The Kingston Integrative Healing Group: Helps Couples and Individuals

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Kris's Articles for Couples

Five Keys to Staying in Love


Most of us know that five out of 10 married couples in the U.S. will end their marriages in divorce this year. Lesser known is that three out of the other five couples — the ones who stay together — are miserable with each other!

That leaves two more couples out of 10 who are happy together. What’s their secret?

In my 20-plus years of counseling more than a hundred couples, I’ve observed the attitudes and behaviors that couples use to bring happiness back into their relationships.

These attitudes and behaviors form five keys that unlock the mystery of staying in love.

Key 1: Create safety, both physically and emotionally.
Each partner in a loving relationship lets the other express himself or herself without fearing physical or mental punishment. The partners follow the motto “My loved one has a right to be truly themselves, even when that differs from me.” This motto lets each partner know that he or she is honored and valued by the other as a separate person.

Key 2: Handle conflict through good communication.
Stanford University professor Paul Watzlavick says, “Without conflict, there is no relationship.” That’s because you and your partner are distinct individuals who will always have differences. And differences invariably lead to some sort of conflict. But conflict doesn’t have to lead to fighting.

There are certain rules for good conflict management. Among them:

Make appointments to argue. When you get angry — and feel that you have a legitimate reason to express it — don’t just dump on the other person. Continually doing that eventually leads one of the partners to avoid conflict by leaving. Instead, ask permission to talk with the other person about the thing you’re angry about. If the person is genuinely not able to do it at that very moment, they should suggest another time, preferably within 24 hours.

When arguing, follow certain guidelines for expressing yourself. Be specific, and stay on the topic. When you have a gripe, come prepared with a suggestion to rectify the problem.

Describe the behavior that you are upset about. Statements like, “You are so sloppy!” are more effectively expressed as, “When you don’t pick up after yourself, I feel … (complete the sentence with an emotion).” Starting your sentences with “I feel …” removes judgments from the conversation and helps the listener hear you better.

Key 3: Help your mate to open up again.

Practice the following four behaviors and your mate will open up like a flower — even if it may be only one petal at a time.

1. Become soft and tender with the person. The first step is to become soft in your mind and spirit. Lower your voice and relax your facial expressions. This reflects honor and humility. And as Proverbs 15:1 suggests, “A gentle answer turns away anger …” Incidentally, wives, if your husband is not affectionate, remind yourself of this secret: If you want affection, be affectionate. Whatever you are looking for, become that and you will have a better chance of receiving it.

2. Understand as much as possible what your loved one has endured. It is important to genuinely understand the pain your partner feels and why he or she considers your behavior offensive. Ask for your partner’s interpretation of what happened. The goal is to listen and understand what your mate is feeling. During this period, resist defending yourself, lecturing or questioning why he or she did or did not do something.

3. Acknowledge that your loved one has been wounded. Then admit any wrong or unloving act you might have committed to provoke that hurt. And take ownership of the behavior your partner took issue with. A mate feels valuable when he or she hears you admit your mistake, and sees that you understand how he or she feels. Sometimes this is all it takes to open a closed spirit.

4. Seek forgiveness — and wait for a response. This gives your partner an opportunity to respond to your confession. You’ll know true restoration has occurred when forgiveness is granted and he or she lets you touch them. Conversely, it’s important for the person being asked for forgiveness to forgive the one who apologized.

Key 4: Communicate to create intimacy.

Intimacy (which can be read as “into me see”) is defined as “relating to or indicative of one’s deepest nature.” Communication is a couple’s most potent tool to encourage intimacy. Follow three steps to improve communication: Mirroring, validation and empathizing.

Mirroring is a process of accurately reflecting back the content of a message. It’s done by repeating back to the speaker what you heard them say. Begin the mirror by saying something like, “If I got it correctly, you said…” If your partner agrees you got it correctly, then go to the next step. If he or she says you got it wrong or missed something, then ask him or her to say it again, perhaps in different words — and continue mirroring until you get it right.

Validation means you’re letting your partner know they make sense. You’re setting aside your own frame of reference and appreciating the logic, reality and worth of your partner within his or her frame of reference. By truthfully saying “You make sense” and explaining why they make sense, you send a message that your partner’s way of looking at things is valid, from their perspective. By validating, you’re not necessarily agreeing with your partner. You’re simply showing that you understand where your partner is coming from.

Empathizing is a process of recognizing the feelings of the other person while he or she is expressing a point of view or telling a story. It is typically accomplished by reflecting and imagining the feelings the other person is expressing. For example, you might say: “I hear your disappointment, and I can imagine you might also feel sad about that. Is that what you’re feeling?” Your partner may then say yes, and you can let them know that after listening to them, you genuinely feel their sadness. Or your partner might say no. If this happens, give them a chance to say how they really feel so you can truly understand and empathize with their feelings. When you engage in this type of dialogue with your partner, you understand him or her and, at least for a moment, you see the world through their eyes. A beneficial result is that trust and closeness between you will grow.

An important rule to remember throughout this dialogue process: Don’t interrupt the speaker.

Key 5: Practice Gratitude.

Each day, make a mental list of what you appreciate about your mate — and let them know what you appreciate. Look at what they’re doing and thank them on the spot, whenever possible.

Touching them while expressing thanks makes the verbal affirmation even more powerful.

Using these five keys will help keep your relationship fresh, alive and growing.

Kris Harrington is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. She can be reached at (845) 532-6622.