"Everything new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end". Semisonic, Closing Time.
To build a happy and successful marriage, it takes equally engaged partners. This gets tricky when marriage gets hard. Marriage gets hard because the person you choose to marry is your greatest teacher. Their job is to love you, yes. But it’s also to teach you and grow you. This happens by default and by design – as one person changes, the other in the relationship must as well.
Life requires us to regularly grow and shift in order to survive and thrive. There are 2 people in a marriage and the marriage itself. That makes three different parts that need to move and grow together. When something, or someone is growing, the nature of this is an end of the old. It’s easy to see in your 3 year old. Where once something was critical as a toddler, e.g. a bottle of milk at bed, now it is a special night-time story that is imperative and that need for a bottle of milk seemingly disappears overnight. His needs have changed, and therefore the environment has been adapted to reflect those changes and needs. This is simple parallel to our adult relationships.
Deaths/endings are a part of life – any parenting blog worth its salt will run a post on the things you will miss when they are gone. This is true in marriage too. We are designed to grow into new versions of ourselves for our entire life span. Sometimes it is clearer to see with hindsight (e.g. who we are in our twenties is very different to who we are in our thirties), other times we can feel the discomfort of the stretch into the new. I have noticed that marriages break when people don’t grow with each other. Conversely, I have noticed that marriages, and the people inside them, flourish, when they work through hard things constructively.
Here are my tips on growing together:
Learn to give and receive difficult conversations well - Set up a way to share sensitive information so that you can both understand how to able to do this successfully. In our house the guidelines state that the person who is talking gets to talk until they feel understood. Then the partner can respond with their view - see here for more information.
Create a team – You are not expected to know how to respond to your partners upsets, every time. That is part of our growth as a couple. What you are responsible for is remaining gentle with yourself, and gentle with your partner. This is super tricky when we are under pressure. The trick is to stay constructive. Most often you are not required to do anything. You are needed to listen, empathise and support.
Empathise - Put yourself in their shoes. What does it feel like to be worried, stressed, scared, overwhelmed. A simple noticing statement like “You look upset, tell me about what’s happening for you” can be all that is required.
Review your contribution – is there anything that you can do better. Any areas where you would like to grow?
Have some external help – The best place for a couple to get advice is from an expert. Booking in for couples therapy, or individual therapy is a wonderful, wonderful investment in self/marriage. I’d love to talk to you if you wanted to book a session with me.
How do you grow together?