It’s the question posed and grappled by many modern humans: “How do you make a marriage work?” To most people, marriage is a rightfully intimidating concept. It’s a lifelong commitment to someone, meaning your trials and tribulations are going to be shared with another person. As great as that can sometimes be, it can also be pretty scary and boding. Taking each other for granted can lead to an unhappy marriage, and possibly a messy divorce. The last thing you ever want to wonder is how did you go from being two sing-songy lovebirds to deciding on who gets the kids on weekends?
In fact, according to John Gottman, psychologist and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, happy marriages are actually better for your health. Those in unhappy marriages have been found to have a greater risk of getting sick, and have shorter lives than those who are happily married by up to eight years, most likely from the wear and tear on their mental and emotional health.
Let’s face it, the pressure that comes with marriage is high because it’s the foundation for many pillars in life: kids, finances, work stress, you name it. How is it possible for two people to agree on the same thing every single time?
Well, the simple answer is: they won’t. This isn’t always bad news, though. “These missions come down to attaining a rich understanding between partners that will allow both of them to feel safe and secure in the relationship,” Gottman writes.
“Happy married folks,” as he continues, “have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones,” Gottman writes. “Rather than creating a climate of disagreement and resistance, they embrace each other’s needs.”
With that being said, there are a few hot spots that Gottman believes will ultimately arise in every marriage. If the partners don’t recognize each other’s differences when it comes to handling these keystones, then the union could fall apart. So, here’s how Gottman suggests people deal with a few of these common relationship milestones. In the end, you guys will come out stronger than ever.
The issue: Dealing with money so that both partners feel secure and empowered by their financial freedom.
The solution: It doesn’t matter if you’re swimming in dough or if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, money is going to cause a conflict between you and your partner sooner or later. At its core, money is symbolic of emotional needs, like power and safety. Gottman suggests that couples continuously work on a budget together so that everyone’s needs are both known and met. “Make sure you don’t end up with a budget that forces martyrdom on either of you,” he warns. “This will only build resentment.” Start off the budget-building by breaking down everything you’re spending and then seeing how it affects your financial future.
The issue: Creating a sense of fairness and teamwork when it comes to housework.
The solution: The traditional archetypical dynamic of household chores is that the wife ends up taking care of the bulk of the work, and the husband overestimates the amount of work he does. In order to avoid a conflict of this sort, couples need to understand that housework is a team effort. Figuring out how much slack actually needs to be picked up differs for every couple. But the overall issue requires that both partners sit down, go over an itemized list of household chores, and address their expectations. The most important part (other than finally picking up a broom), is that neither party feels unappreciated or unsupported. If the wife doesn’t feel like the husband is pulling his weight and the husband feels as though his wife is nagging him all the time, resentment can start to build, and that’s going to cause problems elsewhere in the relationship.
The issue: Both parties need to feel appreciated and accepting of each other’s needs.
The solution: Sex is a vulnerable moment for anyone. This area has the highest potential for embarrassment, hurt, and rejection within a relationship. For starters, sexual satisfaction (for everyone in the marriage) should be a priority, even if you have kids and high-stress jobs. This starts with communication and trust, which isn’t easy when it comes to something like sex. “Learn to talk to each other about sex in a way that lets each partner feel safe,” Gottman writes. This means being gentle and positive about each other’s needs and avoiding criticisms. This also means not taking things personally, even though sex is pretty intimate. What your partner likes or doesn’t like isn’t a direct criticism of you. Finally, both people should compromise and work together to find out what works for both of you. Remember, it’s not a one-time conversation. It’s ongoing—and worth it.
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