Six Ways to Avoid Marriage Counseling
“All marriages are happy. It's the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.” – Raymond Hull
Pessimism and irony aside, the simple truth of this quote is that it often ends up being a summary explanation of why some couples end up in marriage counseling. Sometimes the problems are dramatic, but much of the time they tend to occur because relationships can drift over time, whether that lack of focus is due to compatibility issues, the ongoing demands of daily life or external influences.
But it is possible to get back on track without outside help. Here are six tips to help avoid marriage counseling by rebuilding the foundation that makes relationships strong.
1 Avoid the shutdown syndrome. When hard times come to a relationship, there's a tendency for one partner to withdraw and stop participating. This kind of “silent treatment” is deadly to a healthy marriage, because when dialogue ends, any chance of progress dies with it, and other issues begin to multiply exponentially. The first step in solving any problem is to identify it, and this needs to happen for both partners so that the process doesn't devolve into accusations. One quick hint here: studies show that in 85 percent of all marriages, the person who withdraws is the man.
2 Know Thy Partner. How well do you really know the person sharing your bed and your life? Studies show that in long-lasting marriages, partners usually know a great deal about one another, including friendships, habits and other quirks and foibles. Think back in time: When you first met your spouse, you couldn't find out enough about each other, and every detail was fascinating. If you've lost track of a lot of those small details, this is one area where you can refocus to get things flowing again.
3 Restore the Romance. Chances are you won't be able to go back in time to the early days of your relationship when the two of you were pawing at each other like eager teenagers, but one of the subtle oxymorons of married life is that maintaining romance takes a certain amount of work. That means weekly dates, lots of touching and knowing the romantic preferences of your spouse. It also means consistently doing things, both small and large, to show that awareness.
4 Keep It Clean. Most people wouldn't think of going off on a profane rant in casual conversation. But some of those same folks occasionally fight dirty when it comes to disputes with a partner, using sarcasm, subtle insults and hostile humor to “win” the battle. Over time these tendencies can become habitual, and if this is happening to you, its a clear sign that it's time to prune the language garden. Toxic words lead to damaged relationships, and establishing some clear rules about communication style and what can and can't be said is one of the best forms of self-maintenance available.
5 Boundaries. When it comes to staying out of the counselor's office and in a healthy marriage, boundaries are essential. A few quick examples: Do you have an intrusive family? Does your spouse? Set some clear rules about how often they can have access, and make your expectations about the quality of that access perfectly clear (e.g., no sabotage allowed!). Those same rules apply to friends, co-workers and anyone else with access to your inner sanctum – they should know what's out of bounds and why, and there should be clear consequences of what will happen if those boundaries are violated.
6 Come Up With a "Happiness Plan." One of the myths of a healthy marriage is that it takes endless amounts of time to keep a marriage happy and keep things on track. In fact, though, the opposite is true – studies show that in most good long-term marriages and relationships, couples spend less than a half-dozen hours a week “working” on each other. The trick here is that those hours consist of quality time based on a plan for marital happiness that covers all the aforementioned issues.
There are different ways to formulate this kind of plan, but one of the best is to consult an expert. One excellent resource for this is Dr. Dana here at StrongMarriageNow. She teaches couples to be happily married by focusing on different areas and categories, such as communication, resolving conflict, forgiveness and trust. There are videos, blog posts and articles in each of these areas that can help every couple come up with their own individual plan.
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com