Recently, I was interviewed by “Good Things Utah” as to what is the secret to a happier, healthier marriage. And really, who doesn’t want this kind of marriage? One in which both partners feel connected, valued, and loved. From my 20+ years of experience as a clinical counselor, I’ve found that fostering the skill of empathy can really make all the difference for couples.
What is empathy exactly? Feeling bad for someone who’s struggling? Relating to someone else because you’ve gone through something similar? I like the research of Theresa Wiseman, who helps us understand empathy by breaking it down into these 4 parts:
Marriage is one of the most important relationships, but it can also be one of the most confusing! There are so many false beliefs perpetuating about what a good marriage really looks like. And while we may know in our minds that other couples have struggles as well, it’s not always something we talk about. Here are 4 common marriage myths:
When we think of strengthening our marriage relationship, it’s easy to think of big, dramatic actions, like going to therapy or buying expensive gifts for our spouse, but renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman says that it’s actually the little things that make all the difference. Here are 4 easy ways to improve your marriage:
John Gottman is a world renowned therapist that specializes in marriage therapy. I use several of his ideas and techniques when working with couples. Today, I want to share the idea of Love Maps with you.
Gottman talks about a marriage like a house. It is built from the foundation up. When the foundation is shaky, it creates instability in many other areas of the relationship. One way to strengthen your marriage foundation is to create a shared meaning and have good emotional intimacy. Love maps are a great place to start in creating this emotional intimacy. I have listed the questions to create a love map. The challenge is to sit down with your spouse and see how many questions they can answer. If they get the answer wrong, it creates a time that you can share thoughts and feelings in a safe way. Try it with your spouse! It will create a wonderful time of connection.
-Name my two closest friends.
-What was I wearing when we first met?
-Name one of my hobbies.
-What stresses am I facing right now?
-Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.
-What is my fondest unrealized dream?
-What is one of my greatest fears?
-What is my favorite way to spend an evening?
-What is my favorite way to be soothed?
-What is my favorite get away place?
-What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel
-What are some of my favorite ways to work out?
-What medical problems do I worry about?
-What was my most embarrassing moment?
-Name one of my favorite movies.
-What is my favorite restaurant?
Rachel is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She loves working with couples in distress, and those looking to make their relationship better.
Call 801-944-4555 and make an appointment to find new ways to strengthen your relationship.
Do you ever find understanding your husband somewhat like predicting the current political climate? Explaining the presidential election to your son or daughter? If so, you’re not alone. Many women find their husband baffling, if not outright mysterious. If this describes your current feelings, here are seven secrets that can really help you understand him more deeply.
#1)He Really Does Love It When You Notice Him
Really notice him. How he looks. How handsome he is. How much he means to you. How cute he is in those nice fitting jeans. Although he won’t tell you this, he totally loves it when you show him attention. Men want to believe they’re handsome and desirable. Desirable as your very awesome husband. Help him believe that by noticing him often.
#2) It Really Is NOT All About Sex
Although his actions may seem to tell you otherwise, he doesn’t have sex on his mind 24/7. Just as women aren’t emotionally focused constantly (stereotype!), men aren’t sexually focused every moment as well. In fact, men crave affection almost as much as women do. Men in Salt Lake City love to be hugged. Kissed. Held. And! Men love to cuddle closely with “no strings attached” in bed. Truly! He isn’t always hoping that cuddling will lead to making love either. Ask him. But ready to be surprised by his answer.
During my tenure in graduate school it was required to gather research and write a thesis. I aimed to create fabulous research about couples and their marital satisfaction. Out of the many questionnaires gathered, and statistical tests administered I was left with only one correlation of statistical significance. However, it was one that has greatly shaped how I do marriage therapy, and how I act in my own marriage. The correlation found that couples who participated in daily connection rituals reported higher levels of marital satisfaction.
What are connection rituals? Im glad that you asked! Connection rituals span a great many ideas that include leaving notes to each other, having daily talk time, going on walks, eating dinner together, doing service for the other person, greeting each other with a hug and kiss, and many other ideas. Anything that you do on a daily or even regular basis that helps you feel connected to each other is considered a connection ritual. One husband in my survey said his favorite connection ritual was when his wife slapped his rear end after they brushed their teeth at night. How funny that something so small could send such a powerful message. I see you and love you. All that from a little slap on the rear end.
In couples counseling I ask over and over what they are doing on a daily basis to connect with each other. It is amazing the difference that comes about when the couple creates and completes things that connect them and allow them to feel attached to each other. When made a daily ritual I have found that couples feel more important to their spouse, which leads to feeling more loved, which leads to higher marital satisfaction. Want an added boost to your relationship? Add a daily connection ritual with your spouse. Eat breakfast together. Always kiss each other when one of you leaves. Use the time when the kids are in bed to talk about your day. Massage your spouses feet while you watch Stranger Things. The sky is the limit. Talk about what you would like and come up with a game plan. I have only seen very positive things come out of it!
You’ve probably been getting marriage advice since you first started dating, or even earlier! Some of it has been solicited and helpful, some of it has not. I hope, since you clicked on this article, that my advice can fall into the first category.
People, apparently myself included, are eager to share what they have learned about what works (and what doesn’t) in marriage. About half of the clients that I have seen over the past seven years have been couples.
Here is a link to an article I recently wrote on my blog understandingtherapy.com. It’s my #1 Marriage Advice that I have gleaned from observing and counseling distressed couples.
Relationship maintenance is one of the most important things couples can do to create and “maintain” emotional intimacy. This maintenance comes in many forms. Some couples have regular date nights. Others have daily talk time. Often times one or both people read self help books about strengthening the relationship. Many of the couples I work with, and come across in my personal life, ask me about books they can read that will give them skills to strengthen their relationship. Here are two books I think every couple, happy or in distress, should read.
The first is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five ways that people show and feel love. The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, service, and gift giving. This book takes you through the these five love languages and helps you identify which love language speaks to you. Read this with your partner. Once both of you are done and have properly identified your love language, share it with the other person. I use this idea in every couples session. The hope is that once you know your partners love language you can start speaking directly to what they need in the relationship. Someone who has the love language of quality time, but is given gifts will not feel properly loved and connected to their partner. This book gives invaluable insight into yourself and your partner that can strengthen every relationship.
The second is Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. This is a fantastic book that teaches you about attachment and reconnection with your partner. It has seven fabulous “conversations” for you and your partner to work through. If you are looking for emotional intimacy with your partner this is the book you are looking for. It is educational and highly effective at healing past wounds within relationships. Even if you and your partner have a healthy and loving relationship this book can still be a tool in creating a stronger bond.
Many couples feel that going to therapy, or even reading books like these shows a weakness in the relationship. My frame is that attending therapy and reading books to better your relationship is a strength; it means you and your partner are willing to put hard time and effort into being better individually and together. These couples are the ones that have relationships that will last. Hopefully you have the time to pick up these two books and give them a try. Read them with openness along side your spouse and they can make a world of difference.
I love stories, and I feel connected to many people through the stories they share. One of my favorite things about being a therapist
is the exchange of stories that I’m invited into each day. Story telling is such a rich part of our culture, and in fact culture itself can be passed on through stories.
When I think about local dating culture I picture couples going out for dinner and then going to the movies. Movies are merely big budget stories and sometimes, like in my own life, a date to a movie turns into a story of marriage.
In studying couples we have come to understand that the way in which partners describe their past predicts the future of the marriage. That’s some powerful storytelling! I recall the first time I heard this idea when I was in my undergraduate studies and it boggled my mind to think that the way in which a couple tells “their story” can lead a specialist to predict their stability or divorce with a 94% success rate. In my practice I have seen partners develop such animosity toward their spouse that they get to a point where they only remember the negative aspects of their marriage. In a way they are rewriting their history, and only including the bad parts. This often acts as a catalyst that activates divorce.
Happy couples, in contrast, highlight their good memories. This is significant because they are not hiding the bad, they are simply
emphasizing the positive moments. This method of story telling helps the couple maintain closeness and encourages positive regard for each other. Happy couples have an ability to look back over the years with affection and even when happily married couples experience hardships, they focus on their strength and their “we-ness” rather than focusing on specific struggles.
I enjoy helping couples rewrite their past and embrace a new narrative that empowers their partnership. If you would like help creating a new narrative for your marriage I invite you to start rewriting today.
To schedule a session with Tyler Stark ACMHC please call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
For this Valentine’s Day season, I thought it fitting to use this Studio 5 segment to discuss one of my favorite topics: love! We all know the excitement of falling in love, of being completely and totally enamored with someone else. Who doesn’t love roses, chocolates, and candlelit dinners for two? But the truth is that when February is done, when the honeymoon phase of a relationship is over, real love is a lot of work. It can be challenging, painful even, but it can ultimately help us learn and mature, both individually and together. Here are a few ways that love is a growth process: