Yesterday evening I felt like spending time with my partner but he preferred to work instead. Today I had to wake up at 6 am as his alarm clock went ringing. This marriage thing is tough…We need to keep on working at it on top of work, parenting, community and ourselves. I started thinking how to make this easier. Most of us barely have the time, let alone the energy to take care of the most important relationship in our lives. When it comes down to it, two are the basic elements of maintaining a healthy loving relationship: a) giving and receiving love and b) resolving conflict in a healthy way. Below are two hacks in these areas:
a) Give love in the right language: My moto in life has always been work smart and not hard. Could the same apply in marriage? A very eye-opening book on relationships is ‘The five love languages’ by Gary Chapman. The basic premise is that there are five different languages to express and receive love and each one of us has a native language. If your partner and you love each other in a different than their native language you may both work hard on the relationship but still feel unloved. The five love languages are: acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time and receiving gifts. If you are saying to your partner ‘I love you’ but he prefers you to put the laundry you are speaking in different love languages. If you want a massage but your partner gives you a piece of jewelry, again you are lost in translation. Understanding yours and your partner’s love language (you can have the test here for free) can make all the difference. In the end ‘all we need is love’, but we need to give and receive it in a language we understand.
b) Resolve conflict in a positive way: According to Dr Sue Johnson there are surprisingly only three moves in the couples’ dance: 1. you can ask for something, eg: Can you help me make coffee?, 2. you can angrily or resentfully comment, eg: ‘You never help me make coffee!’ and 3. you can shut down, avoid interaction all together. Just three possible responses where only one is constructive and the other two are negative for the relationship! So what do we do?
- Be mindful when we are about to get into aggression or avoidance mode. Catch it early. Shift our attitude. Try to enter the discussion in a positive way.
- Practice empathy and get into our partners shoes. Maybe she is tired, stressed or excited to do something else.
- Share our emotions without becoming the emotions. Say I feel anger rather than I am angry.
- Do not bring up old conflict. Communicate any frustration shortly after it arises, resolve it and then forget it.
- Practice gratitude towards our partner. We are all wired to pay more attention to the negatives as this ensures our survival. If we were to leave it to our brain we would keep noticing the negatives in our relationship and disregard the positives. A way around that is a game of gratitude with our partner every so often where we take turns to express gratitude for the good things we have done for each other. When I play this I am always surprised by what comes up.
Marriage is not easy…but it’s worth it. Love in the language your partner understands, do not let everyday conflicts deteriorate the quality of your relationship, and you should be rewarded with a safe loving haven to enjoy.