When we look back across the landscape of our life - that began in our childhood craddles and leads us to where we are today, we realise that life evolves through a series of phases. Some of these life transitions are organic, normal and expected like graduating high school, falling in love, moving in together, and raising children. Other incidents like motor accidents, job losses, wars and social troubles impose on us unexpected transitions, from the world beyond our circle, as is the case in Syria through these troubled times.
Later as we enter middle age, and beyond to older age and the possibility of chronic or life limiting illness increases each stage disrupts the smooth patterns of the routines and rituals of life creating uncertainty and vulnerability. There is potential for our emotions to be reactive. Frustration can lead to tempers boiling over, or the creation of distance and feelings of aloneness that may threaten the closeness that once existed in a relationship.
Saving a marriage is important after all that we have been through – not to mention the children. Yet, at these times when distance emerges between a couple, the relationship distress is often high, and commitment to the marriage or relationship may waver. In those moments the anguish of the broken relationship, may overshadow the possibility of hope in repairing the relationship. It can be hard to understand and influence the complex dynamics of your relationship. Yet, the joy of healing a relationship, re-building a marriage is immense.
Here are a few practical marriage tips I have gleaned through the years as a marriage counsellor to help through life’s transitions.
Marriage saving tips that have stood the test of time
1. Transitions are part of life
M Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Travelled, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Whatever is troubling you, acknowledge the situation, for it is unlikely to go away, You have to cope with it as best you can, together. An unplanned pregnancy, a sudden loss of job, a relocation to another city, and other life transitions all introduce new stressors. Sometimes it seems you are on your own, but you are not. Take a few steps back, slow down and look out for the small ways you are there for each other. Recognise you are both struggling and explore ways of connecting through the struggle.
2. You are each other’s deepest strength
Among my favourite marriage tips is turn to each other and resolve, “We can do this together”. To have a loving relationship we need to communicate in a sensitive loving way. It may feel like you’re a long way from being able to do that right now but in time approaching your conversations with L-O-V-E provides a platform for helping to create safety, security and closeness.
Listen to each other carefully note the signs of turbulent emotion within you while also explaining how you feel. More than listening to the words, tune into the emotions expressed in the words and the facial expressions or body language.
Open heart and mind: Be humble enough to recognise there maybe something to learn if you can listen with fresh ears and an open heart.
Validate and acknowledge each other’s feelings. Before responding, press the pause button, slow down long enough to validate and acknowledge what you have heard your partner say. If tempers run away from you apologise unreservedly. If you are on the receiving end, forgive openly and honestly. Hold each other tight as you move on.
Express your thoughts and feelings softly, simply, slowly. Take care not to criticize, plead or control. Healthy relationships typically involve conversations in which feelings surrounding hopes, dreams and disappoints are shared. When partners in a couple relationship are able to disclose something of their ‘inner’ life and are willing to listen and validate what is shared their emotional connection strengthens.
Appreciate the victories as you wade through the swamp you find yourself in. Celebrating successes like the first time your baby slept through the night can be the first steps to saving a marriage with an unplanned child. Focus on positives like, “The car can be fixed and at least you were not hurt.” Find the sunshine in the clouds of the gloominess or challenges of life in those moments. Build L-O-V-E into your conversations as you go.
3. Celebrate the life you share together
When life gets you down and you feel as if none of the marriage saving tips you hear are any use, recall the good times when you first met, and each other’s company was all you wanted. Do you remember the Hollies singing “Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe, and to love you”? That is as true as ever, you know.
When life’s transitions are worrisome and you are fretting over them, touching each other calms the moment’s crisis as you revisit why you travel down life’s road together, and how important each of you are. Saving a marriage can be as simple as saying, “I love you such a lot, and I am so grateful you are here to help me through.”
If one of life’s transitions is causing stress on your relationship, consider reaching out for help. Marriage counselling can help you work through tough times and develop a greater understanding of the complex dynamics that may harm your relationship. An emotionally focused approach to marriage counselling can help you recognise each others emotional needs, to ask for those needs to be met in a soft, non-blaming way and rebuild closeness and security that partners in couple relationships long for.
Did these marriage saving life transition tips help you? Can you add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Dr. Sue Johnson (2013). Love Sense: the revolutionary new science of romantic relationships, Little, Brown and Company, New York.
Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald (2015). An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The two of us.