Everybody knows a couple that seems perfect: they don’t fight, they work cooperatively, they have a great love life, and seem utterly in love after years of marriage. What’s their secret? These are the three key elements are the foundation of all healthy relationships. Follow this recipe and you’ll be cooking up a sweet happily-ever-after.
1. Practice positivity
Healthy relationships radiate positivity. Some people are naturally very positive, upbeat people. Others tend to be more negative and critical. How we relate to others usually stems from the environment we were raised in. Were your parents constantly critiquing you and others? Chances are you do to. While little snide comments and criticisms aren’t giant marriage problems in themselves, they create an undercurrent of tension and negativity that makes the big problems harder to solve. Plus, they make the marriage unpleasant.
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The first step to eliminate negativity from communication in marriage is to be aware of it. Try and catch yourself saying or doing things that are dismissive. Using the word “But,” for instance, is a hidden negativity bomb. Saying “but” actually cancels out what your spouse just said. This rejection paves the way for a “But this/but that” argument. Try starting out with an affirmation that shows you see the logic of your spouse’s argument. Then say “and at the same time…” to add your own opinion. For example, "Yes, I do see the advantage of buying a bigger house now that a second baby is coming, and, at the same time, I'm concerned that it will be too much of a strain on our budget."
2. Set anger ceilings low
Even healthy relationships have hot-button issues that are guaranteed start a disagreement. Anger makes solving these problems even more difficult. Every time you and your spouse explode at each other, you add stress and negativity to your marriage. Think fights keep your marriage “spicy?” Eventually that spice will burn a hole through your relationship.
Keep anger ceilings low by recognizing the signs of when you start to get heated—your heart starts racing, you talk faster, you start feeling frustrated. Some therapists may ask you to calm yourself down and try to continue with the conversation. But Power of Two Marriage knows this just doesn't work–controling rising anger is incredibly hard if you stay engaged with the causes of your aggrivating. If you feel a muscle strain when you are running, do you keep going in hopes that it will start to get better? Doing so will only worsen the pain until the injury prevents you from continuing. If you don't stop, cool down, and adjust your technique you may even cause long-term damage. Same with anger: take a break! Instead of pushing through and getting angrier, as soon as you feel anger rising, practice the exit and re-enter strategy. Leave the room for a brief period to calm down. Just as important, re-enter when you feel calm and approach the conversation again.
How far should you let yourself go before exiting? Imagine a scale 1-10 with ten being the most angry you could ever possible be. You don’t want to go higher than a 3 with your spouse at any time.
3. Be on the same team
Our culture tends to pit spouses against each other and portray marriage as the end of all fun. Ever referred to your partner and/or marriage as a “ball and chain?” If this is the way you think, then that’s exactly what they will be.
Couples in healthy relationships always keep in mind that they are on the same team. They want each other to succeed, be happy, and feel loved—and they show it! Whenever you face a disagreement, remember that you are on the same side. Together you can find mutually satisfying solutions to your underlying concerns. You want your partner to be happy—you don’t want to “win” the argument and have him “lose”.