"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Do you want a better marriage?

By on January 27, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments

For starters, as June learned, try being a little less mean

By June Darling

Our children have asked my husband and me what we are most proud of. We both answer, “Our marriage.”

Let me start by reminding you that this story is told from my perspective. When I’ve heard people ask my husband the story of our courtship and love it sounds to me that it goes something like this, “We met in Germany, fell in love, and lived happily ever after.”

That’s far different from the story I tell which is more like, “I met him in Germany. He was my dentist. My heart went pitter-patter. We argued over this and that. Got married. Continued to argue with more intensity over this and that and also nothing. I packed my bags to leave several times. He assured me that he loved me. I had a hard time believing it. After 46 years of work, we got it together, mostly. I say he is my rock. He says I am his angel.”

Flash back. My childhood friends and many of my family members were surprised that I ever got married. My 20s were filled with admiration for phrases like, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” 

It’s difficult to start a good relationship with that sort of attitude. 

I had to learn things the hard way, which included a LOT of reading. I spent several useless years reading books that would help me figure out what was wrong with marriage, several equally futile years reading books to figure what was wrong with my husband. 

Then I spent many more years reading books to figure out what was wrong with me. 

For the sake of the greater good, during this month of love, I share two biggies I learned from reading and listening to top marriage researchers. The application is wider than marriage, by the way.

I stopped being so mean. At least I stopped being so mean when my husband first walked in the door. 

That’s the first step if you want to have a better marriage or any relationship for that matter. If you must be mean, work up to it. Start off with a little small talk. Give a sincere compliment. Get to better know the person you plan to later harass.

This may sound funny but researchers like John Gottman will back me up. Start up any complaint session gently. And it is extremely helpful to have a big reservoir of positivity going for you. Gottman claims the better marriages have at least a ratio of three positives to every one negative interaction.

June and John Darling note their 46th anniversary — attitude changes have lead to marriage longevity.

Here is something women should really pay attention to. In general, women enjoy expressing their emotions including their negative emotions. 

Men not so much. Men also get emotionally flooded, over aroused (heart rates are often hitting over a hundred according to monitors researchers attach to them) when women are having what feels like a good talk about what’s bothering us.

I was once partnering with a client about achieving some goals. But then he wanted to also talk about some trouble he was having with his fiancé. “She always wants to talk about what’s bothering her. I try to listen.” 

“That sounds good,” I say.

“But then she just keeps going! The more I listen, the more she says. I just want to put my hands over my ears.”

What do people do when they get emotionally flooded? Fight, freeze, or flight. 

So couples have these typical fights. Marriage therapists call them “dances.” The most recognizable ones are the attack-attack step and the attack-withdraw (put my hands over my ears) step. 

John and I mostly did the attack-withdraw step. Here’s where it gets interesting. When I attacked, he shut me out by doing things like …going to sleep! Clearly I needed to attack a bit harder to get his attention next time. 

Not. I finally got more savvy (after reading Gottman) and stopped thinking I needed to be mean to get his attention.

So, hang on to that first big idea and all those little subplots. If you want to have a good marriage (and relationships), don’t be so mean — have a reservoir of positivity, start the complaint session up gently. 

Watch out for the dance you may get caught up in and be aware that men and women are different when it comes to expressing emotions.

Here’s idea number two. Be there. Make sure your partner (friend) knows you have their back.

This idea mostly comes from the work of Dr. Sue Johnson who learned from John Bowlby. Bowlby is the one who put the concept of “secure attachment” on the psychological map. The very basic idea is that kids who know their parents are there for them are more well-adjusted and happy.

Dr. Johnson says that many of the fights we have are really not about what we think they are about. They are not about me not wanting to go fishing when you do. Not about me not wanting to have sex when you do. Not about you not cleaning up your mess. 

Rather the fights are, at their deepest level, about this basic question. Are you there for me — can I trust you, do you honestly care about me?

We are socially bonding mammals. Forget that stuff about needing each other like a fish needs a bike. We DO need each other … desperately. We need to know we can count on each other.

Some of us had early childhoods where we were not securely attached to our parents. We developed ways of dealing with that sad situation by becoming more clingy or acting like we don’t give a darn. Neither of those are sound strategies for having good relationships. 

During a conflict, we may need to just take a break, remember that we are mammals who need reassurance. Touch can be a wonderful way to reassure. 

I thank my lucky stars that my husband is an A-1 cuddler and hugger. That gave our marriage a healthy dose of bonding chemicals like oxytocin.

We ARE proud of our 46 years of marriage. Still we continue to step on each others’ toes — that’s to be expected. But there’s much less of those nasty tangos.

Good relationships make life worth living AND they aren’t easy. Some things can’t be worked out. But the research available today is helping many. 

February is the perfect time to up your relationship intelligence. 

Check out one or two of the fantastic books, blogs, articles, podcasts, or YouTube talks by people like doctors John and Julie Gottman and Dr. Sue Johnson.

How might you move up to The Good Life by learning more about love and relationships?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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