Communication — 19 August 2012
Making love last

Some people believe that good relationships are a fortunate state – not an earned one. Others acknowledge the needed efforts to maintain couple’s happiness and state that they are “working on their relationship”. How can couples work successfully to improve their love connection?

In Pride and prejudice, Jane Austin wrote, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” Cultural expressions include the concept of “matches made in heaven,” and in Yiddish the term “bashert” means intended by fate or destiny. It is used to describe other fortuitous good matches but most commonly refers to one’s soul mate.

John Lucas, in Conscious Marriage asserts another view, “The idea of making marriage work may seem to conflict with how relationships should be – magical and romantic… But, if couples can learn how to make the magic themselves, then they will be able to keep their relationship’s promise – the creation of a better life together.”

When people say, “We are working on it,” they may imply that the marriage is not truly happy. They may kindly rebuff the questioner’s concern or may even attempt to soothe themselves. Some may actually report that they are, indeed, in couple’s therapy and are making progress toward a happier union. In either case, the concept of working on one’s relationship is a worthwhile and imperative undertaking in every committed union.

W. Kim Halford proposed a method of self-regulation for couple relationship improvement. It recommends a four stage of self-directed system: self- appraisal, self-goal setting, self-implementation and self-evaluation. This approach uses each individual’s assessment of his /her contribution to the mutually shared concerns about their marriage.

My perspective is that any issue that displeases one partner is a relationship issue. Thus, I recommend that couples use the “Item system” viewing each of their relationship dissatisfactions as an item that is placed on the table between them to be dealt with in a four-stage process: 1. Statement of issue and emotions. 2. Action offers. 3. Plan selection. 4. Future review.

For example, if partner A is upset about not receiving enough time/attention from partner B, rather than criticizing B for not caring, or for being distracted elsewhere, partner A can offer the item of “time together” for couple consideration.

The four step resolution for this pair: 1. Each mate will state his/her satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the current frequency of contact. Only “I” statements can be used without opinions about the partner’s intentions. 2. B may offer to be home earlier each day and A promises to be welcoming. 3. The couple may agree to this or another plan. 4. A future review should occur on a mutually agreeable date.

This joint evaluation precludes blaming, shaming, attacking and fighting and leads to mutual contribution to marital wellbeing.

Work on your marriage:

  • Accept that each unhappiness issue is a couple’s problem.
  • Abstain from blaming your partner for your distress.
  • Defuse the adversarial attitude by the ‘Item system’ and find your happiness restored.

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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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