By far the most asked question I get is “how do I have a happy marriage?” The answer is long and complex, but also pretty simple. I’ll break it down for you.
We live in a crazy busy world. We prioritise busy-ness. It feels good to be busy, most of the time. The truth is that often that busy-ness is a distractor. And using the busy ‘lens’ to navigate life is unhelpful at best, and devastating at worst. You see ‘busy’ is a state of mind. It’s a jumble of To Do List’s and demands – some real, some fictional. All seem overly important. Most often the busy masks our most important work: investment in ourselves, and investment in our relationships.
We need to identify the space for ourselves, and hold that space. Don’t be tempted to fill it!
Fit your own life-mask first
If a water tank is empty, you cannot draw water from it for other people. No matter how much you try. Think about the things that make you happy. You don’t know what they are? They are the things that give you energy. Things like body work (stretching, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, yoga), using the five senses (music, massage, reading, swimming) and creating (cooking, gardening, art).
How well are your tanks doing?
Date night. Sitting on your front porch with a nice drink and a few nibbles instead of binge-watching Homeland. Spend time together regularly, every Thursday night is our night, and we rarely compromise that space and time together. It allows us to connect, plan, dream, share and look after each other in simple ways. By spending quality time together, with no distractions we invest in each other.
Talk about the hard things
So this is a tricky skillset for most people. Generally people tell me that they don’t have a good framework for dealing with hard feelings or situations. This is normal, but often we use maladaptive coping mechanisms to manage these experiences. Some basic rules of engagement are: Listen. Listen really hard. What is your partner trying to tell you? Try not to interrupt, and try not to formulate your response until you have really understood and distilled down what it is they are trying to communicate with you on. This is super hard. It’s super hard because we are usually triggered by this information and slip into fight, flight or freeze. Then we have trouble thinking, and usually our defences respond on behalf of us. And that’s often unhelpful.
When you have understood your partner’s key message, do your best to stay open (whilst keeping yourself safe). Try to be still in your mind and wait for your own voice to answer you. I find it bubbles up from somewhere, others describe it as ‘arriving’. What do you feel about this, what do you think. Is the information helpful, does it have truth. Our partners are usually our greatest gift givers in terms of our adult growth – but we are often very threatened by this information. This is usually because we haven’t had a safe space modelled for us in our own family system.
Typically if you have a relationship where you trust them, this process is far easier. Trust is made up of
· Credibility the area most commonly achieved. It focuses on technical expertise aand a person’s presence. Credibility has to do with the words we speak.
· Reliability is about whether people think you are dependable and can be trusted to behave in consistent ways. Reliability has to do with our actions.
· Intimacy refers to the safety or security we feel when entrusting someone with something. It is about emotions.
· Self-interest there is no greater source of distrust than people who appear to be more interested in themselves than in trying to help. Self-interest refers to the focus of the peron in question. It is about motivation.
This isn’t a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination – but if you have these things, your marriage sure does have a lot.
How is your marriage today?