Every couple is different. Therefore, it is hard to talk about a unifying recipe. However, there is one ingredient that seems to be common in healthy and successful marriages. That significant element is empathy. To be more precise – empathy in relationships. In simple terms, empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes and really understand what they think and how they feel. To do that, you need to consider the other person’s perspective, whether you agree with it or not. It is easier said than done. In order to show empathy in marriage you need to be able to temporarily suspend your own view of things. You need to listen with an open mind without screening information through your own filter. The good part is that empathy in relationships is a skill that can be developed. Couples who have built a successful and healthy marriage have mastered the empathy skill in their marriage.
The first step that leads to empathy in marriage is the ability to develop active listening skills. How to listen actively? It is actually very simple:
Listen to what your partner is saying
Use all the patience you have to not interrupt them
When they pause, ask if you can answer or if they have more to say
Paraphrase what they said to you
Make sure you do not answer! Paraphrase only.
Ask your partner if you understood them correctly
If they said that you did not – ask them to clarify what you missed
Only then answer
Ideally, your partner will then return the favour
If you practice following the above steps you will develop active listening skills. Again, why do you need to know how to listen actively? It will directly improve empathy in your relationship and, as we discussed above, empathy in relationships is a key component to have a successful marriage.
There is an easy formula to understand what couples fight about. Couples fight about what creates stress for them at that particular point in time. Common couple disagreements revolve around money, sex, children and in-laws. In addition, partners often struggle with shortage of time. But remember, these are just some common issues. What couples fight about is a product of their current stressors. We often see it in marriage counselling . For some couples money is a predominant issue. They either find it hard to trust each other’s financial judgement or one partner takes over the finances and the other feels left out. Some couples have sexual concerns. The most common is sexual frequency, more specifically incompatibility in desire.
A number of couples disagree on parenting practices. The most common disagreement is whether to be a disciplinarian to facilitate achievement or to prioritize childhood over performance. Successful parents usually find a happy medium. Issues with in-laws often revolve around one partner wanting to keep strong ties with their parental family. The other partner usually feels that they are a second priority. Finally, the issue of time shortage is quite trivial. Some partners are so overworked that they are too exhausted to complete chores or even talk about the relationship. The shortage of time also prevents partners from pursuing their own interests and they describe feeling trapped in the relationship. If it was possible to slow down the fast pace of our lives, many marital issues would be mitigated.
I believe that nowadays there is less stigma around counselling in general and marriage counselling in particular. For that reason, couples are more willing and open to share their concerns with a professional. People are also more open to talk to friends and relatives about their participation in counselling. This leads to others seeking out help too. In addition, there have been significant improvement in methods employed by marriage counsellors and people are more satisfied with the results of the process and benefit from the regained emotional connection.
Overall, women are more likely to initiate the process of counselling. It is a generalization, of course. I think it has to do with women, in general, being more open to new emotional experiences and, traditionally, being more attuned to ruptures in emotional connection. Interestingly, more and more men are now calling to initiate couples counselling. It may have to do with modern men becoming more open to emotional experiences. Regardless of the underlying reasons, the trend is very positive.
Most people prefer to see someone one-on-one and receive personalized service. Rightfully so, they want a marriage counsellor to be tuned-in to their particular issues and to give suggestions tailor-made for them. Fair enough. No one wants a cookie cutter approach.
What people do not realize though, until they try it, is that a skilful, easy-to-digest approach to psychoeducation can move a couple forward far beyond the counselling alone. It is true that psychoeducation without counselling can be too vague. However, counselling without psychoeducation is often incomplete with a higher chance of relapse in the future. What works best for relationships is a combination of practical psychoeducation coupled with marriage or relationship counselling.
Even an individual partner attending a seminar on communication skills for couples has a significantly higher chance of improving the relationship by applying the new tools. The other partner usually follows suit without even realizing it.
Sometimes people say: “But my spouse or my friends told me not to read self-help because it only makes me feel worse and behave weirdly.” The only truth in this is that temporarily you might feel worse or behave in a way that other people would not want you to behave. The reason your friends are saying it is probably because they don’t know what to do when they notice a change in you. When you become more assertive or when you start taking better care of yourself people close to you need to redefine their relationship with you and ultimately change themselves. The important thing to remember here is that most of the time your friends do not have any bad intentions. The only reason they try to prevent you from changing is that they do not want to change themselves. Eventually they will accept your new ways. It just takes time for them to get used to the new you, who is experimenting with putting boundaries that you have never put before, being more daring, being able to say no or to ask for what you want and need. So be patient with them and go for what you want.
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