1. Appreciate Your Differences
One of the most difficult aspects of a relationship is learning how differently your partner approaches life. Take a simple scenario: you may be a chronic “list maker”—without a written list, your productivity tanks. Your fiancé, on the other hand, hates lists and thinks they only add to the clutter. Neither of you is “right” per se—but you are definitely different. And once you’re living together the differences only seem to multiply—tooth paste on a dry toothbrush? folding t-shirts like that? Says Larry Compter, Executive Director of Compass Marriage and Relationship services, “Your way of doing some things will likely be very different from your partner’s way. Recognize that ‘different’ is not necessarily better or worse; it’s just different!” The key to success is time together and open communication. Differences can actually make each of you better individuals!
2. Don’t Make Assumptions
This advice dovetails off of number one, but many a fight could be spared if we didn’t assume the motives of the other person. When you feel yourself becoming frustrated, pause for a minute and ask yourself what you’re specifically upset about. Is it the action or the assumed motive? Remember, as much as you think you may know why they did what they did (or didn’t do), you actually don’t know. “Better to ask and talk about it, rather than jump to conclusions or indulge in negative interpretations of his or her words or actions,” Compter advises. You won’t know their reasoning unless you ask. Compter says it’s important to openly “share your expectations about everything, from what you’ll do on your honeymoon (yes, including that) to how you will spend holidays and where you will live when you retire. The more you talk about in advance, the smaller the likelihood of someone being disappointed, angry or frustrated because their expectations were not met.”
3. Avoid Absolutes
Experts agree—few things can be more damaging to a relationship than the use of absolutes. “‘Never’ and ‘always’ are dangerous words when preceded by the word ‘you’,” Compter explains. “They tend to come across as character judgments, such as ‘you always leave your clothes on the floor,’ [which] is heard as, ‘you’re a slob!’” When you start throwing absolute accusations at a partner, it can discourage them from even trying to improve. As Compter says, “People can change behavior—it’s more difficult to change our character.” The truth is that genuine change takes time, so be patient. Explain your frustration with more measured terms. Compter recommends a simple formula: “When you did [specific behavior], I felt [emotional effect].” Then talk through it together with openness and honesty!
4. Plan for Conflict
Conflict is part of the human experience, so don’t be surprised when it happens. As Compter warns, “If you don’t learn to manage the bad stuff, it will make it impossible to enjoy the good stuff.”
Stay mindful of why you love your partner and why you chose to marry them. Some couples have gone so far as to plan for conflict in very concrete ways. You can “get some training in Structured Dialogue or active listening” according to Compter. Planning ahead allows you to discuss conflict and how you each handle it before a larger problem arises. “Learn how and when to take a ‘time out’” says Compter. “But be sure there is also a ‘time in’ when you come back to the table and talk it through. Otherwise, you’re just avoiding the issue.”
Resources for a Healthy Marriage:
• www.betterlove.org—Compass Marriage & Relationship Services —a local source for relationship coaching and marriage enrichment
• www.smartmarriages.com—a great collection of healthy marriage programs and resources
• Fighting For Your Marriage, by Scott Stanley et al., an excellent book on communication and conflict resolution
• The Five Languages of Apology, by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas; learn how to say, “I’m sorry,” and how to forgive
• Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, by Bill and Pam Farrel; a wonderful and funny book about dealing with the differences between the sexes
By Jennifer Redmond0