Marriage is an amazing thing, but there is no doubt that it is a promise to experience challenges and change. Harville Hendrix, PhD. has noted the phases of marriage from the honeymoon phase of romantic love, to the power struggle where a couple’s differences emerge, to lifelong growth, partnership, and understanding when a couple finally enters the phase of real love.
Someone once told me not to tell couples that “love is work” because it would turn people off and discourage them from wanting to seek help for their issues. I thought about it and decided I could not NOT use those words. The truth is, marriage IS work. But when you really love what you do (or who you are with), that makes the work well worth it. So now, I always tell couples that “love is work well worth it”. And I couldn’t agree more, from a personal and professional standpoint.
There are many things in a marriage that take effort and intentionality to grow. Here are 3:
Kids’ schedules, work updates, and what you need from the grocery store aren’t meaningful forms of dialogue. One of the most common things that couples tend to lose over time is the space and motivation to maintain a strong curiosity about one another. Prepare-Enrich has a wonderful exercise to encourage “daily dialogue” between couples about their relationship. This is a great thing to practice because it gets couples talking about meaningful aspects about themselves and each other. I recommend some other tips on this issue in another blog post.
Understanding your partner’s feelings.
Assuming that you know your partner’s feelings because you've been with them for a long time is a dangerous assumption to make. Truly understanding your partner’s emotional experience is something that will always take the effort of tuning in and seeking to understand. A couple of great ways to explore how your partner is feeling is:
Ask. “Wow, I can’t believe that happened today. How did it make you feel?” / “How are you feeling about that?”
Practice empathy by trying to relate: “I wonder how you’re feeling about that; if it were me I’d be feeling pretty frustrated/sad/mad…is that how you are feeling?”
The effort it takes to seek a deeper understanding of how your partner is feeling emotionally about things in their life will pay off through the validation they feel from you.
Yep, you read that correctly. If you’re anything like me, you envisioned that marriage would be a world of TOO much alone time with your spouse. Ha! Talk about an unrealistic expectation. Alas, there is a huge difference between co-existing in the same space alone with your partner, and actually having quality time together. When children come into the picture, this is an even greater challenge. Alone time is different than quality time, so be sure to prioritize time for the two of you to dialogue, to play, and to date.
What have you found that takes thoughtful effort in your relationship or marriage? Share in the comments below!