MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Thriving over time in your marriage
Not only am I a marriage therapist, but I am also a long-time married person. In my marriage, as with those who come to marital therapy, understanding what works, and a willingness to make changes in yourself, helps to make a marriage more likely to flourish.
Making things more challenging, often you find in a marriage that one or both partners begin changing, having different wants, needs and desires than they did earlier in the marriage. The maturation process in most marriages leads to the realization that our partners will not fill certain expectations that we have. This is a natural part of a maturing relationship.
Shifting the expectation of marriage over time is important because people change over time. Dealing with disappointment and disillusionment is part of the process of growing a marriage. The expectations we hold of our spouse will be challenged in a lasting marriage. A marriage may be more sustainable if we meet our partner as they change with a sense of encouragement towards their healthy change even if it is unexpected. Marriage can be beautiful and challenging at the same time. People in general are going to change over time. Changing in a marriage is not a betrayal, rather many times, it is a sign of growth.
The SMART Couples program at the University of Florida has developed some tips for helping marriages grow and adapt to change. The focus of their program is education and training for people in relationships. Here are some tips from the program that can help long-term marriages not just survive, but thrive.
Adjust your expectations – As time passes, people change. It is a natural process in life and it requires us to change our expectations accordingly. It may be that the things you or your spouse used to do or had interest in have changed. We have to ask ourselves if our expectations are realistic in light of the things that have changed.
Change yourself first – Expecting others to change so that we can be happy is a bit of a quandary that seldom works out how we want it to. If you see things you want to change, consider first what things you could change in yourself. What things can you do to improve your own happiness. It is really the only thing you have control over and chances are you are likely to be happy with the results if you consider how to make yourself happy first.
Value your commitment – The knowledge that both partners have the intention of sticking with the relationship through hard times makes a big difference. Just knowing that up front, that the commitment is present, can help with the navigation through the most difficult times.
Negotiate your disagreements – Every marriage and most relationships in general will have disagreements. Research tells us that what matters is not whether you resolve every one of them. What matters is how we handle them, such as using fair-fighting and constructive-conflict techniques.
Accept some differences – This one may surprise many people. It is quite normal for there to be some long-term issues that a couple may have conflict about for years. In this case, again the smart thing is to not over-focus on trying to solve every problem, but learn how to talk about it respectfully.
Remember the small acts of love – We may know in our hearts that we love someone, and we may think that they know. More than likely they do know, but it is crucial to remember that it is the small acts of kindness and love that keep two people connected over time. Our marriages can benefit by trying to take action on small things we can do. They can be quite simple… a loving text sent for no other reason, five minutes to sit and talk about the day, an extra hug before running out the door, wash a car, bring home a favorite snack. There are many, we just have to look for the opportunities.
Bill Mory is licensed therapist in private practice, in Texoma, who is an active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on Mindfulness, Emotional Brain Training and other topics. Learn more at www.morytherapy.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.