We are created to be unique. We are all so different— from our hair to our temperament. So are marriages. Each marriage has its own unique history, strengths and weaknesses. Yet through time we have learned that some things are universally essential for people, like food, air, relationships, and purpose. It is the same for marriages. Through the work of many, particularly the research of a husband-wife team, Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman, we’ve gleaned a wealth of info about why some couples flourish and some wither. This post will give you a broad overview of the necessary ingredients for a healthy marriage.
The Gottmans are the Bill Gates (or Steve Jobs for those of you who aren’t Microsoft fans) of the marital therapy world. After studying and researching couples for decades, they began to successfully predict whether a marriage would succeed or fail with about 98% accuracy. They’ve conceptualized what is called “The Sound Relationship House.” Making up the house’s walls are trust and commitment. Well, duh. Pretty basic and not surprising, right? See what you think of the rest. The inside of this house is made up of:
Building love maps (knowing one another’s world)
Sharing fondness and admiration
Turning towards instead of away
Having a positive perspective
Making life dreams come true and
Creating shared meaning.
If I may take the liberty to condense their superb list into three categories, I would say each of these things mentioned above can fall under the categories of Boundaries, Vulnerability, and Communication. This post seeks cover each briefly.
If you hear the word ‘boundaries’ and it awakens a sense of disdain or disgust, then you probably don’t have healthy ones. Lacking a good sense of boundaries can and will lead to many issues in relationships. It can lead to the enabling of addicts by rescuing them from the consequences of their poor choices. It can lead to domestic abuse or controlling behavior through guilt and shame. It can lead to an inner resentment that is never dealt with until it explodes into an affair or abandonment. These are the more extreme, but these examples happen every day. On a less intense level, poor boundaries leave wives feeling worn out because they cannot say “no” to one more service project with their church, and therefore have no emotional or physical energy left for their husband and kids. It can also look like a husband’s inability to draw lines in the sand when it comes to the endless intrusive behavior from his parents.
Sometimes people’s boundaries are unhealthy because rather than flexible fences they’ve built walls that resemble a fortress. These high walls of thick concrete allow no one to penetrate. We’ve all experienced seasons of building walls like this after we’ve experience pain or betrayal. Of course, we fear another stab of rejection from a terrible break-up or we struggle to trust the people around us because the people of the past left some pretty hefty wounds. This usually leads to a lack of vulnerability. The lack of vulnerability leads to lack of intimacy and connection—things people need to live well. We’ve all had moments of pain caused by others. This pain ends up serving to isolate us emotionally (and physically, sometimes) from others. Yet, this is not the path to wisdom in relationships.
We are created to need intimacy in relationships- in other words, to know and be known. We need to have that sense of community where we can share our issues with others and they respond with, “Me, too.” Or “I’m so sorry. I’ll walk alongside you as you deal with this.” This is why support groups are so helpful for those going through similar situations. We must open ourselves up to the risk of getting hurt to get to the point where we are connected to others in the community we were intended for. Vulnerability may equal hurt. However, with healthy boundaries, you are likely to surround yourself with others who will not hurt but offer the healing of healthy community. Brene Brown has some great books on this subject. Check her out!
Last but certainly not least is communication. More than half of Gottman’s list above hinges upon a couple’s ability to communicate effectively. Poor communication is intertwined with the first two elements I just covered, as well. Poor communication and conflict resolution skills will cause any couple to lose ground as they try to work through the obstacles that we face in marriage. It is hard to get anywhere when one spouse is shutting down (not being vulnerable) because the other spouse is yelling, name-calling, or blaming (lack of boundaries). Who can have a decent resolution this way? What will often happen is couples’ will avoid conflict at all costs because of how terrible they feel while underlying issues get swept under the rug. They are never dealt with and only serve to build a greater wall between the couple.
Photo credit to Google/Pinterest/Meraki girl blog
Learning how to talk to your spouse so that they will more likely hear you while simultaneously gaining effective listening skills equips each partner to share their inner world—their dreams, their hurts and disappointments, and their love, appreciation, and care for the other. It also allows for safe conflict resolution where each partner’s side of the story gets heard while the other partner listens without preparing for an explosive fight. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I know it does for many of you.
If you are interested in learning these communication skills, check out a workshop I will be having this February 18th from 8:45am-4pm. Ten spots for ten couples who want to invest in their marriage. For $105/couple you will learn effective tools for conflict resolution while practicing boundaries and vulnerability within your relationship. This is any couples! This will help those marriages that are in hard places or those of you who are eager to make a good marriage even better. Take advantage of the low cost this time around because the price will go up for the April workshop. See the flyer linked here or email me (Guitta Hogue) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, there is ample support and therapy for any of you who might find yourself in the harder parts of your journey in relationships. Crossroads Counseling therapists can offer that support at various locations. Call or check out the website for more information on how we can serve you.