by Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D.
Four provocative truths every married couple needs to know
Falling in love is amazing! The excitement of meeting someone new brings out the best in all of us; the journey ahead feels like an open road full of possibility … but, then something happens: Either the relationship starts to feel stale, or perhaps money issues, kids, or trying to figure out a comfortable work-life balance comes into play. Whatever the cause, the initial spark dims or goes out altogether, and the future of your relationship becomes a long and winding road, full of pit stops and flat tires.
Well, don’t worry because this happens to everyone. All it means is that it’s time for a tune-up.
You see, we spend a lot of time and energy finding our perfect mates. By the time we say “I do,” we assume (and fervently hope) that the work is over. The idea of having to spend time working on your marriage may seem strange or even depressing, but it’s worth it! Even if it feels like your whole marriage needs an overhaul, deepening your relationship doesn’t have to be a grueling process. With the right tools, the suffering can end.
One of the best ways to help your marriage is to ensure you’re thinking about it the right way. After working with thousands of couples – and on our own marriage – we’ve distilled some essential truths that help couples keep their relationships fresh as they navigate the life-long experience of growing real love:
1. Conflict is growth trying to happen. Most people believe that if you’re having problems in your marriage, you’re with the wrong person. So, when conflict gets heated and gnarly, they wonder if it’s time to bail … and it’s not! Rather, if you’re willing to work with the conflict, there is something wonderful and amazing waiting for you right around the corner. The key is learning how to work with conflict creatively – in ways that help both you and your partner grow. Plus, just changing your perspective so that you view conflict as an opportunity, an indicator that it’s time to grow, can help ease the troubles you‘re having.
2. It’s not him; it’s you. Ninety percent of the upset you feel with your partner comes from your past. It’s true! So, stop blaming your partner. We know that it’s hard to do – especially when you feel miserable and it seems as though the source of your misery is, well, that annoying person you’re married to. But here’s the thing: We fall head over heels in love with someone who is similar to our parents, which is a mysterious design that holds the potential for deep, abiding connection – once you get past all the squabbling. So, the next time you feel your blood boiling, remind yourself: This feeling has more to do with my past than my partner!
3. A laugh a day keeps the divorce lawyer away. Sometimes we’re so busy working on our relationships that we actually forget to enjoy them. And what’s the point of doing all of that work if you’re not having fun with your partner? Using humor and joy is critical to a couple’s happiness together. Now, this doesn’t mean you get to dust off your passive-aggressive tendencies and use “humor” to zing your partner with little digs or critiques. What it means is that you have our permission to go out and have fun. So, create fun times together by mixing things up a little. Try dance lessons, improv, a cooking class.
When we decided to bring the fun back into our relationship, we cooked a whole meal together wearing Groucho Marx glasses. Of course we felt silly – and that was the whole point!
4. Want to spice up your relationship? Ditch all negativity! Why are we so inclined to focus on what’s bad instead of what’s good? Every relationship (including ours, once upon a time) contains at least some negativity, and the amount of negativity in a relationship is directly proportional to the amount of trouble it’s in. Negativity includes any/all words, tone of voice, facial expressions and/or behavior your partner says feels negative to him/her. And yes, rolling your eyes counts.
You see, negativity is like rat poison; nothing can grow in it! So, if you want your relationship to grow, you’ve got to get rid of all negativity. Yes, all of it. We finally did, and in fact, our zero-tolerance policy is the single most effective strategy we’ve used to create real love.
These truths can help you become better partners for each other, and to create a marriage that is full of real, lasting love and a blissful connection.
Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. are co-creators of Imago Relationship Therapy and a social movement called Safe Conversations. Internationally respected as
*This article was originally published 12/07/21 on the Harville & Helen website