Latest update: February 29th, 2012
The challenges that married couples face everyday can be quite complicated, not to mention filled with unique nuances. Issues of infidelity in one couple are different from issues of infidelity in another. Not all couples have the same definition for words like “neglect” or “trust.” One thing is for sure, you can’t place marital life in neat black and white categories.
But while issues put forward to marriage counselors are exclusive to the couple experiencing them, we can still distill principles that can be helpful in most, if not all cases. These principles can enrich a marriage and make it more resilient. At the very least, they can be areas for consideration and reflection.
The following are some basic marriage counseling advice. They may sound trite and cliché, but the more you apply them in your marriage, the more you’ll realize they actually make a lot of sense!
Communicate: If something is significant to you, say it — but say it responsibly. Getting your feelings and thoughts across to your partner is always better than bottling them up, and waiting for things to change. You don’t have to disclose everything, in fact, if you don’t feel comfortable about talking about a problem, then at least communicate that you don’t feel comfortable, and give your reasons why. There is nothing more stressful in a marriage than to have to second-guess what your partner needs.
More so, practice honesty as best as you can. Honesty in a relationship isn’t just about factual honesty. Rather, it is being authentic as to what is going on inside of you. If you are sad, then you are sad. If you’re upset, then you are upset. A healthy marriage allows the expression of these feelings without each partner feeling threatened.
Accept that stress is normal: It’s sad that many couples today file for divorce at the first sign of trouble. What is sadder still is that few of these couples know that stress in a marriage is not just normal and expected, but necessary if you want to grow in your relationship. The situation would be no different even if you change partners — as many people in second marriages probably know.
Change always bring stress, and throughout the different stages of marital life — from dating, to settling down, to raising a family — change will happen. As your family structure changes, so should you; adapting and learning new roles are parts of navigating the new seasons of married life. And while it’s sweet to tell your partner “promise me, you’ll never change,” the fact is that all people change. The needs, values and priorities of people in their 20s are different from those in their 40s; and you can’t expect your partner to always be as he or she was before.
What couples can do when stress happens is to understand where it’s coming from, and adapt accordingly. Marriages and families are like organizations; there are systems with rules and patterns of doing things. If a rule no longer works, it needs to be changed. If a pattern is unproductive, it needs to be broken. A couple who can adapt as they go through their marriage will be become better skilled to handle further, possibly greater, challenges.
Create chemistry. After a few years of marriage, many couples complain that they’ve lost that “spark,” and sadly find themselves no longer attracted to one another sexually, emotionally and even intellectually. They go to therapy expecting their counselor to hand them a magic pill that can bring it back. But while it’s true that chemistry is an unexplainable, naturally occurring phenomenon, it also needs work and deliberate effort to produce.
If you have found yourself settling into a routine, and taking your partner or relationship for granted, then it’s time for you and your spouse to shake things up a bit. Make time to try something different — go to a place you haven’t been to before, try an activity a friend recommends, slow down or speed up your pace of doing things. And don’t assume that you already know everything there is to know about your partner. Consider areas of discovery, and set aside time to uncover them.
Go for separate-togetherness. Some couples are threatened when their partner has an active social life, or has invested a significant part of himself or herself in a career. But, as long as time for the family isn’t sacrificed, there is nothing wrong with each partner continuing to develop as individuals — and indeed, having a life outside marriage. In fact, affirming your partner’s individuality and asserting your own are necessary in a marriage; not just for both of you to grow, but for your marriage to thrive. Marriage should be a secure base to explore yourself and what you can be, not a prison that stifles your personality.
Contrary to popular opinion, a healthy marriage is not based on knowing your spouse’s every move — both of you are entitled to keep things to yourself. As long as there is trust, respect and commitment, it’s okay to fully develop yourself and your marriage.
These basic principles can help many of us set the stage for a healthier relationship – both in the short and long term. With an open mind and heart, as well as the willingness to learn and adapt over the course of a relationship, couples who take advantage of counseling and its principles often find they’re able to overcome even the most formidable of relationship issues.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is an expert in marriage, pre-marriage education, and working with teenagers at risk. He is the executive director of Shalom Task Force and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. For an appointment or to watch his free video series on marriage and parenting, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com call 646-428-4723 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.shalomtaskforce.org or call the hotline at 1-888-883-2323.
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