Tips for making your marriage work
Richard "Doc" Rioux · September 1,
We're hearing a lot these days from Republicans and Democrats about the preservation of the American family, and I suspect that we will be hearing much more on the subject as the campaign heats up between now and November. The reality is, however, that Washington, D.C. is a long way away from what happens on a daily basis in our homes and neighborhoods. The state of the economy, employment rates and federal tax policy affect families, but there are many other factors that are of equal importance in the promotion of healthy marital relationships.
I had lunch with my wife, Suzanne, on Tuesday. We discussed the politics of the family, the pressures of marriage, divorce rates and the strains of raising children in a society we have little influence over changing. We agreed that after all is said and done and Hollywood is assessed its fair share of the blame for promoting an anti-family agenda, it's what happens between a man and a woman and their children behind closed doors which really matters in keeping marriages and families together. We listed a few concepts that have worked for us over the years in keeping our marriages and family relationships fairly stable.
Attending to one another
As married people, we need to recognize how valuable each of us is to the other. My well-being is inextricably tied to my wife's well-being. If I attend to her needs, whatever those needs might be, then chances are she will reciprocate to meet my needs. If she's had a stressful day at work, with the kids or in paying the bills we don't have enough money to cover, the worst thing I can do upon coming home is to minimize her stress by comparing it to mine. "Well, if you think you've had a bad day, listen to this." Wrong.
Some better responses might include: "What can I do to help? May I assist with dinner? Do you want to go out later for coffee with a friend? I'll get the kids off to bed."
In general, if you place your spouse's needs before your own, you will be the beneficiary. Selfishness promotes resentment, and resentment engenders conflict. Selflessness, on the other hand, creates understanding, and understanding produces harmony.
Getting beyond the attacks
It's so easy to attack. I know many spouses who cannot get beyond criticizing their mates. "Harry, you're never home. You never spend any time with the children. You don't spend enough time with me. You're always with your friends. Why don't we talk anymore?"
"Mary, you don't like my friends. You haven't been watching your diet. The kids are driving me nuts. You could keep the house a little better. The PTA bores me. We don't have sex enough."
You can spend a lifetime finding fault with your spouse. But I'm telling you, it's a lot more rewarding and productive to change the tone of your responses in order to achieve the desired result.
Try this: "Harry, I like it when we're together. After the kids are asleep, let's get comfy, watch a movie and go to bed early."
"Mary, you look great. Let's go for a walk after dinner. I'll help you clean up the house. When is the next PTA meeting? I'd like to attend."
Change yourself first
You can't change the behavior of your spouse by telling him or her to change. Change begins with you. If there is too much tension and resentment in your relationship, it's up to you to moderate the behavior, change the tone, get out of the attack mode. In most cases, your mate will follow your example, not your commands. If there is too much hostility, then it's up to you to stop being hostile. When you want to strike back with a verbal barrage of criticism, try pausing for a second in order to reflect and redirect. Tone and restraint are everything in relationships. Program yourself to walk away from a possible fight. Say a prayer to release the anger. Choose your words carefully. Don't provoke. Moderate. Reach out. Be caring. Try to understand the source of the hostility in your spouse before you respond.
Create a partnership
It's cheaper and far less complicated to stay married than it is to get a divorce. Play to one another's God-given talents. Work as a team in raising children, doing household budgets, identifying investment opportunities and planning for the future.
My wife is great with numbers. She handles our taxes and finances but doesn't purchase large items unless she consults with me. I handle calls to plumbers, get the car serviced, handle problems with neighbors and usually talk with teachers if there are problems.
Suzanne does the shopping and ferries the kids to after-school activities. I deal with spiritual matters and arrange entertainment and vacations. We share getting the kids ready for bed.
Relationships are dynamic, not static. To develop healthy relationships over the long term, we must be attentive to our spouse's changing needs, moderate the tone of the dialogue, avoid hurtful criticisms, focus on the attributes, work on true intimacy, and build economically viable partnerships.
Remember, marriage must be forever, and your spouse won't change unless you change first.
Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson
Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.
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