One of the biggest news stories over the last few weeks has been the breakup and divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. While much of the public is fascinated by celebrity breakups (among all other celebrity news), the fact is divorce is real and damages families every day.
Looking at divorce rates can be tricky. Despite the old adage that “50% of all marriages end in divorce”, marriages are lasting longer and in fact per statistics from the CDC, the divorce rate has actually declined over the past 20 years. There are numerous factors that are contributing to this decline. Overall, people are marrying later in life when individuals are established both professionally and financially. Regardless of the statistics, divorce is a difficult and challenging struggle for many couples. As a therapist, I deal with relationship issues daily. A pattern almost always emerges that includes an erosion of communication and “together time”. There are many factors that contribute to this erosion including jobs, kids, responsibilities and focusing on the family as a whole rather than on your partner as an individual.
Let’s face it. Living with anyone can be a challenge. I had an awful experience with a roommate my freshman year in college and believe me, it was difficult to manage. I am going to share with you some proven techniques that will enhance your relationship with your partner and may very well save your marriage or relationship.
1. Focus on Yourself Now this may sound counter intuitive. The bottom line is that you have no control over someone else. I see many couples who spend countless hours pointing out their partners’ flaws, shortcomings and failures in an attempt to change or control them. This only serves to further damage the relationship. The most effective way to change a relationship is to change yourself. Now I know what you may be thinking: “Why should I have to change?” The simplest answer is that if you want the relationship to change, you must do something different than you have been doing. It is difficult to take the high road especially if you feel your partner is to blame for much of the conflict. Put blame away and make it your mission to become a better, more supportive and positive partner. You will be surprised at the results.
2. Increase Communication Now I know this sounds like a trite and cliché suggestion. Most marriages disintegrate because the communication between two people has broken down or in some cases disappeared altogether. Make it a point and a priority to spend alone time together away from family, phones, and work. Schedule it if you have to. This is a must for building a strong relationship. Be sure the alone time you spend together allows you to talk to each other. For example, movies are fun but not the best activity when you want to communicate. Talking does not always have to be “deep and meaningful”. Just being together and talking will help re-establish that bond and connection with each other.
3. Don’t Sling Mud I have a rule when I am working with couples for counseling. That rule is “no negative talk”. When I see a couple for the first time, I let them loose to say whatever it is that is on their mind. One hundred percent of the time it is negative talk and complaints. I usually let that go on for 10 minutes or so and then point out that every time this happens, it takes your relationship further into disrepair. There is a huge difference between being critical and being constructive. You have differences with your partner. That is natural and to be expected. It is how you talk about those differences that will make permanent and lasting change. We have built in defense mechanisms that kick in when we feel criticized or put down. Almost always, that defense mechanism is anger. Anger is our control emotion. When we feel like we are not being heard or not in control, anger is the emotion that tries to take the control back. When anger takes over, constructive conversation becomes impossible. In fact, most of the time when we respond in anger, it is another emotion that is driving it (sadness, frustration, embarrassment). Because these emotions are considered the “weak” emotions, it is very difficult to express those emotions and make yourself vulnerable. If you are able to verbalize the real emotion you are feeling, it will give your partner a greater understanding of how his/her actions are affecting you.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice. If your partner has hurt you, you have every right to feel angry, embarrassed, ashamed and alone. However, holding on to those emotions will make it impossible to move forward in the relationship. We use past mistakes or transgressions as ammunition to make the other person “pay”. You must give up that ammunition. It is right and healthy to expect an apology. If the apology is sincere, it makes no sense to hold on to the negative feelings that will continue to hurt you. Stop playing the movie of past transgressions in your head. Replaying that movie over and over again will only keep you angry. Forgiveness while a decision, also takes time. Once you decide to forgive your partner, it will not be an overnight transformation. You must continue to forgive and over time, you will find yourself in a much better place mentally and emotionally.
There are proven physical and mental benefits of laughter including a reduction of stress and tension. It is difficult to be angry with someone you are laughing with. Most couples have that unspoken connection when you respond to an event or situation with laughter, without having to say a word. It is often a “private joke” or something you shared together in the past. Laughter helps connect us. Humor helps us cope. I have been a therapist for over 25 years. The couples that I work with who have a sense of humor are much more likely to succeed in their relationships. Laughter fosters a sense of playfulness and shared abandon. Laugher forges a positive bond. Laugh with your partner. You will both be happy you did!
About The Author
David R. Wright MA, LPC, NCC is a Licensed Professional Counselor. He is the owner and Clinical Director of Counseling and Therapy Associates located in Taylor, MI. Mr. Wright is also a Certified Hypnotist. He works with hypnotist Richard Barker and uses hypnosis clinically for smoking cessation, weight loss, anxiety and a myriad of other issues. He also performs comedy hypnosis stage shows as The Motor City Hypnotist.