Making Your Marriage Work: Part 3

by Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.

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Link to Part 2

You can improve or beat the odds of having your relationship or marriage end in dissolution. With practice and patience you can become a world-class partner. These additional suggestions and techniques for improving your relationship based on over three decades of working with couples in clinical practice.

Be Realistic. Couples often go into marriage with idealistic notions of what marriage is all about. These ideas are handed down from generation to generation or gleaned from popular magazines, TV shows, or simply conjured from their own fantasies of what they would like. Each individual should make clear what their explicit and implicit expectations are and clarify these expectations such that they are clearly understood by one another. Where there are discrepancies, a mutually satisfying compromise must be reached.

Do Not Take One Another For Granted. This can be a killer for a relationship. It usually occurs sometime after the honeymoon period. When our partner feels taken for granted, not respected or acknowledged, and feels that others are a higher priority than him/herself, resentment brews. A regular "state of the union" check-in with your spouse as to how s/he is feeling about the relationship can help avert resentment build-up.

Regular Meetings. There are two types of meetings that can facilitate communication: a business meeting and a date night. Couples often find that scheduling regular business meetings, just as one would do in a business partnership, to discuss the business of the marriage is helpful and indicates that the marriage is a high priority in their life. Date night is one evening each week set aside for the purpose of emotional connecting. No business matters are discussed. Each partner takes responsibility on alternative weeks for planning the date, just as they might have done during courtship. Dates do not have to be elaborate events. A picnic on the bedroom floor or at the park at sunset can be every bit as romantic as a $100 dinner.

Keep the Romance Alive. Maintaining the romance in a relationship is vital to the vibrancy of the relationship. Once folks marry they often become quite lax in this department. They allow business, chores, and children to get the way of their romantic life. In a busy life, especially if there are children, it takes considerable effort to maintain romance. But it is worth it. It takes planning, creativity and commitment.

Develop Sexual Skills. People believe that having sex is just "doing what comes naturally." Believing this is like thinking that world-class ballroom dancers are simply born -- no rehearsals, no practice, no innovation, no experimentation, and no mistakes. No one would believe that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did not practice in order to be graceful as they appeared on screen. The same holds true for sexual activity in the bedroom. Good lovers are made, not born. Many times men and women believe that somehow the man is supposed to "know" what to do and be good at it. Fearing failure, they do only what is tried and true. One of the most common problems that couples have is the lack of innovation. Sex becomes boring. Such predictability can lead to staleness and apathy. Communication about sexuality, and the willingness to experiment will keep the bedroom activities exciting, interesting and fun.

Be Complimentary. It costs nothing to compliment your partner and it sure feels good to receive them. We are often chary about paying compliments to our mates, letting them know that we think they are pretty/handsome, smart, clever, well-dressed, kind, a good parent, etc. We do not have to wait until some occasion when we purchase a greeting card to let our mates know that we think they are special.

Show Appreciation. Another small thing that feels good. Thanking your partner for making dinner or taking out the trash, picking up clothes from the dry-cleaners, and in general letting him/her know that s/he is appreciated can go along way in creating a caring environment. Couples are very quick to criticize one another when chores do not get done, but they are very remiss when it comes to showing appreciation.

As you can see from the foregoing, maintaining a contemporary marriage is no easy task. It requires hard work. To think that a successful marriage -- that is a relationship between two people that is fulfilling, enhancing of one's sense of self-esteem, emotionally gratifying, nurturing, and supportive -- can be achieved by merely living under the same roof without investing effort and time, would be naive thinking. Some individuals believe that marriage should be easy, and if it is not, they think something is wrong.

Marriage, like any other worthwhile endeavor, requires patience and practice. When there is difficulty, it may require outside help. Just as a business may require a consultant, so too might a marriage. Today's relationships are complex and dynamic entities that become even more complex as children enter the picture. For then there are additional dynamics that must be incorporated into the mix. Maintaining a long term relationship is one of our most significant challenges.

Link to Part 1

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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