Making Your Marriage Work: Part 2

by Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.

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Link to Part 1

Psychologist, Dr. Judith S. Wallerstein, co-author of The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, identified nine "psychological tasks" as the pillars on which any marital relationship rests:

  1. Separate emotionally from one's childhood so as to invest fully in the marriage and, at the same time, to redefine the lines of connection with both families of origin.
  2. Build togetherness based on mutual identification, shared intimacy and an expanded conscience that includes both partners, while at the same time setting boundaries to protect each partner's autonomy.
  3. Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and to protect it from the incursions of the workplace and family obligations; it is the second part of this task which must not be overlooked or taken for granted.
  4. (For couples with children) Embrace the daunting roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of Her Majesty the Baby's dramatic entrance into the marriage. At the same time the couple must continue the work of protecting their own privacy.
  5. Confront and master the inevitable crises of life and maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity and create a safe haven within the marriage for the expression of difference, anger and conflict.
  6. Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
  7. Provide nurturance and comfort to each other, satisfying each partner's need for dependency and offer continuing encouragement and support.
  8. Keep alive the romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.

Communication Skills

Being able to communicate is one of the greatest assets in any relationship. Being able to articulate your thoughts and being certain that the listener understands what you wish to say take considerable practice. Often we believe we are saying one thing, while the listener is hearing something entirely different. The listener often is responding to either what they believed you to say or their own interpretation. Communication requires both good transmission skills (articulation) and good receptive skills (listening). Without both, communication will be at best difficult. The next time you want to discuss something important with your spouse, follow the following steps:

  1. Arrange for a convenient meeting time rather than trying to have a discussion on the fly when it is likely to be interrupted.
  2. Find a "talking stick" (any small object will do). So long as one person is hold the stick, that person also holds the floor. Once the stick is passed, it becomes the other person's time to talk. This technique prevents interruptions.
  3. Express your point, and then, passing the stick, ask your spouse to repeat what you said so that you can be certain that you were at least heard. If your partner is not able to repeat what you said or you do not feel understood, repeat your point until you are satisfied.
  4. The listener's job during this exercise is to be certain you understand and communicate that understanding to your spouse before you comment on the content of what you are being told.
  5. Once your partner feels heard, then it becomes your turn to comment and be heard.
  6. Continue this process until resolution, passing the "talking stick" and alternately being in the role of transmitter and receiver.

This approach, often referred to as "active listening," once learned can prevent misunderstandings and serve to keep emotions under control. It is difficult to react emotionally if you are truly listening and have to communicate understanding before you get a chance to react.Part 3 of this series, Making Your Marriage Work, offers additional techniques and suggestions for increasing the probability of maintaining a long-term intimate relationship.

Link to Part 3

5/29/98

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Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Marriage, Family, & Child Therapist, Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Group Psychotherapist. He practices individual, group, marital and sex therapy, career counseling and divorce mediation in Santa Monica, CA. His book, Someone Right For You, is available through the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

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