Tools for Couples Happiness — 02 January 2005
How you can create a good marriage

Most couples experience at least two stages of a marriage: The Romantic Phase and The Power struggle. Some pairs are blessed to advance to the third stage, which I term The Reconnected Love. The good marriage is often synonymous with the third stage of marriage, where people thrive on acceptance and love. Getting there is available to anyone willing to put the necessary energy to create it.

The first two phases of marriage occur almost automatically. First we fall in love, creating an illusion of a perfect partner, a blissful union and the anticipation that this magical mate will fulfill all our unmet needs.

This unrealistic hope is often shattered as reality sets in. The disappointment creates hurt and anger and leads to the second stage, The Power Struggle for importance and worth. In this phase, the partners cease behaving as a team and resort to the individual self-protective behaviors that hinder true love.

To get to the third stage of reconnected love, requires awareness and willingness to be proactive. This stage does not occur automatically because it requires a shift from disillusionment to acceptance.

Acceptance is not a state of resignation of a given situation, but a good will view of the marriage, which leads to options about behavior.

There are three types of acceptance that are required prior to and during the creation of a connected loving marriage: Acceptance of the need for change, acceptance of the partner as he or she is and acceptance of oneself.
First comes the acceptance of the need to change. To shift the marriage from the power struggle toward reconnected love, requires a drastic change. It is extreme because the individual must switch his or her stance from self-protection to mutual cooperation. Hurt and anger should be abandoned in favor of forgiveness and compassion. The attitudes and behaviors of both partners must get re-oriented toward a team approach toward the mutual fulfillment of their needs.

This new stage may benefit from re-instituting some elements from stage one, the Romantic Phase, such as: admiration, interest and hope about the partner and the union. Having had these helpful attitudes in the past may make it easier to have them again.

Next comes the acceptance of the partner as he or she is, rather than as we wish him or her to be. In the Romantic Stage we tended to imbue our mate with many positive attributes that were often exaggerated. A loving assessment of the partner’s positive and negative traits and behaviors is essential for true acceptance. This must be done without judgment or criticism, but with understanding and compassion.

Acceptance of self may be the hardest of the three areas. Being aware of our own imperfections may render us insecure. Admitting them to our mate may cause us to become vulnerable to hurt. However, by asking for understanding and help from our mates we set the stage for greater intimacy and the acceptance of our imperfections.

As the preciousness and acceptance of both partners by each other is established, the anger decreases and energy is freed for love.

Being able to talk about your unhappiness, sadness, frustration or dismay about anything, (including your mate) and having your partner respond with “thank you for telling me this, I will take it into account”, creates the safety to disclose your deepest feelings. Once you feel accepted, heard and considered, without defensiveness, criticism, rejection or judgment, you may feel whole. When both partners create an emotionally safe environment for each other, they may feel reconnected, loved and cherished.

Can this be accomplished? Yes. Will it occur without active intent? No. Can most people achieve a good marriage? Yes, provided that they are both mature enough to realize that the goal of connected love and a strong relationship that promotes both physical and mental well-being and longevity, certainly merit the needed efforts.

Here are the practical steps to take to create the third stage toward a good marriage:

• Realize that an ongoing power struggle, competition, being right and superior, arguing, disrespectful language, insensitivity and disdain are defeating behaviors for a good marriage.
• Be aware that you can volitionally move beyond the Power Struggle to Reconnected Love.
• Will yourself to change your view of your mate, accepting his best and worst traits as part of his total precious being.
• Decide to deal with your mate’s less desirable qualities with understanding and compassion. They are the ways he or she has coped with life. Only he or she can decide to change these traits.
• Remember that your partner’s most admired traits are also the most troublesome ones-at times.
• Learn to accept your own failings with compassion and kindness. Only then you may be able to alter them.
• Risk being honest and open with your mate by talking about your pain, fear and worries and inadequacies, asking for support. Be open to changing your ways with help.
• If you feel that you may benefit from individual professional help, please seek it. The wise, fortunate and strong choose to get the help they need and thus enrich their lives.
• Make your partner your highest priority and your relationship a treasure to explore.
• You deserve to experience the joys of a reconnected love.
It is intoxicatingly delicious.

January 2, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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