Happily ever after
During their engagement, Malka and Avi felt a bond and ease with one another. Under the chuppah, they radiated with joy and hopes for the future.
Years have passed and now they sadly wonder, “Where did my best friend go? Why do we argue so much? I feel so hurt and misunderstood. How can I get my best friend back?”
Marriages gone astray share common elements. They tend to feature criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness and, most damaging of all: contempt.
“You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
A much more positive way to convey the same message would be to say: “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight. Would you please ask me about my day?”
For Malka and Avi to reignite their love, they need to talk about their feelings using “I” statements, and then express a positive need such as a hope, a wish or a desire.
“I feel I would be happier if you came home earlier”
“I need a little bit of space right now”
Malka says: “If you could only control your drinking at the Shul Kiddush…” Avi’s course of action is to remain silent and avoid eye contact, as if Malka didn’t say anything or isn’t even there.
This tactic by Avi is actually even worse for their relationship than lashing back at Malka’s criticism. A better approach would be to say something along the lines of, “I can see that you are upset. Let’s set a time to talk about this later.”
Avi: “It’s not my fault that we are always late.” Malka could defuse this situation by responding: “Well, part of this is my problem. I think I need to be more cognizant of time.” This is helpful because Malka is essentially telling Avi that she is willing to take some of the responsibility off his shoulders.
The most damaging marital habit of all, is conveying disgust at one’s partner through the use of sarcasm, name calling, eye rolling, or hostile humor. It looks like this:
Malka: “Will you help me wash the dishes?” Avi shoots back, “I will help you when I can. I won’t give you a blanket guarantee for life. What are you going to do: sue me? (laughs)”
How can Malka and Avi become best friends again?
They need to increase the positivity in their relationship. A leader in the field of couples therapy, Sue Johnson writes in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that we all need to enhance our secure attachments to each other. We do this by paying attention to each other, responding to each other’s bids for emotional connection and affirming each other through kind and supportive words. Other ways to reinforce the relationship is by spending quality time with each other, giving special gifts to each other, helping each other without waiting to be asked, and showing physical affection towards each other.
The necessary components for attachment, bonding, and safe emotional connections are represented by the acronym A.R.E.
A = Accessibility. Can I reach you?
R = Responsiveness. Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
E = Engagement. Do I know you will value me?
Another way for spouses to strengthen their friendship is by adhering to this checklist:
1) Become intimately familiar with each other’s world. This means make each other a priority, find time to go out and talk, and know each other’s aspirations.
2) Nurture your fondness and admiration for one another. This can be done by scanning for the positives and showing appreciation at every opportunity. A great exercise is to list the three things you most admire about each other.
3) Defend each other. Make it a habit to take your spouse’s side in arguments even if you think your spouse is wrong.
4) Keep things positive. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
5) Manage conflict. Be sure to raise sensitive issues softly and gently. The goal is not to get the other person to agree with you; it is to get closer through understanding the other partner’s feelings and motivations.
6) Become a dream detective. This is done by acknowledging and responding to each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams and making your partner feel safe enough to let you in. A marriage is like a palace of 1,000 rooms, each representing another aspect of the relationship. It is very beneficial to keep as many of the doors to these rooms as possible unlocked, but this can only happen when both partners feel safe.
Summing it up. It Doesn’t take a lot of time
With just a little bit a thoughtfulness, you can improve your marriage every day.
1) Make sure that before you say goodbye in the morning, you know one thing that is happening in your spouse’s life that day–2 minutes x 5 days a week
2) Engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each work day–20 minute x 5 days a week
3) Admiration and appreciation–5 minutes x 7 days a week
4) Affection–5 minutes x 7 days a week
5) Weekly date–1 hour or more x 1 time a week
What are your thoughts? What has worked to improve your marriage. Share your comments, questions and advice below.