From the Family Foundations archives
There’s a lot of confusion about what separates happy couples from unhappy couples. For instance, you might be surprised to know that happy couples argue about as often as unhappy couples and are about as good at solving problems! The real difference between marriage masters and marriage disasters is that happy couples work hard to take care of each other even when they’re arguing. Likewise, happy couples do a better job attending to both their relationship and their own emotional health when they are not in conflict.
Research shows that marriage masters practice eight habits that can be learned by any couple regardless of their background. We know now that if a couple is willing to do the work to learn and practice these eight habits, virtually any marriage can be saved. Do you and your spouse already practice these eight habits that can help you get the most out of your marriage? Take a look.
1. Rituals of connection
Happy couples have regular rituals for working, playing, talking and praying together. They carve out time each day to make sure they do something related to these four categories. Rituals of connection form the skeleton of the relationship. These rituals guarantee that the couple will prioritize their relationship and have the time they need to share experiences, relate on a deeper level to each other, and build a shared life together.
Ask yourself: do you and your spouse have regularly scheduled — daily and weekly — appointments where you are expected to meet to work, play, talk and pray together?
2. Emotional rapport and benevolence
Happy couples make a point of being intentional about looking for ways to make each other’s day a little easier or more pleasant. They turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and actively look for ways to lighten each other’s burden even when they don’t feel like it.
Ask yourself: Do you and your spouse actively look for little ways to make a positive difference in the quality of each other’s day?
Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures. They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they know what to do to get themselves back to a calm and empathetic mindset so that the next round of discussions will go better. They don’t blame their partner for their own emotional reactions. Instead, they learn from the times they lose it and figure out how to do better the next time.
Ask yourself: Are you and your spouse good at taking responsibility for your own emotions (instead of resorting to blaming or tantrums)? Do you and your spouse have safe, comfortable and productive disagreements?
4. A positive intention frame
Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding. They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive. They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful ways to meet that need or intention.
Ask yourself: Are you and your spouse good at giving each other the benefit of the doubt without excusing slights or offenses?
5. Caretaking in conflict
Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem. The most important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that you can solve the problem together. Happy couples work to make sure each knows the other’s concerns are important. They also look for ways to reassure each other that they can get through any difficulties as long as they stick together.
Ask yourself: Do you and your spouse actively look for ways to encourage and support each other through disagreements and towards solutions.
6. Mutual respect, accountability and boundaries
Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner; it is enough that it is important. They accept each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.
Ask yourself: Are you and your spouse eager to learn from each other in every part of your marriage? Do you work hard to appreciate the things that are important or meaningful to your mate even if they aren’t really important or meaningful to you?
7. Reviewing and learning from mistakes
Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements. They are able to go back over arguments and offenses in a way that helps them learn to do better next time. They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what really happened last time. They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.
Ask yourself: Can you and your spouse productively return to an argument or disagreement without feeling like you are dragging up old wounds?
8. Seeking healthy support
Happy couples know when they need to learn new skills and they know where to turn for appropriate support. They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases. They look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it ether from mature couples who know and love them both or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.
Ask yourself: Do you and your spouse regularly take time to learn new skills to strengthen your marriage? Do you have good places to turn for support if you and your spouse were having difficulties?
How’d you do?
Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. If you would like to learn how to heal or strengthen your relationship by cultivating these skills, check out When Divorce is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love. You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you know it can be.
— Dr. Greg Popcak is and author and founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.
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