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Why Good Marriages Go Bad

Success in marriage takes vision, focus, and letting go.

Good marriages go bad not out of intent, but from misguided actions. These actions unknowingly undermine trust, respect, honesty, and appreciation. Over time, patience is replaced by impatience, excitement by apathy and pleasure by frustration. To prevent this from happening to your marriage learn how to choose your battles, establish a clear relationship vision, show your appreciation and embrace the necessary communication and problem-solving skills to resolve your challenges.

Unsuccessful couples often judge those with successful marriages as lucky. What they fail to recognize is the trials and tribulations these couples experience. A successful marriage does not fall on the heels of luck or good fortune. It is an outcome achieved by establishing a clear goal along with persistency  and commitment to achieving it.

The first component of a successful marriage is learning how to choose your battles by letting go of the little things (preferences). We all face nagging distractions in our marriage, such as arguing over how the bed is made, how the toilet paper rolls, how the house is cleaned, how your partner drives or how the tooth paste is squeezed. These frustrations are a natural reflection of your differences and are to be expected, but choosing to invest in these idiosyncrasies is both exhausting and unnecessary.

There is an easy step you can take today that will eliminate unnecessary tension caused by preferences. Start out by identifying several little things your partner does which annoy you. Write these down, review the list carefully and start accepting these one at a time. You may not be able to adapt to every one, but by reducing your list in half you have taken a significant step.

Similarly, there are a series of little things that you do that frustrate your spouse. Write these down and identify items that you can change to meet your partner’s needs and expectations. Slowly, but surely, work through your list until you have done away with as many of these distractions as possible. With fewer everyday frustrations, when you do face a challenge, it will not feel like an everyday occurrence. This will give you more energy and confidence to resolve it.

The second focus point is to ensure you have established a clear relationship vision. Your relationship vision is the overall emotional connection you and your partner are committed to achieving. Many individuals and couples confuse their relationship vision with their relationship goals. For instance, having children, buying a house or saving money for retirement are relationship goals. Your relationship vision is not something you can buy or place on a shelf. Without a clear vision, knowing the difference between when your thoughts, feelings and actions are keeping your marriage on track or pushing it off track becomes blurred.

There is no better time than the present to establish your relationship vision. To accomplish this, sit with your partner and identify the overall emotional state you are striving for. The following is my relationship vision with my wife, Lisa. We envision ourselves walking down a trail with lots of trees, flowers and wildlife. We are holding hands, smiling and feeling at peace with each other. There is a light breeze, the temperature is comfortable, the sun is shining and the sky blue. As we look into one another’s eyes we know we are safe, in good hands and confident that we will work together to over come future challenges. Our relationship vision is unique to us and is shared as a frame of reference for you to develop yours.

Once established, your relationship vision provides a frame of reference—a standard (values and beliefs) you uphold yourself and each other to. We all fall off track from time to time, this is normal and to be expected. Ultimately, your relationship vision will keep you focused, and in doing so; reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of conflict.

Third, show appreciation every chance you get. Many believe that acknowledging routine activities, duties or responsibilities is unnecessary, If this is true for you, I challenge you to reconsider your position. When is the last time you thanked your spouse for taking out the trash, doing the dishes or being a good parent?

Just as you, your spouse wants validation that they are on the right track and desires to feel valued, appreciated and respected by your words. This approach is more effective than criticizing unwanted behavior and your spouse is more likely to repeat a behavior that is genuinely and positively reinforced. Whatever you do, don’t wait for the perfect moment before complementing or thanking your partner.

The fourth focus point is resolving your challenges. We all face issues that cause tension and emotional discomfort. Such as, the quality of your sex life, an old argument or frustration related to an inability to reach a mutual decision, such as your parenting approach or how to manage your money. Each of these challenges represents an opportunity to push you farther away from each other or bring you closer together.

Take a minute to identify your challenges and order them from least stressful to most stressful. Are any of these issues over little things (preferences)? If so, let go of them. Once your preferences are out of the way, you can focus on what’s important. Start with your least difficult challenge to work with first. Discussing, problem solving and resolving it will prove no easy task. To ensure success,  empower yourself with essential communication and problem-solving skills. Once you have increased your skill level and resolved your first challenge you will be better prepared to take on more difficult ones.

By sticking close to these four objectives you will enhance intimacy, respect, trust, honesty and appreciation in your marriage. Start by letting go of the little things and creating a relationship vision. Complement these with consistent acts of thoughtfulness and appreciation and you will draw yourself closer to your partner. Add the necessary communication and problem-solving skills and you will resolve your challenges one at a time. Following these steps is a sure way to keep your marriage on the right track.


Myron Lewis, M.S.W., is the author of “Making Right Turns in Your Relationship.”

This article first appeared in the June 2006 issue of The Phoenix Spirit.

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