Marriage Tips

You may have noticed that there are a lot of "marriage tips" out there. Most are common sense. Some are faith-based. A few are even based on research about what makes marriages succeed and fail. And just about all are as useful as tips about the stock market and horse racing.

That's because it's almost always just one party reading the "tips," usually the one who most wants change in the relationship. If the one reading the tips enacts them unilaterally, no matter how sound the tips might be, he or she is likely to seem manipulative to the other partner. It could hardly seem otherwise, since people are less likely to seek tips on being better partners than on getting their partners to be better.

That's unfortunate, because the only reliable way to get a better partner is to become one.

There's not much to be done about just one partner reading marriage tips, simply because people tend to seek partners who are temperamentally different. If you are the sort of person who reads marriage tips, you are probably married to someone who wouldn't be caught dead a dentist's waiting room reading one. So the following tips (do I ever hate that word) are designed to help you be a better partner and, incidentally, have a much better chance of your partner reacting positively to your efforts.

Tip # 1: If you're certain you're right, you're probably wrong. Certainty is an emotional state, not an intellectual one. If you feel certain that you are right and your partner is wrong, you are most likely ignoring, misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or undermining his/her perspective. Even if your perspective is factually correct, it is, at best, incomplete, without a thorough understanding of your partner's. When you feel certain that you are right and your partner is wrong, sympathetically state his/her perspective the best you can - not what you think of it, but what it's like in his/her shoes. You will likely find that your certainty resolves into more realistic binocular vision - an ability to see your relationship more dynamically and in greater depth by perceiving both perspectives simultaneously, much like musicians in a duet.

Tip #2: Be more of what you're asking for and less about your complaint. The principle here is that blaming your partner is the same as self-blame. For instance, if I think my partner is aloof, my judgmental attitude creates greater distance between us; if I think she's nagging, I'm not listening; I lack sensitivity when I think she's insensitive. When you want to complain to your partner, think first how you can be 10 % more flexible, fair, loving, compassionate, supportive, intimate, sexy - whatever you want to complain about, be more of it yourself. This will temper your emotional demeanor (make you less complaining, demanding, superior) which will make it easier for your partner to be open to you in response.

Tip #3: Don't worry about "communication" problems. Couples in conflict - or in cold stand-offs - do not have communication problems. They have value problems, having made their dispute more important than their connection and love for each other. No matter what communication tools they employ, they are really saying: "I cannot love you unless you agree with me or do what I want." Attempting to "communicate" without getting in touch with deeper values of what is most important to and about you will be worse than useless; it will likely damage your relationship.

Tip #4: Talk less, connect more. Problems in intimate relationships are not resolved by talking. They're resolved by connecting. Talking without a desire to connect will make things worse. Connecting makes both talking and problem-solving much easier. If you think of serious problems you've overcome in your relationships, you will realize that you did not overcome them until you valued your connection and showed a desire to connect. It wasn't what you said or how you said it that brought improvement; it was your motivation to say it, i.e., to connect to the most important adult in your life.