October 19, 2016

Beyond Romantic Myths: 9 Tips for Getting real about what it takes to have a great marriage

I recently listened to a fascinating program on Diane Rehm’s show  about what we know about love, attraction and what makes a great marriage. Here nine tips which express the current consensus of what it takes to have a great marriage: *

1. Takes some time before you marry. Your brain isn't fully developed until the age of 25 and research shows that the older one is when s/he marries, the happier the marriage will be.

2. Toss out the romantic myths.  Love is not fundamentally an erotic or romantic  feeling. It is a mature concern and desire for the wellbeing of your mate. ( Just like Paul said in Corinthians 13) .

3. Develop Realistic Expectations. There is no "perfect" person or perfect relationship. Great relationships may also have serious problems.  Thus, the key to having a great marriage is not about finding the “right” person or expecting that that a great relationship should be problem free.  It is important to understand that not only is no one perfect but … everyone has emotional wounds which complicate and make intimate relations difficult.

4. Become aware of each other’s unreasonable reactions. A major source of marital discord is the clashing of unconscious and exaggerated reactions which come about in the wake of frustration or disappointment. These irrational responses were formed in the wake of trauma, usually in childhood. As such, it is necessary to identify them and understand how they are triggered.  

A mutual understanding and acceptance of each other’s history of emotional wounds and the relational distortions that these wounds have created (e.g. difficulty trusting, forgiving or controlling destructive impulses) can go a long way in preventing irrational and unpleasant confrontations.

5. Replace emotional reactions with reasonable responses. What make a relationship satisfying and durable is knowing how to and then being able to deal with intense emotional problems in a constructive and reasonable way.  

6. Great relationships are not natural and do not just happen.  Thus it is vital for couples to reach a mutual understanding of each other’s issues requires effort.  Specifically, the work which needs to be done involves increasing empathy and acceptance of your own and your partner’s struggles.

7. Make a commitment to healing each other’s childhood wounds,( i.e. to understanding the perceptional and response distortions created by past trauma) and to gaining a wider perspective and awareness of how each other’s unresolved issues create conflict between them.

8. Learn fundamental communication and impulse control skills In addition to consciousness raising, each partner must learn some basic skills such as how to empathically listen and to speak clearly and directly. Also both must develop the ability to control destructive/ emotional impulses such as anger or the need to control. Dysfunctional reactions must be replaced them with constructive / reasonable responses.

9. Finally, it is important to understand that love and intimacy is not a fixed or static thing. If the effort is made, love and intimacy grow throughout your life together.  If necessary, marital therapy can help not only those couples whose relationships are in trouble but also those who want to improve the level of their marital satisfaction.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.      10 18 2016

* With acknowledgment for image to: http://www.goodmorningquote.com/sweet-love-words-romantic-images/

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