Improving Your Marriage

Improving Your Marriage.  The first step in improving your marriage takes recognizing one’s part in conflict that may come up at any given time.  It takes awareness of one aspect of your relationship: patterns.

A pattern is a combination of qualities, acts, or tendencies that form a predictable sequence of outcomes in your marriage. The outcomes can be positive or negative.  First, start by becoming aware of recurring actions and reactions.
Here is an example Steve and Mary, a couple I worked with who had an ongoing vicious cycle they were not aware of.
Steve gets ignored by Mary.
Steve feels hurt and unimportant when ignored by Mary.
Steve reacts by sniping and getting critical of Mary.
Mary reacts by sniping back, getting defensive and then emotionally disengaging from Steve.
Steve feels ignored even more by Mary. Steve grumbles to friends and the friends are supportive of Steve. Steve stops sniping and emotionally withdraws from Mary.
Mary is glad Steve stops sniping. But is puzzled why Steve is distant. All they talk about are kids, roles and responsibilities to manage their complex lives. The discussions are important but both partners end up feeling emotionally shallow and disconnected.
Neither one takes an emotional risk to say what they feel and miss.
Wash, rinse, repeat and for twenty – some years. Kids leave home. Steve and Mary feel like they are strangers to each other.
And they are.
What can break this pattern?
It starts with awareness.
Here’s what I mean. They each think, “When I feel X what do I do about it? Do I take the risk and speak up directly? Or do I communicate what I feel indirectly? When I communicate indirectly (for example, by sniping), what is the response I get (defensiveness)? When I get a defensive response from my partner, how do I respond (withdrawal after sniping back)?”
And then, “What happens when I stop sniping and withdraw?”
“Oh, we are civil but have no emotional connection.”
Now comes the big question. “Do I choose to break MY pattern?
Basically, it is very difficult to break old patterns and sustain new ones when there is no awareness about them.
Being aware is a crucial first step.  As a Marriage Counselor, the majority of couples in my practice have total clarity about what their partner does that is dysfunctional. But they have little awareness of the impact of their own dysfunction on their partner. They simply keep repeating the dysfunctional pattern and hoping the partner gets the message and responds with new and improved response.
So here is a three-step approach to a better relationship.
  1. Be aware of what you both do that keeps getting repeated in a negative way.
  2. Decide you want to break your part of the cycle.
  3. Tell your partner what you have observed and what you are going to do differently and why you are going to do it. Your motivation is going to be for one reason only, which will keep you out of a trap. You are going to be motivated by the desire to become a better person when faced with adversity. You are going to become bigger than the problem instead of the problem being bigger than you are. You are going to do it because you will feel better about yourself and not criticize your partner if they don’t immediately jump on your bandwagon of change.

In Couples Counseling this is the first and most effective step to creating a better you and a better relationship.  I provide Individual, Couples, and Family Counseling in San Diego and its neighboring communities.  Please call me at (858) 735-1139 if you would like help with your relationship.  I offer in-person, telephone or internet counseling.



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