Regardless of the number of years one has been in a marriage, the key factors are to understand the reasons to be in therapy and the willingness to foster a stronger commitment in the relationship.
What makes a happy married life?
What one needs to focus on is respect for each other’s opinion. Both should listen to each other with an open mind and understand the other person, avoiding any unnecessary argument. The point is not to win an argument but to solve the problem. Discussing is a good way and this also gives you the chance to explain yourself if you feel you have been misunderstood. And one should always forgive.
Advice to couples at an earlier stage (less than two years) and at a later stage (say 15-20 years) of marriage
Regardless of the number of years one has been in a marriage, the key factors are to understand the reasons to be in therapy and the willingness to foster a stronger commitment in the relationship. We advise couples to improve communication; respect each other’s needs; and take ownership and responsibility for issues affecting the relationship. Also, they need to be ready to compromise and express appreciation.
What should couples think about and ask each other before marriage?
They should understand their level of tolerance, which is essential in making a marriage work. It is important to understand it is you and how you treat your partner that makes a marriage happy. Marriage requires maintenance and, therefore, a lot of effort from both.
When do we advise separation?
It is not up to the therapist to recommend separation. It is the decision of the couple. The therapist’s role is to process the couple’s emotions and thoughts and guide them towards making the right decision. We encourage the couple to ask themselves the following questions before they take a decision:
- Do you have positive thoughts about your spouse?
- Have you ever made a commitment to get through the good and the bad together?
- Have you tried to share your lives cooperatively?
- Have you made an attempt at negotiating any difference of opinion you may have had?
- Does your partner come before everyone else — a sign that you are taking the responsibility of your partner?
- Have you spent enough time together, focusing on your relationship and on each other?
- Do you validate your partner? Do you listen to him/her without interrupting? Do you reflect your understanding of what he/she has shared? Do you accept and acknowledge how he/she feels?
- Do you avoid criticizing, coercing or judging your partner?
- Do you avoid stating things from the position of what you don’t want?
- Do you stay focused, respectful and committed to your partner’s needs?
- Do you consider goals, interests and friendships both as an individual and a couple?
- Have you made an attempt to work on making decisions that are acceptable to both the parties?
How can the family (in-laws, children) contribute in maintaining a healthy marital relationship?
The family can be a wonderful support system and a strong anchor as far as maintaining relationships goes. They can be a “counselling forum” for a couple. However, it is also important to be cautious, because in times when the family is the reason for the break-up, continuing to pursue their support and engaging in discussions with them could aggravate the situation. Seeking marital therapy at such times is a good idea.
How to avoid arguments
- Avoid talking in riddles. Say what you mean and say it respectfully.
- Don’t talk to your spouse in a rude, disparaging way.
- Don’t criticise your spouse in front of others.
- Don’t let anger cloud your judgment about the proper way to speak to and treat your spouse.
- Don’t start arguments based on events that happened a long time back.
- Don’t assume your spouse is personally attacking you just because he or she disagrees with you.
How to build a strong relationship
The mistakes people should avoid to maintain a healthy relationship:
- Inability to communicate well: Communication is the key to a strong relationship. Effective communication needs you to be a good listener. Listen without being judgmental, focus on what your partner is saying and express your feelings in a positive way.
- Not making time for each other: Part of being able to communicate effectively is making time for meaningful conversations in a distraction-free setting.
- Skewed judgment: Don’t expect that the two of you will agree on everything. An important part of resolving conflicts is being respectful of your partner’s feelings, even when you are arguing. Let your partner know you value what he or she is saying, even if you don’t agree. Try to avoid criticising, ridiculing, dismissing or rejecting what your partner is saying. If you’re feeling frustrated and feel you are losing your temper, take time out from the conversation and agree to resume it later. If you feel that you may physically hurt your partner, walk away and seek help immediately.
- Lack of commitment in the relationship: Make your relationship a priority. A relationship is a work in progress. It needs attention. No matter how busy you are, spend quality time together. Celebrate each other’s successes and support each other during trying times.
- Breakdown in appreciation: Expressing appreciation for each other is an important ingredient for a successful marriage.
- Lack of a sense of humour: Laugh often with your partner and be willing to laugh at yourself. It can relieve stress and tension.
- Inability to compromise: Compromise is important in any relationship but it’s especially important in marriage. If you disagree on an issue, discuss the problem calmly, allow each person to explain his or her point of view and look for ways to reach a solution acceptable to both.
- Inability to forgive: There may be times when your partner makes a mistake or says or does something hurtful, intentionally or unintentionally. If you bring up past hurts, it will be difficult to build a loving relationship.
- Taking each other for granted: Relationships are often romantic in the beginning but as time passes and couples become distracted by other things — work, children, bills, housework — they often take each other for granted.
- Lack of individuality in the relationship: It’s normal for couples to have different hobbies, interests and friends. But while it’s important to spend quality time with each other, it’s equally important to spend time alone or with each other’s friends. Giving each other the space and freedom an individual needs will enrich and strengthen the bond of marriage.
SAILAJA MENON Relationship /Couple Counselling Psychologist , OPENMINDS Center, DUBAI