Top Five Techniques to Strengthen Your Marriage
Nov 10, 2008 Authored by: Julie Fay
Acceptance, generosity and adult conversation aren’t extras in a marriage. They’re essential tools to keep partners focused on one another.
Married couples need to honor one another in order to keep their bond strong. John Kaplan, LICSW, is a Boston-area social worker focusing on helping couples improve and strengthen their relationships. John and his wife, Gail, LMHC, a nurse and mental health counselor, are the co-directors of Marriage Labs, a psycho-educational program for couples. According to the Kaplans, five tips for a strong marriage involve acceptance of one another’s differences and making conscious choices about how to relate to one another.
1. You Can Only Change Yourself
“Most people (in couples therapy) want to talk about how awful the other person is,” said Gail in a November 2008 interview at the Marriage Labs office. “They expect that the other person should change. We tell them to focus on themselves.”
She suggests that each member of the couple write down three things to do differently in order to improve the relationship. Simple changes, such as choosing not to nag your partner about a persistent annoyance, can make a big difference.
2. Differentiation in Marriage Is Key
Relationships are made of individuals, with their unique personalities, backgrounds and habits. But people sometimes complain about their partner’s differences, leading to hurt feelings and simmering resentment.
“It’s the error of assumed similarity,” said John, in the same November 2008 interview. “We make the mistake that because I like this, you like this. Couples do this, particularly with sex, all the time.”
The key is to not only recognize your partner’s differences, but to love him or her for who he or she is. “Stop looking for what is not there and love what is there,” said Gail. For example, instead of being annoyed because your partner is always late, compliment him or her on something done well. Do not focus on the negative.
3. Listen to Your Partner
No one knows you better than your partner. If he or she says that you engage in a particular behavior (complaining, gossiping, snoring) at least consider the possibility.
“Don’t get defensive,” said John. “You married your partner for a reason and (your partner has) something to offer you.”
Listening to each other also provides a couple with a system of checks and balances, according to the Kaplans. Opposites attract, and each person in the relationship offers the other the opportunity to grow in the very ways that are most needed. By holding each other accountable, couples have the opportunity to receive feedback from the people they know and trust the most.
4. Avoid Competition in Marriage
Couples often get into competition over who has the better deal, but a competitive attitude can damage a relationship, said Gail. Rather than argue over who gets to do more, think about the relationship as a whole.
“It’s important to develop compassion and empathy for your partner,” said Gail. “Acknowledge the other; you can always find good in the other person.”
John said an important tool to help develop empathy is to think about your partner’s family of origin. Sometimes it’s easier to understand why someone is frugal, for example, knowing that he or she grew up poor or in a household where the parents always fought about finances.
5. Create a Conscious Relationship
“People fall into roles unconsciously,” said John, “but you can make decisions to change, even about something as simple as who always takes out the trash. So much of what goes on is unconscious; look instead at the possibilities that exist in the relationship.”
It’s important to talk with each other about what kind of relationship you both want. Changing typical patterns of communication to a more adult conversational model helps partners take responsibility for themselves, and ultimately, helps couples learn and grow together.
Source: Interview with John Kaplan, LICSW, and Gail Kaplan, LMHC, Marriage Labs, Canton, Massachusetts, November 7, 2008