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Marriage Advice: Eight Steps to Marital Harmony
The formula for marital harmony and success is not a mysterious secret. It's actually very straightforward.
The "behind the scenes" part is the constant work that's required to keep the channels of love and communication clear from obstruction. Diligent spouses consistently spend time and energy addressing issues as they come up so that anger and hurt feelings don't accumulate.
Spouses who want satisfying marriages also look for ways to keep their love strong, such as remembering to show affection and appreciation frequently. They know that the more they feel connected and bonded, the more motivated they will be to resolve problems and hang in there when things are difficult.
The following eight steps will guide you in looking at what you can do to increase your chances for creating a happy, harmonious marriage:
1. Work on yourself and your own issues that you brought with you into the marriage.
Many responses that you have to your spouse's actions are triggered by past events going back to your childhood. If one of your emotional wounds is feeling disrespected, then when your partner inadvertently does something that triggers those feelings, you'll experience an intense reaction. Individual counseling can help you to be more self-aware of what's behind your intense reactions and what you can do so that you don't over-react to issues in your marriage.
2. Avoid blaming your partner for problems in the marriage.
Blame only causes the other person to become defensive and angry, and it decreases the probability that the two of you can find a win-win solution to your problems. When you focus on blaming your spouse for what's happening in the marriage, you are planting seeds of resentment that can hurt the relationship. A marriage is composed of two people, and each contributes to the quality of the relationship and shares responsibility for it.
3. Be empathetic and put yourself in your partner's place when issues come up.
Really try to understand where your partner is coming from when you disagree or when your partner does something that you can't make sense of. Ask your spouse to talk about his or her feelings. Listen respectfully and ask your spouse to clarify points that you don't understand. Develop a curiosity for learning more about your spouse's feelings and take special care to create an emotionally safe environment for the discussions with your spouse.
4. Look for ways to make your partner's life easier and to show your love.
Many of the irritants and stressors in modern day life are the little things---the extra time it takes to pick up the cleaning on the way home from work or to put the clean dishes in the dishwasher away. When you see some errand or task that you can do to save your partner time, offer to do it.
Look for opportunities to give your spouse a few minutes to relax or have downtime. Watch for things you can do to pamper your partner when you can. It's often the little things that can make a big difference in marital happiness and satisfaction.
5. Express appreciation often and say form the habit of saying "thank you."
As months and years go by, many spouses take each other for granted and neglect to express appreciation or say "thank you" to each other. Numerous spouses complain that their partners only focus on what they do wrong and never compliment them.
It's sad to think that the one person who means the most to you might have to wonder whether or not you appreciate them. Let your spouse know how much he or she means to you on a frequent basis. Give compliments and praise freely, and express thanks for all that your partner does to enrich your life and marriage.
6. Apologize quickly and sincerely, taking responsibility for your part in whatever happens in the marriage.
The truth is that sometimes it's hard to say "I'm sorry." That's when it's time to remember the question, "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?"
Accept that things don't always make sense in a relationship and that confusion and misunderstandings can happen easily. It's a mark of maturity when you can say, "I'm so sorry for my part in what has happened between us."
7. Have interests, hobbies and activities in your life that you enjoy so you're not thrown off center so easily if you have a tiff or quarrel with your spouse.
It's important to have interests and activities of your own that are satisfying to you that can help to keep you balanced and anchored if other areas of your life are upsetting. That way, you can more easily regain a sense of perspective and be able to withstand the on-going stress.
For example, if you and your spouse are encountering some rocks along the relationship path, you could go on a long bike ride, go fishing with a friend, visit a museum, or read an interesting book. Those activities and interests can add pleasure to your life to help balance out the temporary problems in your marriage. You're always ahead of the game when you know some ways to lift your spirits.
8. Look for fun activities and bonding experiences to share with your mate.
Be on the lookout for activities that could be fun for you and your spouse to do together. Search the local newspaper for plays, concerts, new movies, museum exhibits, neighborhood fairs and festivals, and new restaurants that are advertised. Laughter and having fun is bonding and can help to create those "Kodak moments" that are so delightful.
Also look for activities that represent causes you and your spouse believe in, such as spending a Saturday helping a local charity with a garage sale or volunteering together at a local soup kitchen. These experiences can serve to remind you of what you have in common with your spouse and of how good it feels to be working in unison with a shared purpose.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.
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