Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Rebuilding Your Marriage


Why is this article titled "rebuilding your marriage?" Most marriages start on a positive note: love, romance, honeymoon, settling down. When asked, newlyweds rate the possibility of divorce for their marriage as 10%, blissfully ignoring the statistical fact that half of all marriages end in divorce. This article is intended for the mature marriage which needs to survive the most common stresses of marriage life. Whenever the romantic and new love phases of the relationship to his one to fade, the couple may take the marriage for granted or the marriage may become mired in conflict related to the common challenges to a marriage: finances, sex, parenting, housework chores, in-laws.

The previous article "How-to Argue and Stay Married!!" described a positive approach to marital problem-solving communication. This article adds more information for the couple wishing to improve or even save their marriage. It's important not to take marriage for granted but instead see it as a valuable asset to be cherished and protected. Research has found that couples in a supportive marriage enjoy more happiness, good health and longevity than others. But note that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. A good marriage will be one in which the partners have developed coping strategies to deal with the inevitable problems and conflicts encountered when two people live together in this complicated world.

A good marriage is built upon a foundation of affection and friendship. Positive experiences together as a couple can counteract the destructive effects of the inevitable conflicts of daily life. Research has found that couples need five or more positive experiences to counteract every negative interaction. The argument or problematic interaction can be very negative as long as the couple has a marriage "bank" of positive experiences to counteract their conflicts. Any positive interaction qualifies as savings for this "bank," including experiences as diverse as a kiss or a love pat, talking together about experiences, even sharing tasks. When a couple has difficulty finding time for each other, a date night is a great investment in having fun and deepening the relationship.

As a marriage counselor, I've noticed that couples in conflict sometimes have difficulty following this advice. They don't have energy or enthusiasm for strengthening the positive aspects of their marriage until the negativity can be dispelled. When anger has built up between the couple and problems remained unsolved, even the date nights may end in angry words or tears. At these times additional conflict resolution skills are needed to help resolve the impasse and rebuild the marriage. When following the tips provided in the previous article, the couple also might try a strategy of treating their spouse with the same polite respect as they would a stranger or with the love and admiration they would feel for at trusted friend. When both spouses adopt this point of view, the destructiveness of the arguments may dissipate. Research has shown that criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are usually fatal to a marriage. Instead, when words are chosen carefully, both spouses may be able to listen to each other empathetically and no one will save or lose face. It is especially important to resolve arguments quickly or take a break or time-out to allow tempers to cool before the discussion is resumed. Techniques such as using humor, diversions, proposing compromises, self-soothing, calming or soothing your spouse, discussing feelings, all may help dissipate anger and allow positive interactions to resume. When marriage problems cannot be resolved using a problem-solving approach, the couple can develop new find ways to live with the problems with minimal rather than maximal conflict. All marriages have some problems which cannot really be resolved by compromise, perhaps differences due to personalities, ages, jobs or long-term goals. These problems may always be issues in the marriage, but the couple can learn to talk about these issues and move on without hurting each other. Time and attention paid to marriage problems will help the couple rebuild their marriage as well as prevent more serious difficulties in the future.