July 20, 2008

Marriage: For Better or Worse

By Shirley Westall, Odessa American, Texas

Jul. 20--Couples therapy, as my clinical director knows, isn't the easiest area of counseling for me.

Tensions can easily rise to uncomfortable levels during a heated marriage counseling session. Having been married to the same man for nearly 47 years, I believe creative arguing is healthier than yelling. Not for one minute do I believe couples who say, "We never argue."

These couples must live in separate homes or turn off their hearing aids and smile a lot.

In the first two years of our marriage, statements and questions that struck a nerve in me were:

--"You need to mind me." (That day will never come since I only minded my parents).

-- "Don't act that way." (I've always acted this way, and you thought it was cute before we married).

-- "Don't touch the thermostat." (You were raised in a hot house, while I was raised in a healthful environment, so I'm turning it down).

--"You talk too much." (Thank goodness one of us is good at communicating).

--"Why did you tell the colonel what you really thought about me being drafted into the Army?" (Because he asked me).

--"Do you always have to speak your mind?" (Yes).

--"Can you cook anything besides tacos and fudge?" (No, not yet; however I have other attributes).

Only by the grace of God did we survive our first two years of marriage. This is a literal statement in that we did worship together, which generated respect for each other into our relationship. Psychologist and marital specialist, George Levinger, said, "It's not how compatible you are, it's how you deal with incompatibility." Over the years I've learned that happiness and joy come from within and no spouse was put on this earth to make the other happy. Accepting that your partner and your marriage aren't perfect can actually increase long-term satisfaction.

Since marriage is a day-to-day, continuing relationship, there are skills that will always require work and commitment.

Communication is very important; both verbal and non-verbal. Honesty and sincerity are vital in a healthy marriage. Be ready to agree to disagree. Remember that each spouse comes from a mini-culture -- his or her family of origin. This is where your spouse learned values and skills that may differ from yours. In this family of origin, ways of communicating were influenced by parents and possibly siblings. Learning your partner's orientation to his or her environment is important. For example, don't complain about a spouse who fails to verbalize "I love you" when he surprises you by cleaning the house or painting your bedroom like the picture you admired in the home magazine. Just because you're more verbal doesn't mean your spouse expresses himself this way. Some enjoy "doing" to express their love. Some use humor on not so good days to say, "I love you." A friend of ours came home after an exhausting day at work to find utter chaos and unidentifiable people in his living room. Seeking out his wife he asked, "Ann, where are the elephants?" She replied, "What?!" He continued, "Well it looks like a three-ring circus in here, so I was looking for the elephants."

Not having to always be right goes a long way in smoothing out the rough days in a marriage. Saying, "I apologize for..." is priceless, plus it usually catches your spouse off-guard. When one apologizes, accept the apology and refrain from saying, "OK, but..." The word "but" means a condition is attached. If the apology is about infidelity, an apology and marriage counseling are probably necessary, as trust will have to be regained.

When two people marry, oftentimes children come into being. Since this article is focused on marriage, little will be said here about children. For harmony with a spouse, communication will need to take place as to how children will be disciplined. If a couple is not in agreement on this, children will learn quickly to divide and conquer. This manipulation, if allowed, will negatively affect the marriage.

Dr. Carol Bruess said just one person taking the initiative could help to improve a marriage. "It takes two to tango, but only one person to start the dance." Why don't you start the dance?


--Centers for Children and Families is a nonprofit agency dedicated to building strong, healthy families in the Permian Basin.

>>âӚÂӚˆVisit the Centers' website at www.centerswesttexas.org

--To suggest a future topic, e-mail [email protected]


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