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The Business of Marriage

How we connect with others, both vocationally and personally, is ever evolving. For most of us, though, our principal relationship is with a spouse or significant other. The strength of that relationship depends, in large measure, on how we understand the other — and ourselves.

The courtship phase — always one of the most fun — is filled with lots of promises: romance, intimacy and a future full of love and partnership. But what happens when the honeymoon is over? Do you and your partner have the tools to make it through the long haul?

After the first year of marriage, chock-a-block with congratulations and unsolicited advice from friends and strangers alike, the honeymoon phase starts to wane as real life kicks in. Get ready — because now is when marriage really begins.

To figure out if you and your betrothed have the right tools to navigate through the unpredictable waters of marriage, let’s take a look at some of the big reasons why couples have problems. Generally, couples seek therapy, or face separation, due to problems involving communication, finances, sex and parenting kids.

The big deal breakers tend to involve issues relating to addiction, infidelity and abuse (physical and/or mental). So, no one told you that being married was going to be this hard? Guess what? It takes a lot of work to make a marriage successful. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising why the divorce rate is so high. The concept of working on a marriage (or partnership) is exactly that — work!

In my practice, I’ve found the No. 1 reason most relationships fail is a breakdown of the relationship’s cornerstone: communication. While that may not sound surprising, the question newlyweds should ask themselves is how to avoid getting trapped in a pattern of poor communication, which inevitably leads to marital discord.

First, be honest. Be honest with yourself about what you really want out of the relationship. Having unrealistic expectations of yourself and your partner isn’t going to do anyone any favors.

Here is an example: If you expect there will always be time for a “girls’ night out,” set the expectation early. Let your partner know that time spent with friends is important to you — and for your relationship with him. If he understands your needs early on, there shouldn’t be a fight about it later.

Second, develop good coping skills. This can be a little tricky because coping skills are learned early on; but, if you don’t have them, they can be learned. Simply stated, a coping skill is a way of dealing, and it needs to be tweaked from time to time.

If your first instinct is to become defensive when your partner tells you something that you perceive is negative or critical, try not to “react.” Instead, take it in and process what your partner is saying. Try and understand his or her thought — and the courage it takes for sharing it with you. Of course, it sounds easier than it is in practice.

Last, be your own advocate. Say what it is you need and want in the relationship. Believe it or not, our partners are not mind readers. (I know, I thought mine was, too!) We have to ask for what we need and not expect to get it any other way.

Here is the bottom line: It all comes back to communication. Don’t expect that you and your spouse won’t fight; that’s not realistic. It’s how you fight that’s important. Remember: Fight fair. No name calling, and, if you can, sprinkle in a “honey” or “sweetie” to soften the blows.

It takes years to master a healthy, meaningful sense of self; it takes a lifetime to build a strong marriage. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint, and the work you put in is the reward you get out!



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