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A belated happy Thanksgiving to all. I’m glad we as a nation take one day a year to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. I, like many of you, don’t restrict that practice to a single day each year. Though it has become somewhat of a cliché, an "attitude of gratitude" contributes much to a happy and enjoyable life. The same can certainly be said about marriage.

When I coach couples in my office, I ask them why they came to see me. I want to know what they believe their problems and concerns are so I can know if I feel confident to help them address and overcome those problems.

I then typically teach them the five germs that have likely caused friction and disharmony in their relationship. These germs are common to just about all marriages.

Another regular component of my initial session with clients is to ask them to write down two or three aspects of their mate that they truly admire and appreciate. It’s fun to watch their expressions as they do this exercise. Their looks of consternation tell me it’s likely been a while since they focused on their mate’s good points, rather than their bad.

It is pure joy to watch them begin to remember and then state what is good about each other and their marriage. While this does not in and of itself fix all their marital problems, this shift in focus does give them hope that their problems can be addressed and that they likely did not marry the wrong person.

All marriages will experience some down moments at times. At least this is true for those of us who were foolish enough to marry an imperfect human being. Since that pretty much includes all of us, we should not be surprised that two imperfect people, who may or may not be raising imperfect children, will get crosswise with other now and then.

While disputes and disagreements can be unpleasant at the moment, they can help you build a stronger, more enduring relationship. When you learn how to disagree agreeably, you gain confidence to discuss more sensitive topics. Such discussions can deepen and vitalize your marriage.

Sad to say, however, most of us have never been taught how to communicate effectively. Therefore, when issues arise they become threats to the marriage rather than keys to making it stronger and healthier.

So let me leave you with a few tips to consider if you want your marriage to not just survive, but to thrive.

  1. Remember to look for the good in your mate and let him or her hear your words of appreciation on a regular basis. I can promise you that on your worst day of marriage, there are billions of people on this planet who would gladly trade places with you. It might be helpful to keep this in mind when you and your spouse don’t feel "in like" with one another.
  2. Learn the Speaker-Listener method of communication. This is also known as Pro-Active Listening, or what the late Gary Smalley called the LUV, or Listen, Understand, Validate, Talk.
  3. Be ready to call a time-out if your conversation is taking an ugly, attacking turn. For some discussions, both parties must be in the right frame of mind. To attempt to discuss sensitive topics when one or both are two emotional is worse than futile, it can be deadly to the marriage.
  4. Be quick to apologize when you have hurt or offended your spouse. Remember when you said "I do" you became an "us." You willingly gave up your rights to have all matters resolved your way. So often couples get upset when each is seeking his or her own solution rather than what is best for the relationship. When this happens, things can get ugly and hurtful words or actions can quickly follow. A genuine expression of sorrow and regret can often mitigate the damage.  
  5. Never threaten the long-term view of your marriage. There will be times when you might think about divorcing your spouse. It’s OK to think such thoughts, but not OK to voice them. Your thoughts will likely pass away, but the impact of your threat may not.

Of course there are many other suggestions I could make for how to have a happy marriage, but that’s probably enough for now. Marriage is tricky business, but with the right attitude and a determination to learn, you can succeed. A happy, healthy marriage is definitely something to be grateful for.

Ron Price is the owner and operator of Productive Outcomes Inc. and the author of "PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work,Toolbox Edition," a newly released paperback book available on Amazon or at PlayNiceinYourSandbox.com. He can be reached at 505-324-6328.

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