PARTNER PLEASING YOU
Name__________ Name of Partner__________
When both spouses frequently give pleasers to each other, a positive spiral is begun in which the pleasers of one spouse reinforce the pleasers of another. As you can see, though it is important to do the things that please your partner, it is more important to let your partner know when he/she has done something to please you. The importance of this exercise cannot be overemphasized.
It is common to want to stop this exercise after a few days or weeks. You may think that you understand how it works, that it is boring, or that it seems too "artificial." Never mind. Continue with this exercise for as long as you are using this book. This is one instance when you want to overlearn. You are making a habit of one of the most important behaviors that ensure a happy marriage.
CHAPTER 4: COMMUNICATION SKILLS
To have a relationship, you must relate! Logical, isn't it? Yet so many couples, while crying out for "good communication," aren't able to communicate. Husbands & wives talk at each other, past each other, through each other, but rarely with each other. They share the same house & even bed, but rarely the same wavelength. Incredible enough, a recent study showed that the average couple spends only seven minutes weekly talking to each other!
Yet we can learn to communicate. The key word here is "learn." It is not automatic. It is easy to think that because we learned to talk & hear automatically, that we automatically learn to communicate. That makes as much sense as saying if I can sit on a piano bench I can automatically play a concerto. Good communication is as much a set of learned skills as is playing the piano, skiing or riding a bicycle! Just as you have to practice these things in order to learn them, you will need to practice the skills in this book until they become habit.
We believe that the most important communication skill in a relationship is the ability to share feelings. There is, incidentally, no way to avoid communicating feelings. If a feeling isn't talked out, it will be acted out--through depression, illness, sexual problems, withdrawing etc. You may as well share them positively & verbally rather than negatively.
If you don't share feelings verbally, there is little your spouse can do to know you or make intelligent reactions. Your partner will have to go on what he/she makes up--& this is almost always in error. The open mutual expression of feelings is essential in a truly intimate marriage.
Men especially are powerfully conditioned not to express their feelings. Our culture has decreed that it is "feminine" & "sissy" for boys to have feelings. Parents of both sexes seem to encourage this. It is OK to have a tomboy daughter, but not a sissy son! Wives need to understand & be sensitive to the difficulty their husbands may have in sharing feelings.
Expressing feelings is not difficult only for men, however. There are many people, male & female, who grew up in nonexpressive families.
Your spouse will never get to know who you really are unless you share your feelings. Feelings define the essence of a person. A person cannot be known until that person's feelings are known. If you share only thoughts, opinions & facts, you might as well be sharing a book you've read. It is only when you can share your pain, your loneliness, your fear or your joy that you can have a deep, human & real relationship.
Many people have little language for identifying or listening to feelings. The following lists contain words in two categories: When your wants & needs are being met, & when they are not. Underline all the feelings that you have felt during your marriage. Now go back & check the feelings you can visualize yourself feeling & expressing. Discuss with your spouse when & why you felt that way. Then discuss feelings you would like to feel or feelings that would be very uncomfortable. Go over the list with your spouse again & again until you feel totally comfortable discussing yourself & your feelings with your spouse.
When Wants & Needs are Being Met
When Wants & Needs are Not Being Met
The next step involves learning to share your feelings with your spouse on a daily basis. The easiest way to do this in the beginning is in a letter, because your spouse will not be there to inhibit you in any way with looks, comments, questions & nonverbal behavior.
So each of you now take ten or fifteen minutes, go to some place quiet, & write a letter to your partner. Let the letter describe how you are feeling about your relationship right now. There are two guidelines for this. The first is to make sure you are telling how you feel, which is an internal state like those described in the above list of words, not how you think. "I feel like you don't love me," is not a feeling; it's a thought. "I feel hurt because you won't talk with me" is a legitimate feeling.
After you have written your letters, come together, exchange them, & discuss them for ten or fifteen minutes. Here again, there are very specific guidelines. The person reading the letter has only one task--to understand or feel what his/her spouse is feeling. Thus two things are forbidden. You must not indicate in any way that your spouse "shouldn't" be that way. Second, you must not start giving advice or start trying to solve the problem. If you start giving advice or discounting feelings when your partner shares with you, you are very carefully conditioning him/her not to be open & real with you. If you're honest you will recognize that as a major reason why couples do not level with each other; they've learned not to!
As you read your spouse's letter you may ask questions & seek clarification until you can experience what he/she is feeling. When you are confident that you understand your spouse's feelings & have communicated that to your spouse, you change roles & let your spouse ask you about the feelings in your letter. Do not spend more than ten or fifteen minutes exploring these feelings. If you do, you will be tempted to move into solving the problem. Do this daily for at least a week before you go on with this book.
Pick out a topic daily that you would like to explore your feelings on. Possibilities include: (1) How do I feel about our sex life? (2) How do I feel about money (or the children etc.)? (3) What feeling do I have the most difficulty expressing? (4) What feeling do I have that I think is the most difficult for you to understand?
Communication, in a nutshell, means message sent equals message received. If the message isn't received, no communication has taken place. Communication, therefore, begins & ends with listening. You always sense when your spouse has stopped listening, right? You know you do! Well, your spouse also senses when you've stopped listening. And communication stops if listening stops!
The main thing that gets in the way of effective listening, according to the experts, is our tendency to evaluate. We all tend to judge, to evaluate, to approve or disapprove the statements or opinions of another person. This tendency is even stronger with married couples because of the strong emotions involved. The stronger our feelings & emotions are, the more likely we are to evaluate & judge.
If having a tendency to evaluate takes away from effective listening, then it's logical that we must try to listen objectively. This means listening to the other person's ideas as they are expressed in an effort to understand them, not judge them. This ability to put yourself in another person's position, to see the situation as the other is seeing it, & to experience what the other is experiencing, is called "empathy." Thus, empathy is critical to good communication & is expressed through a technique known as "Active Listening."
Listening doesn't mean just sitting still with your mouth shut. (Although holding your tongue can sometimes be a large part of it. Try it!) Rather, listening is an active process in which you also participate. Active listening is stating in your own words what you think your spouse just said & how he/she is feeling. That's all! It can also be called "paraphrasing," "feeding back," "checking it out" or "reporting back." It is trying to understand what the sender is feeling or what the message means, & feeding it back for the sender's verification.
Be forewarned: Active listening, though simple, is not easy. It does not come naturally. What comes naturally is responding to our partner's messages with advice giving, blaming, criticizing, interpreting, suggesting, teaching, preaching, judging, withdrawing or even sympathizing. These are all ineffective ways of responding.
Let's start practicing this skill now. You & your spouse will take turns giving a one-to-three sentence answer to the following questions:
1. What is one thing you like about your life right now?
2. What is one thing you dislike about your life right now?
3. What is something good that happened to you today?
4. What is something bad that happened to you today?
After one of you answers a question, the other gives a one-to-three sentence active-listening response to see if he/she understood the message. Do not evaluate or judge the message, just paraphrase it. Remember to feed back feelings as well as meaning! This is the most important part of active-listening. After each of you has gone through all the questions, gotten feedback & feels comfortable with the skill, do the following exercise.
The husband tells the wife something he believes she has never really understood about him. All the husband has to do is talk, but the message must be about himself. The message must not be an attack on his wife (although he may express hurt or anger at a specific behavior of hers). The wife's job is to give an active-listening response at intervals to what's just been said. She will say what she has heard so far & find out if she is getting it right. Every time she does this, the husband decides whether she has really understood. He can make corrections in what she says & she builds those corrections into a new attempt at paraphrasing. A good rule of thumb in getting to your spouse's feelings is to put yourself in his/her place & see how you would feel. You keep going, with the husband talking & correcting, & the wife active-listening, until he is satisfied that he has been understood. The husband is the sole judge of whether understanding has taken place. You may be amazed at how long it takes, but keep at it until the husband is satisfied he has been heard. Then repeat the entire process, switching roles.
Your next assignment is to do this every night for a week before you go on with this book! Practice this skill well.
"Boy, you've really done it again! You made a real fool out of yourself last night! Why do you always drink so much & embarrass me like you do? You're a moron & a lush!"
What was the one word you noticed being used over & over in the message above? That's right--"you." These messages are referred to as "you" messages because they make you the focus of responsibility. I deny any responsibility for my reactions. I put you in the position of being the bad guy. These messages are almost always accusatory & will almost certainly lead to defensiveness. However, you do have to send messages to your spouse, as well as receive them. There's more to communication than listening, even active listening. How can you send a message, especially if you are clearly upset & even have a right to be, without making your spouse defensive? The answer is with an "I" message.
An "I" message does not suggest that I must not mention "you." After all, if I am upset with something in my marriage, it has to concern my spouse. However, if I stick only with my spouse's behavior & its effect on me, I am less likely to create defensiveness. Some examples are:
"I am really hurt because you forgot my birthday."
"I am angry because you left your clothes all over the floor."
"I get upset when I'm being interrupted & can't get my ideas completely expressed."
An easy way to remember what an "I" message consists of is to remember the XYZ formula: "When you do X in situation Y I feel Z."
There are four rules that you should keep in mind as you use these messages:
1. The messages should be direct. This means you don't assume people know what you feel, think or want. Indirect communicators assume that others somehow know how they feel. They assume their spouses can read their minds. As a matter of fact, you should assume your spouse is a poor mind reader & hasn't the faintest idea of what you're thinking. Statements like, "He knew I'd be upset if he did that" have no place in a marriage.
2. The messages should not be delayed too long. If you are hurt, angry, or otherwise upset, delaying communication can sometimes make it worse. Anger & hurt can accumulate & fester, & explode later in harmful ways. For example, Sylvia is hurt because her husband forgot her birthday. So she says nothing, but burns several dinners & refuses to make love for weeks.--The poor husband is bewildered until she finally tells him what's wrong.
3. The messages should be clear. A clear message doesn't leave things out & it isn't worded in fuzzy jargon. "I'm somewhat concerned about..." doesn't fully convey that you're decidedly angry about something!
4. The messages should be straight. This means that what you are saying is the real purpose of the message. Hidden agendas, disguised intentions & ulterior motives are manipulative & destroy intimacy. Ask yourself, "Is this really what I'm feeling? What do I really want? Is this really what I want him to hear?" If your answers indicate you're not being honest, try again & state your real needs & feelings. Saying "I'm angry because you're playing golf again" when you're actually feeling hurt, unloved, & ignored is not being straight!
Your assignment for the next few days is simply to give your spouse one honest, straightforward "I" message daily about something that's going on in your life. Your spouse does not need to respond (remember, the issues are still on the back burner) except to say, "I appreciate your leveling with me." Do this daily for at least a week.
CHAPTER 5: ADVANCED COMMUNICATION SKILLS
The Echo Game
It is called the "Echo Game," & is the most powerful tool yet for facilitating communication when a real problem or misunderstanding exists. Whenever you suspect that there could even possibly be a misunderstanding between you & your spouse, suggest that you play the Echo Game. In this game the listener must feed back (echo) the meaning of the speaker's message to the speaker's satisfaction before responding to the message. The Echo Game is used when the listener wants to be sure he/she is understanding the speaker or when the speaker wants to be sure he/she is being understood. The goal is the same in either case: To make sure the message sent equals the message received!
Let's listen in as Christy & Lee play the Echo Game.
Christy: Lee, I'd like to play the Echo Game.
Lee: OK, go ahead.
Christy: I get hurt when you continue to break tennis dates with me to play with your friends. It makes me think you don't care about me. What do you hear me saying?
Lee: I hear you saying it makes you mad when I break tennis dates with you. Is that right?
Christy: No, not mad, just hurt--my feelings are hurt. Now what do you hear me saying?
Lee: It hurts you when I break a tennis date?
Christy: Yes, that's correct. Would you like to respond to that?
Lee: Yes, I was unaware it hurts you. It's just that I need to play with better players occasionally in order to improve my game. What do you hear me saying?
Christy: You feel you need to play with players better than I am sometimes to better yourself? Is that right?
Lee: Yes, that's correct. Would you like to respond to that?
At this point you're probably objecting to the use of stilted phrases, "What do you hear me saying?" "Is that right?" "Would you like to respond to that?" Never mind! Granted, they are stilted, but they are only crutches. When you get used to feeding back to your partner what you heard him/her saying, you won't need to use these words. The process will be automatic. In the meantime, however, the phrases force you to listen by forcing you to feed back to your partner what he/she said before you can respond. You will be amazed at the number of problems that will no longer be problems after you use this technique.
Practice the Echo Game for at least a week before you go on with this book. This alone will move you quickly to a better relationship because it requires the active participation of both partners & assures that "message sent" is "message received."
Other Helpful Messages
As you read over the following messages, write down the ones that you think you need to use more of in your marriage.
1. "I Would Like..." Statements
Examples: "I would like it if you would hold my hand when we are walking." "I would like to go to Mother's house this weekend." "I would like for you to fix the door when you get a chance, please."
These statements must be made clearly & directly, something married couples don't often do. Couples hide & disguise wants in hints, sweet requests & suggestions. Then when their wants aren't met, out come accusations or manipulations. Couples want their spouses to satisfy their desires without having to ask. "If I have to ask for it, I don't want it" is an idealistic cop-out. Your wants are met to the extent that your wants are known! You must help your spouse know what pleases you, what makes you feel loved. Is it giving you a flower, watching the sunset with you, rubbing your back, doing household chores, taking the initiative sexually? Exactly what? You are responsible for communicating to your spouse what you would like. Mind reading has no place in a marriage!
We understand the fear many people have in assertively asking for what they want, but you are in a no-lose situation. If you get what you want, that's great! Even if you don't, you will conquer your fear of asking by continuing to do it.
2. Open-Ended Questions
An open-ended question is any question that can't be answered in one or two words. It's a probing question that encourages the speaker to expand on an answer.
Notice the difference in these two questions: "What kind of things happened to you today?" & "Did you have a good day?" Open-ended questions are especially good for couples who complain that "we never talk to each other."
3. Agreeing with Part of a Criticism
This skill, often called "fogging," will become important when we move into conflict negotiation. You pretend you are a "fog bank": Anything thrown goes through you instead of bouncing back. You refuse to argue by seeming to agree with part of the criticism--saying there may be some truth to it.
Example: Jim: "If you weren't so sloppy & disorganized, you could get your work done." Mary: "Maybe I could be more organised, but I still would like some help with the house."
4. Asking for More Specific Criticism
This is another skill important to conflict negotiation. You ask for more information in the form of specific behaviors after being criticized.
Example: Sue: "You really are a slob." Bob: "Exactly what is it I've done that wasn't neat?"
Asking for more specific criticism gets the attack to focus on more specific behaviors that can be changed.
Self-disclosing statements reveal something private about oneself. For that reason they are very similar to the "I" messages & "I would like..." statements discussed earlier.
Example: "I was so embarrassed at lunch today! Of all times to forget my boss' name, it had to happen when we met my two best clients."
The beauty of self-disclosing statements is that they move you closer to a warm, intimate relationship.
6. Quantifying Wants & Feelings
This little trick works wonders for communication & problem solving. You simply put your wants & feelings on a rating scale of 1 to 10.
Example: "I'd like to eat out tonight, but it's only about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10." "I get really angry when you put me down in front of my family, & that's a 10 on a 10-point scale."
7. Citing Specific Behaviors
Only by putting complaints, concerns or compliments in the language of specific behaviors will you be able to make changes in your marriage.
Example: "You don't kiss me good-bye in the morning any more. I really miss that."
If you just call me "inconsiderate" I probably don't have a very good idea of what you want.
8. Asking for Feedback
Feedback is what happens when your spouse tells you his/her reaction to what you have just said. Most couples live in a feedback vacuum. They rarely ask for or get feedback.
Example: "This has been an exhausting spring. I'd really like to stay at home this year on our vacation. What is your reaction to that?"
9. "You Are Good" & "You Did Something Good" Statements
A rule of thumb is a positive to negative ratio of 5 to 1. That is, if you must criticize your partner once, try to find at least five positive things to comment on. If you get much below that ratio, self-esteem will suffer. When self-esteem suffers, so does the marriage.
10. Mutual Topic Finding
This is a way for one spouse to check the other's willingness to discuss a particular topic at a particular time. It gives the spouse the option whether to discuss the issue then, instead of presenting him/her with a surprise attack.
Example: "I'd like to talk with you about the bills that came today. Would right after supper be a good time?" "I'd really like for us to spend more quality time together. Can we talk about that now?"
11. "I Intend..." Statements
These statements let your partner know what your intentions are.
Examples: "I'm on the verge of exhaustion. I'm not going to the party tonight." "I'm sorry I spent so much money, & I don't intend to do that again."
Generally, however, spouses don't communicate their intentions often enough. Are you guilty of this?
12. "Say-Ask" Statements
These statements always come in pairs. The first statement says how the speaker thinks or feels about something, & the second asks the listener how he/she thinks or feels.
Example: "I'm ready to go to bed now, Jim. Would you like to come with me?"
Using say-ask statements avoids setting up the listener in a "damned if I do, & damned if I don't" situation. Think of the alternatives. If the wife asks Jim if he is ready to go to bed without stating her intentions, "no" could be interpreted as a sexual rejection, & a "yes" as retreating from her or avoiding her by going to bed early!
Now that you have a list of messages that you need to work on, tape it to a wall in your bedroom. The list will remind you daily to put more of these messages into your communication.
CHAPTER 6: NEGOTIATING CONFLICT
Conflict is unavoidable, but there are fair ways of handling it & unfair ways of handling it. If your goal is to solve your problems & have a happier marriage, you must stay away from the following messages:
1. Hitting Below the Belt
Everyone has a psychological belt line, below which they are vulnerable & where attacks are foul. You have no more right to hit your spouse below the belt than does a boxer! Example: "How can you expect to get a good job as fat as you are?"
2. The Achilles Heel
The Achilles Heel is the one spot that is the most sensitive. Attacking that spot is dirty fighting at its worst.
Example: "The only reason you want a baby now is because of the abortion you had when you were sixteen."
3. Garbage Collecting
This is continually bringing up irrelevant past garbage. Are you the one who says, "Remember on January 12, 19__when you...?" (It's now six years later.) If so, remember, ancient history belongs in a history book! A good rule of thumb is, "never go back past now."
4. The "Kitchen-Sink" Fight
This is a fight where everything is thrown in but the kitchen sink! This is probably the most common hurtful tactic that couples use. If you can get into the habit of discussing only one issue at a time, no exceptions, you are well on your way to negotiating conflict.
5. Hit & Run
This is often called "getting the last word in first." It is any statement or action that cuts off communication before the problem is solved.
Example: "If that's the way you feel about me, then just forget it. I'm leaving!"
This is storing grievances away in a mental gunnysack until it finally bursts open & spills everything out. Gunnysacking results from the inability to be assertive about wants, needs & feelings. It is very common & always leads to problems.
This is the result of gunnysacking. The response is inappropriate to the stimulus. Measure your weapons against the seriousness of the issue. Nuclear bombs shouldn't be used on pea-shooter causes.
This is not letting your partner get a word in edgewise. As a rule of thumb, any message that takes more than a minute without giving the other person a chance to respond is probably too long.
The hidden message here is obvious: "I don't need to listen to you. Your message couldn't possibly be important."
10. Passive-Aggressive Techniques
These are any techniques that appear passive, but are actually aggressive. Silence (feeling resentment, anger, hurt etc., without verbalizing it) is the most dangerous. "Silent sulking" is a dirty & deadly weapon.
11. Character Analysis/Labeling
These statements imply a helpless basic flaw. "Stupid, selfish, ugly, evil, asinine, mean, disgusting, lazy & worthless" are examples of character analysis. They imply an indictment of the total person instead of a specific behavior.
12. Mind Reading
This is when one spouse assumes what the other is feeling or thinking without asking.
Example: "I know you don't love me."
Unless you received a crystal ball for a wedding present, you have no right to try to read your spouse's mind!
These are statements so broad they can't be verified.
Example: "Nothing I ever do is right for you."
"You're always..." & "you're never..." are the most common forms of overgeneralizing.
14. Put-Down Questions
These are rhetorical questions used to communicate dissatisfaction.
Example: "Why can't you be more responsible with money?" It's obvious the speaker doesn't want to know the reason why. He/she just wants the spouse to be more responsible with money!
15. "You Are Bad," You Did Something Bad" Statements
These include any statements that imply the spouse or spouse's behavior is "bad."
Examples: "You acted like a fool at the party." "You're dishonest."
16. "You Should" Statements
"You shouldn't feel so bad." "You ought to be friendlier to my parents."
17. Defending Oneself
This is an attempt to prove that what you did was right or justified.
Example: "I was late only because I had to pick up your junk."
This is making a witty comment, usually the opposite of what is meant, to express hostility. "Sure, you're never late. We really believe that one."
Threats fall in many categories. They can be medical: "I'll have a heart attack"; mental: "You're driving me crazy"; suicidal: "I'll kill myself"; emotional: "I just won't care what you do"; sexual: "You can forget lovemaking if you go out tonight."
The message is always the same: "If you don't give in or change, the consequences will be bad!" Threats may work for short-term gains but they never improve a marriage.
This is simply ignoring an important message of the other.
Example: He: "Oh, boy, what a day I've had today." She: "Did you remember to pick up the bread?"
21. Playing Lawyer
This is disputing versions of past events.
Example: "I did not say that!"
Playing lawyer is wasted effort--bogging down in childish disputes instead of solving the problem.
This is assuming that a perception is a reality without checking it out. Never make assumptions! Check it out!
23. Speaking for Your Spouse
This is speaking for your spouse when he/she is actually present.
Example: "Jim doesn't care for another drink."
Speaking for your spouse is patronizing.
"You're giving me a headache." (heart attack, depression etc.)
25. Acting Out Anger
This is hitting, throwing something, getting drunk, etc. It is using behavior rather than words to express your anger.
26. Physical Abuse
This is when one spouse actually slaps, hits, pushes, shoves or beats the other--any physical contact! It is the dirtiest fighting of all!
You must be aware & conscious of your use of these messages if you want to stop using them. Get out your cassette tape recorder, put in a blank tape, & role-play a fight with your spouse. Role-play a subject that is not actually a problem in your marriage. For instance, if the husband is very shy around women, you can role-play a situation in which he flirted with every woman at a party the night before. With the recorder going, have an argument about that subject, using every hurtful technique you possibly can. Communicate in the absolute worst way possible. That tape player must run for at least ten minutes. After you finish, tell your partner the hurtful messages you noticed that he/she used. Then rewind the tape, play it back & stop it to identify each hurtful message as it occurs.
Do this exercise every day for a week, always using a made-up situation. If you try it with a real problem in your marriage, you may generate hostility & defensiveness. Your goal at this point is simply to become aware of these hurtful messages & when you use them. Again--awareness is the key for prevention.
Fair Fighting Rules
Before we discuss how to fight fair, we need to review the "rules" that govern a fair fight.
1. Fight by appointment only. Decide together on a time & place to discuss the issue. No "Pearl Harbors" (surprise attacks) allowed!
2. Each person has the right to say "no," say "yes," to make a counter offer, to ask for more time or information.
3. Avoid all hurtful fighting techniques. Point them out to your spouse in a non-judgmental way when they occur. If you are the victim of really dirty fighting, shout foul!
4. Nip anger in the bud. If you become extremely angry, disengage from the argument & continue it at another time. This is not being "fight phobic." It is plain common sense. If you're really angry you are much more likely to say things you don't mean.
Likewise, back off if you've struck a raw nerve in your spouse. Signs of extreme hurt or anger in your spouse should be a red flag telling you to pull back.
5. Decide on your own ground rules. Some ground rules other couples have used are: (1) No fighting when drinking alcohol; (2) No fighting in front of the children; (3) No fighting with the TV on; (4) No swearing; & (5) No fighting when exhausted or hungry. Only you will know what ground rules make sense for you. But once made, these rules must not be broken!
6. Continually use "active listening" (checking it out, reporting back, paraphrasing both the content & the feelings) & "I" messages (I feel...when you...).
7. Discuss only one issue at a time! The only exception to this is when you suspect the real issue is not the one you are fighting over. Then try to surface the real issue.
8. There must be two winners. There is never a single winner in an honest intimate fight. Both either win more intimacy, or lose it. A bad argument is one where there is a winner & a loser. One partner will feel victorious, but the other will feel humiliated. One way or another, the loser will "get the winner back!"
Solving the Problem
1. The first order of business is to get yourselves into a problem-solving mindset. This means you have started thinking, "What we are trying to do now is to solve the problem." If this does not occur you will stay in an endless circular argument.
2. The most important point is: Do not attack! Attacking your spouse will always lead you away from problem-solving rather than toward it. Think of your spouse as an army. If an army is attacked by the enemy, it has three options: (1) counterattack, (2) defend, or (3) retreat. Your spouse will also use one of these three options when attacked. None of these options will move you toward solving the problem.
3. Constantly ask yourself & your spouse, "What is reasonable?" If you are married to a man who is 5 foot 5 inches & weighs 200 pounds, it is reasonable to expect him to lose 10 pounds. It is not reasonable to expect him to grow three inches. While this is clearly a ridiculous example, we often expect changes from our partner as unreasonable as a growth spurt.
4. Be wary of compromise. Compromise is highly touted, but it can be manipulative. You only need to remind yourself of labor unions or professional athletes to realize that someone faced with compromise is apt to inflate his/her starting position. This is clearly not being open, honest or real.
5. Remember that you can't put all responsibility for change on the other. The "take it or leave it" philosophy is not only unfair, it will backfire. If you want a change in your relationship, you will have to change too!
6. Start from "I would like..." & go from there. This forces you to get away from nebulous negatives & move to specific positives. A nebulous negative is "You never communicate with me." A specific positive is "I would like for you to talk with me fifteen minutes a day."
7. Avoid scorekeeping: "I did three things for you; you only did two for me." This is petty & irrelevant. The value of behavior rarely depends on how often it occurs.
8. Identify areas of agreement before suggesting change. Most couples have many more similarities & compatibilities than differences. Remind yourself that your relationship is greater than the issue you're fighting about. Focusing on the areas of agreement will often make the areas of disagreement seem more manageable.
9. A gold star goes to the first one who introduces one of the "Big Three." Any of these three techniques immediately moves the focus of the discussion from complaining to solutions. They are:
(1) The question, "What can we do to make things better?" Memorise this question & use it often.
(2) Bargaining. When making a bargaining statement, the speaker offers to do something for the spouse if the spouse does something in return. Example: "let's make a deal. If you go to the ball game with me tonight, I'll go visit your parents next weekend." "If you do what I want, I'll reward you" is much more effective than "I will punish you if you don't."
(3) Listing options & choosing among them. This is the most complicated technique but probably the one that you will need to use for really serious problems. Here again, the one who says something like, "Why don't we make a list of all the options we have?" gets the gold star. Both partners are thinking of solutions rather than pushing their solutions. This avoids the sense of one person winning & one person losing.
Listing options must be kept separate from evaluating them, or fewer options will be brought up. If an idea is rejected or ridiculed when it is presented, the presenter won't want to think of any more options. The habit of evaluating an idea when it is presented is very strong. Try your best to overcome it.
After all the options have been listed, the next step is simply to pick one & try it. If all the previous steps have been successful, the best solution often just seems to present itself. The important point is that you pick an option & try it!
You will occasionally be truly deadlocked on a problem. There just doesn't appear to be any solution that will satisfy both husband & wife. The answer to this might be "experimental roles." Each partner agrees to the solution the other prefers for an experimental period of time, say one month each. At the end of the two months, take inventory & see where you need to go from there.
CHAPTER 7: MORE ON CONFLICTS
We are all taught & trained by our parents. We can't get away from it. We often don't know what it is we have been taught, yet we all repeat it.
We call our preconceived ideas about what a marriage should be a "marriage script." When you go to a play, you assume the actors are all working from the same script. When you get married you assume your spouse will have the same script for marriage you have. But this is rarely the case. Everyone gets married with already-formed ideas of what is involved in being a husband or wife--what values, behaviors & roles are expected of you.
A good example is Diane & Mark. Diane's father always fixed everything the minute it was broken. He never had to wait to be asked; he was Mr. Fix-it & he loved it. Anything from a loose hinge to the washing machine was magically & magnificently working the next day. Mark's father, on the other hand, was a wealthy & busy executive. His mother always called a service man when something broke down. Minor repairs were done either by her or by a carpenter who came by fairly regularly. Now that Diane & Mark are married, she waits for him to fix things. He can't understand why she doesn't get the broken things repaired. She begins to think of him as a spoiled, lazy, self-centered man, & he thinks of her as a whining, helpless nag. When it is finally pointed out to them that they have a case of mismatched scripts, the tasks are quickly negotiated. Once again, we see that a large part of conflict negotiation is just seeing the other person's point of view!
The point is that there is no obviously "right" or "wrong" way. Who does household repairs depends on interest, ability, time & money, among other things. There is rarely a "right" or "wrong" way in any other area of marriage either. Couples often experience distress & anger because it doesn't occur to them that there is more than one way (the way they have grown up with!) to look at the situation.
Take a look at your own script & decide which of your script messages is not appropriate to your life & your world today. Then decide how you'd like to rewrite your script for yourself now. Even labeling your preconceived values & roles as a "script" suggests the ability to edit or rewrite it. Take another sheet of paper & rewrite all the messages according to the way you want to love your life. Again, share these with your spouse. Are they more similar now? Can you think of any way to get them more similar?
Getting the Floor!
During arguments one person often monopolizes the conversation or interrupts the spouse. If this is a problem in your marriage, get an index card & write "Floor" on it. Whoever is holding that card has the floor & can speak. When he/she finishes, he hands the floor to the spouse. You can only speak when you have the floor. If your spouse has the floor & you would like to speak, you have to ask for the floor. This simple technique quickly identifies who is interrupting & who is monopolizing the conversation.
If you suspect you are in a power struggle with your spouse, keep asking yourself, "Why do I have to win? Why do I have to come out on top to feel good about me?" Try to realize that your self-worth does not depend on controlling your spouse. Of course, the trick is to recognize the power struggle when you are in it. A good clue is when one spouse resists a perfectly reasonable request from the other. It's not the request but what is perceived as domination that is resisted. Stop, identify the power struggle, pull back, start over!
An underlying issue in many arguments is actually the perception of rejection or lack of caring. If Janet is angry because Tony stays away from home so much, the anger is probably from feeling personally rejected. If you are upset because of some behavior of your spouse, ask yourself if that behavior says to you, "That must mean I am not loved or cared for. That must mean he doesn't want me or want to be with me." If the answer is yes, communicate that concern to your spouse & forget the superficial issue.
In many fights the issue isn't as important as "proving I am right." If I am wrong, then my prestige or status is affected, so I go through marriage insisting that my way is the right way, my thoughts the right thoughts. Married couples are like two people on opposite sides of a fence with one side painted white & one side painted brown. One will insist the fence is white & one will insist it is brown! They are both right! Accept that you are both right & get on with solving your problem!
Couples often enter marriage with very different needs for intimacy &/or personal "space." When they do, trouble crops up--& quickly! The one needing freedom or "space" pulls away more & more as the one needing closeness pursues more & more.
It's an extremely rare marriage in which both want or need total togetherness. Most of us need some breathing room, air, space, separate interests & separate friends.
If you believe that space is a real issue in your marriage, remember this rule: Never pursue a withdrawer. The more you go after a withdrawer, the more he/she will withdraw. Learn to be your own person. Plan separate time for yourself; engage in more activities with friends. As you back up, your spouse will move closer to you.
CHAPTER 8: THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
Now that you have negotiated some of the conflicts in your marriage, think about putting the results in the form of a contract. A marital contract, like any other contract, is a written agreement for behavior change by both partners. It structures behavioral exchanges between spouses in terms of Who does What to Whom & When. The behaviors & their consequences must be clearly spelled out, & they must be understandable & acceptable to both partners.
Virtually every interaction that you have with others is governed by a formal or informal contract that clarifies your expectations & guarantees that your investments will be reciprocated. Why, then, not marriage, which surely ranks as our primary relationship. Remember, you do desire change, or you wouldn't have this book. Research shows that the contracting procedure alone has contributed to a significant level of change in marriages!
The first step in making a contract is for each spouse to make positive, specific requests of the other that will begin to make the relationship more rewarding. These should be worded positively: "Pick up your clothes from the floor," as opposed to "Don't be so sloppy." Asking a spouse to stop doing something often causes a defense of that behavior. The requests must also be worded specifically. "Be more affectionate" is much too vague. "Kiss me good-bye when you leave" lets your spouse know exactly what you want. Come up with at least three things you would like your spouse to do. Following you will find a list of sample requests. Your own requests need to be more specific than those on the list--designate time, place, frequency.
Now exchange behaviors & select one of your spouse's requests to do, or two, or even all three. Your spouse will do the same. Agree to follow your spouse's request more frequently during the next week. Now fill out a contract form spelling out your agreement. You can choose between two types. The first is the "Tit-for-Tat" agreement, in which one or more of one spouse's behaviors are directly exchanged for one or more of the other spouse's behaviors.
Couple Request Index
Doing a household repair
Giving me time alone
Going out to dinner
Spending a weekend with me away from home
Talking on the phone to me
Going out to movie etc.
Playing sports with me
Watching TV with me
Washing the car
Mowing the lawn
Getting the car fixed
Doing some gardening
Giving me spending money
Putting children to bed
Telling me you love me
Spending time with the kids
Making me breakfast
Complimenting my appearance
Helping kids with homework
Starting a conversation with me
Asking about my feelings
Paying a bill
Helping dress the children
Listening to my problems
Laughing with me
Balancing the checkbook
Helping with dinner
Preparing an entire meal
Doing some shopping for things we need
Cleaning up house (or portion)
Running an errand
Setting the alarm clock
Doing the dishes
Doing the laundry
Feeding the pets
Meeting me for lunch
Mending my clothes
Taking out the garbage
Responding to my advances
Babysitting while I am out
Hugging or kissing me
Surprising me with a gift
Shopping with me
Having dinner ready on time
Wearing pleasing clothes
Helping discipline the kids
Coming to bed with me
Holding the door for me
Planning the budget
Asking for my opinion
The behavior that I have chosen to do for my wife is:
The behavior that I have chosen to do for my husband is:
The other is a "Reward Contract," in which each request is not necessarily exchanged for the spouse's, but is rewarded if accomplished. Either can be beneficial. The major difference is that in the Reward Contract you must fulfill your responsibility before you get your reward, & in the Tit-for-Tat contract you carry out your responsibility & assume your spouse will do the same. The Reward Contract allows each person to comply with the terms of the contract independently of the other, thus avoiding recriminations over who did what first. Try them both & see which works best for you.
The behavior that I have chosen to do for my wife is:
The reward I will receive for carrying out this contract is:
The behavior that I have chosen to do for my husband is:
The reward I will receive for carrying out this contract is:
Some guidelines for contracting are:
1. Make the terms simple, specific & clear.
2. Give anything a try. Remember you are not setting anything in concrete. Everything is renegotiable.
3. Don't wait for your spouse to do his/her item.
4. Proceed in good faith, assuming that your spouse will do his/her part.
5. Place the contract on the refrigerator or mirror where it will be seen.
6. Don't quit your part of the bargain if you suspect your partner is not keeping his/hers. Instead, schedule another session to discuss it.
At the end of a week, meet with your spouse & evaluate how well you each fulfilled the contract. If you are both satisfied with the current terms of the contract & want to continue it, you can then make a permanent one. If you were dissatisfied, use the communication skills you have learned to refine, revise or restructure the contract. If your contract was a total disaster, start all over with completely different issues that may be less emotionally charged or easier to comply with.
What to Negotiate, What to Ignore
Before we leave the subject of conflict negotiation, we must discuss one last critical subject: Exactly what do we choose to ask our spouse to negotiate? Absolutely everything that causes us the slightest bit of discomfort? Unfortunately, that is the way most married people operate. most people want--& really expect--an unrealistic perfection in their spouses. It's not clear when these unrealistic expectations of marriage begin. A recent national survey disclosed that the main reasons for divorce are no longer desertion, finances, religious differences, brutality or adultery, as they were a generation ago. Instead, the three leading complaints are problems with communication, problems with child rearing & sexual dissatisfaction. Couples now have the idea that they should always be able to communicate well, raise children with no problems, & enjoy fulfilled sex lives!
We have been so bombarded with what a relationship should be like that we dwell on the ways that our marriages fall short. But all marriages have areas of great disagreement & great difficulty--some of which will never change--& there will always be something to worry us & to be upset about.
The truth is that even the best relationships have hard times. And overblown expectations only make the bad times worse. We must accept--as difficult as it is--that incompatibilities are integral & inescapable parts of marriage!
The more you can accept, tolerate & even respect your spouse's differentness the happier you will be.
Overlooking each other's "warts" is a vital element in marriage, one that is necessary if a marriage is to survive. Marriage is a lot like buying a record. You buy it for what's on one side, but the flip side comes with it. You have to take that too! Tolerance & acceptance of each other's weak spots, likes, dislikes & differentness are all important if you are sincerely committed to marriage.
All right then--we agree: Acceptance, tolerance & overlooking is the answer. But what is the secret for achieving it? It's easy to say but hard to do. We would like to suggest that you think of your spouse as a gift from God, which he or she surely is. This gift from God can be appreciated as it is without thought of change, just like a gift from God in nature. If you are walking on the beach & see a spectacular sunset, you don't call out to God, "A little more purple over behind the waves, please!" Or, "Would you mind giving us a little less orange in the back?" Of course not! You enjoy the always different sunsets exactly as they are. Do the same with your spouse. People are just as much gifts from God as sunsets!
Make a list now of all the minor irritants of your spouse. Write down everything you can't stand. Now burn the list in the fireplace. Do this once a month. You'll find this symbolic burning has real power!
CHAPTER 9: NURTURING THE LOVE RELATIONSHIP
This chapter deals with an issue that we are all concerned with at one time or another--our emotional feelings toward our spouse. This may be your major concern right now. You may not feel that you are in love with your spouse anymore, or he/she with you. You may be wondering if it is possible to recapture the warm, loving feelings you once had. Or you may be wondering what you can do to keep love alive.
There are two important points here. First, a marriage is a living, breathing entity that must be nurtured in order to stay alive. There is no such thing as "getting married & living happily ever after." A marriage, like the moon, is either waxing or waning. Accordingly, your marriage either increases or decreases in strength.
Another point is that loving feelings grow because you do these things. Couples do not "fall out of love." Instead, they simply stop working on their relationship. Once you start working on your relationship again, you can fall in love again.
You get what you give & you give what you get. When you do loving things for your partner, he/she experiences the relationship as rewarding & is more likely to do & say the loving things that please you. And so it goes. Now we are going to focus on specifically loving or affectionate things & make them an integral part of your marriage.
Please don't underestimate the power of affection, even if your partner professes not to care that much about it! You can see for yourself the difference it makes. Especially if your partner has ever strayed, make affection a part of your life. Most people who have affairs are looking not for sex, but are starved for affection. They say things like, "My spouse never held my hand, never kissed me or touched me unless we were having sex, never told me I looked nice, never gave me a compliment, never said I love you." These people were starving to death, emotionally.
Do at least two loving things for or to your spouse every day from now on. If this seems formidable, maybe you are thinking loving things are always big things. Rather, it's the little things that count. A recent study concluded that in the average marriage there are two hundred & fifty opportunities per day to show your partner you care. These can be as insignificant as kissing his/her eyelids awake in the morning.
After you are in the habit of doing loving things for your spouse daily, start instituting a "Love Day" once a week. On Love Days you double or triple the number of loving things you have been doing. Don't announce your Love Day. If you think your partner has given you a Love Day, ask if this is true. If your partner doesn't acknowledge a Love Day, ask if it was noticed. This reinforces the importance of noticing & commenting on loving actions.
The Oxygen of Intimacy
There are three things that will keep intimacy alive in your marriage or restore it if it has been lost (or was never there!) We call these three items the "oxygen of intimacy." Though these things can't guarantee that intimacy will grow, it is certain that intimacy will not exist without them. They are the "Three T's": Time, Talk & Touch.
On a physical level, sheer time spent in each other's company relating to each other is necessary for intimacy to grow. There is no way around it. But couples stop taking this time together for several reasons. The first is pure apathy. Not realizing the importance of time together, they simply drift into separate interests & separate worlds.
Another reason is a work-ethic mindset. We live in an action-oriented culture. The idea of just spending time with a spouse--maybe just sitting, or talking, or reading, or looking at a sunset--can be perceived as wasted time. How sad!
A third reason is that couples often see the situation as unavoidable. Because of jobs & other responsibilities, they say it is just impossible to spend any more time together. Regrettable, but still impossible. Again, how sad! The truth is, however, that we all make time for what is important to us. We do not find the time, we make it!
1. The biggest obstacle to a couple's time together is not from their work, but from what they see as "social obligations." Make a list of everything the two of you do besides your work. Prioritize them, then be ruthless about slashing the bottom ones off the list.
2. Follow the example of new lovers. They go to great lengths to make every moment count. When you arrange time together, whether it's a luncheon date or a weekend out of town, refuse to allow anything to take precedence over that time! Pretend you are mad, passionate lovers who may never see each other again.
3. Take an occasional weekend trip away from home without the kids. Even if you just stay at a motel in town, the excitement of getting away can bring romance back into your marriage.
4. You may be having difficulty thinking of things you might do with your spouse that you would enjoy. Couples usually get stuck in routine ways of living together. But there is no limit to the experiences you can have together once you give yourself permission to leave the safety of your routine! (See "Romance Rekindled" & "400 Creative Ways to Say I Love You" for some ideas!)
Back to communication. No matter how much time you spend together, you will never really get to know or relate to your spouse unless you learn to talk to each other. In every truly happy marriage the partners spend time just talking to each other! Because talking together in a relaxed way is usually the first thing to go when a marriage gets into trouble, we suggest the following ways to get it back in your marriage:
1. Couples must touch base often, daily if possible, in order to know "what's going on" with each other. We recommend a "Touch Base Time" of at least twenty minutes every evening to accomplish this. Touch Base Time should consist of two different kinds of talking, each of them critical. One kind without the other leaves a void.
The first kind of talking is chit-chat conversation. This is simply sharing the day's events with each other in a relaxed way: Who you saw, what you did, who called, possible future plans, etc. Spend at least half of Touch Base Time on this.
The other half of the time is spent really relating what is going on within you right now. Your spouse might know a lot about what you are doing, but not much at all about what you are thinking & feeling. You may share feelings, hopes, fears, joy & sorrow, but not facts.
2. If sharing feelings is difficult for you, begin slowly & use crutches. If you have trouble beginning to share, take turns completing the following sentences to each other.
--One thing I'd like you to know about me is...
--One thing I wish you understood about me is...
--One thing I wish I understood about you is...
--Sometimes I feel great when you...
--Sometimes I feel terrible when you...
--As I sit here listening to you...
--If the way I'm feeling was a song, it would be...
--If you could hear what I cannot say...
--One thing I am aware of about you is...
--One thing I imagine about you is...
--One thing I know about you that you aren't aware of is...
--One thing I love about our relationship is...
3. Fantasy questions are excellent. Take turns asking each other some of the following questions, then make up your own. The list is endless.
--If you had a million dollars how would you spend it?
--If you could be anyone in the World, who would it be?
--If you could live anywhere in the World for one year, where would it be?
--If you could live during any period in history, when would it be?
--If you could have three wishes granted, what would they be?
4. Consider making Touch Base Time a walk together after dinner. Did you ever notice it's almost impossible to do anything else while walking except talk? There will be no TV to watch, nothing to distract you, no phone to answer or bell to ring. Also the benefits to your health will be great!
Probably the most powerful form of communication in a marriage is physical, touching. Especially if you have trouble expressing your love verbally for your spouse, it's important to say it with your hands. Touching is a reassurance that "you are loved"--a reassurance that we all need. We are talking here about the little hugs & squeezes, the tender kiss, the arm around the shoulder, holding hands, a massage, snuggling, sitting close together, & gentle touches in passing.
A final word of warning. We mentioned before that all couples will experience cycles of times & closeness, plus times of distance. Probably all of us need more breathing room or separateness some times more than other times. Obviously, therefore, the intensity of the intimacy of your marriage will vary from time to time. Your goal is to have an ongoing intimate relationship, not one that is intimate & intense at all times. To expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment.
CHAPTER 10: THE SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP
Step 1--Increasing Your Knowledge About Sex
1. Quantity is usually more important for a man & quality is more important for a woman. If a husband gives his wife the kind of sexual experience she likes, the quantity of it might be less of a problem.
2. Approximately 80 percent of women never have orgasms during intercourse without additional clitoral stimulation. A man not willing to satisfy his wife manually will likely have a frustrated wife.
3. Women, however, are not always as concerned with orgasm as men. Some women don't desire orgasm every time, & feel pressured by their spouses to have one.
4. Afterplay is usually as important to women as foreplay. For most men, sex is over after orgasm.
5. Men are much more genitally oriented than women. Lovemaking for a woman means hugging & cuddling, plus kissing, caressing & stroking all parts of the body.
6. Sex & emotions are closely joined for women. Just as most women simply aren't interested in sex without love, most women don't want sex if they are angry or upset.
7. For many women, foreplay begins at breakfast! That means they want to be treated nicely & lovingly before it's time for sex. Seduction is not the same thing as arousal. Seduction needs to begin hours before arousal!
8. Men enjoy getting out of the aggressor role in sex from time to time. They like women to take an active role both in initiating sex & in bed.
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In a marriage counselor's office, most sexual complaints are about frequency. That's the surface complaint, but often a cover. A lot of times when people say they don't want sex, what they really mean is they want it, but differently. Before you proceed, discuss the following questions with your spouse until you begin to feel comfortable communicating about sex. This may often be difficult, but after a while you'll find you are more at ease discussing sex. You may discover that your sexual problems will simply take care of themselves as they are discussed.
1. Am I happy with the frequency of sex? What would I prefer?
2. Am I happy with who initiates sex? What would I prefer?
3. What would be the greatest sexual experience I could imagine?
4. Am I happy with the time of day we have sex? What would I prefer?
5. Would I prefer my partner to be more aggressive? Less? How?
6. What length of time would I like to be spent in foreplay?
7. What activities would I like in foreplay?
8. What length of time would I like to be spent in intercourse?
9. Am I happy with the frequency of my orgasms? My partner's?
10. Where do I like to be touched? Caressed?
11. Where do I not like to be touched? Caressed?
12. Where do I like to be kissed?
13. Where do I not like to be kissed?
14. What sexual activities would I like to try?
15. What sexual activities really turn me off?
16. What is the one thing I have the most difficulty discussing about our sex life?
CHAPTER 11: SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
1. Enjoy the simple pleasures again. A walk in the rain, lying before a blazing fire, watching the stars at night--these are the kinds of experiences that keep you in touch with yourself & your spouse.
2. Share the hard times, too. As important as it is to share the good times, we believe it's sharing the hard times that solidify your marriage. When the chips are down for your spouse, just be there. You don't need to offer advice, solutions, recriminations. Just be there!
3. Bring back the laughter & play. In the early days you & your spouse probably had lots of fun together: Doing silly things, playing affectionate word games, & just horsing around. Bring back the crazy nicknames, outrageous ways of kidding, playful banter, childlike activities, laughter. It works wonders!
4. Learn to like yourself. It's when we don't feel good about ourselves that we don't feel good about our marriages. Low self-esteem leads to fear of rejection, possessiveness, jealousy, insecurity, & inability to take the risk of being known to your spouse.
5. Learn to forgive. The inability to forgive has broken up more marriages than you can ever know. Forgiving is marriage's toughest work.
6. Speak of your spouse to others with love. Public affirmation of your spouse's good qualities will make him/her feel special & proud. Brag to other people about your spouse even if he/she is not around. The compliments will be even better when they get back to your spouse.
7. Learn to "reframe" your complaints. Put a picture in a new frame & it can look like a new picture. Put your complaints in a new frame & you may not recognize them anymore. Bus drivers are taught to think that annoying passengers could perhaps be sick or not feeling well. You can likewise "reframe" your problems with your spouse, if he or she is annoying. Qualities you like least in your spouse are often similar to those you like the best. You hate her stubbornness, but like her tenacity. Reframe her stubbornness as tenacity.
8. Hang in there. Just say "I will stay," maybe for the hundredth time. In every long-term successful marriage there is at least one partner who is saying, "I'm staying, no matter what comes. I married for better or worse, through thick & thin. This is for life." Don't make divorce just an unpleasant alternative: Make it a last resort.