Falling in love may come easy, staying in love can often be a bit more challenging. Are you interested in knowing what this therapist has learned to be the number one tool to help you make it in the long run? Read on…
Divorce rates all across the globe have been rising significantly in the last few decades. America leads the statistics, being one of the countries in the top 10. On average marriages have a 50% chance of success, and that success rate declines significantly with each additional marriage. 75% of third marriages end in divorce. So why don’t we get better at marriage instead of worse?
Although there are many explanations and excuses as to why a relationship fails, my experience as a therapist over the years has taught me that a vast majority of relationships and marriages fail due to a lack of communication, and a lack of attention to the very fact that there is a ‘business,’ to marriage.
When we first couple, and love is in the air, there is an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual excitement that holds our focus and our interest in the relationship. The touch, sound, smell, and even presence of our new love releases what is called the ‘love hormone,’ or oxytocin into our system. Oxytocin gives us a wonderful sense of connection and love. As relationships mature the reality of coupling and the challenges that are inherent most often take off the initial excitement and joy that can serve to mask potential difficulties.
As couples move towards a more permanent and sustained relationship, and perhaps marriage, the stakes, and therefore the challenges, become bigger and bigger. Decisions that we make that impact our mutual finances, the raising of children, or the long-term planning for old age hold a greater and more critical significance.
In decades gone by couples often underwent ‘premarital counseling’ with their minister or priest. The function of this meeting was primarily to ensure the long-term commitment of the couple to the faith. Today therapists that provide premarital counseling sessions are more interested in facilitating effective communication between the couple, and empowering them to recognize differences as gifts, and providing skills to work through the challenges that arise.
Over the years in private practice I have provided counseling for couples entering into long-term commitments that I call ‘Premarital Communication Sessions.’ During these sessions we explore the intuitive differences in how the individuals in the relationship both communicate, and the ways in which they experience the connection in the relationship, including how they are wired to experience the gifts of their partner.
What has proven to be one of the most powerful tools in a relationship is a commitment to a weekly hour-long discussion that I call ‘the business of marriage.’ This consistent dependable time to communicate includes discussions about both what is, and what is not working in the relationship and how each individual can share with their partner ways of communicating that will help each individual to achieve mutual goals.
In our sessions the couple negotiates a set of ground rules for the discussion. As the relationship matures those ground rules may be adjusted, but only with the mutual discussion and agreement of each partner. I encourage couples to look at the relationship or marriage as a ‘new thing’ which is unto itself is an entity that each individual is wholly committed to supporting and nurturing. Here are some of the basics for the rules of engagement that couples develop for their weekly meetings.
Like a successful business meeting needs to have clear business goals, this new thing called marriage needs an agreed-upon ‘moral compass,’ – a lens through which things that impact the marriage are considered and mutually agreed-upon. The discussions require an agenda, enabling each individual to give consideration to the items in preparation for the conversation. ‘New business’ may be raised, but these items need to be referred to either a second meeting, or the next weekly meeting.
A portion of the meeting, usually 25% or 15 minutes out of the hour, is dedicated to talking about what works, and how each individual felt loved and valued by their partner over the course of the week. In our sessions each couple elaborates on these rules of engagements based on an understanding of their own communication style, and the communication style of their partner.
There are many reasons why this strategy has proven so successful for so many couples over the years. The mutual commitment to regular meetings short circuits a number of problematic issues that may arise for either person in the relationship. There is no longer a need to wonder if you can raise an issue contentious or otherwise, and the question of when or how you can raise this in the most effective manner disappears. For introverts and others who like time to process their thoughts and feelings regular meetings give them the opportunity to do so. For extroverts and those who like spontaneity and are very action oriented, they have the comfort of knowing that issues, if not dealt with immediately, will at least be dealt with in the regular meetings.
Providing a lens or moral compass as a basis for conversation helps keep the discussion centered on the mutual goal of sustaining the relationship in a healthy and life-affirming manner. And it is the very commitment to these meetings that provides reassurance to both individuals that their partner is committed to both the tough and the enjoyable work of the relationship for the long term.
Follow in love may come easy, staying in love can often be a bit more challenging. For couples that recognize and tend to the business of marriage in both a healthy and regular manner, the odds of success are dramatically improved.
Considering marriage or coupling for the long run? Working with a therapist can help you develop a plan and set of tools to keep that oxytocin flowing long into your old age!