The Advice Smart Marriage Therapists Always Share With Couples
Do this … and you’ll have a happier, healthier relationship.
We skipped the hours of couples therapy and jumped straight to the heart of the matter: What’s your absolutely best piece of relationship advice? We spoke with therapists, relationship experts and marriage counselors to get each of their favorite instructions for having an amazing relationship.
Share all the responsibilities
Too often, men leave the thinking, planning and organizing — aka emotional labor — to the women, says Elliott Katz, author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants. “Men will wait for the woman to tell him what to do and then do whatever she asks, and think he’s being a good husband and father,” Katz says. “A man may think women know more about these things, or he may think he’s being noncontrolling.” Katz tells me that they need to be aware of what’s going on in their homes and in their families, and they need to do their share of stepping forward with situations. Women should encourage their partners to do their share of helping at home and with the family.
Partners who primarily think of their own needs, instead of the needs of their partner — and always argue to win — create a relationship that is tense, fragile and likely to fail, says Larry Waldman, a psychologist and author of How Come I Love Him But Can’t Live with Him? “I like to say, ‘We must move from me to we,’ ” Waldman says. “A union where each partner first considers the needs and wants of their spouse will last forever.”
Being available may be one of the more difficult things to do with the demands from work, home obligations, personal needs and responsibilities. But making your spouse feel that you are present in the moment will take away irritation, miscommunication and other tiring aspects that your spouse may be experiencing, says Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a licensed mental health clinician and the founder and owner of Our Treatment Center. “Putting your phone, tablet or laptop away when your partner is around is a good start,” she says. Assure your spouse of your presence by making eye contact, nodding or affirming and reciprocating what your spouse is saying. Sometimes, looking at your partner with loving eyes and a smile can be enough, Holland-Kornegay says.
Have realistic expectations
Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them, says Olivia Tan, a Florida-based marriage therapist and the cofounder of CocoFax. Struggling to do this? Try to fully understand their perspective, she says. Ask questions, ask about their experiences and take the time to really understand your partner.
Turn toward your partner
The most common theme in relationship therapy is the pain that’s caused when couples begin to grow apart, says Rebecca Phillips, a licensed professional counselor based in Frisco, Texas. “Because of this, the one piece of advice I always share with couples is to turn toward instead of away or against,” Phillips says. So, for example, if you hear an exasperated sigh from your partner, this sigh was most likely a bid for connection. You can choose to turn toward, away or against. Turning toward, Phillips says, is to accept your partner’s bid for connection. Do this by gently inquiring about their bid (in this case, a sigh), asking them what’s on their mind. This is showing interest and asking questions. Turning away is noticing your partner’s bid for connection and ignoring it. Turning against is responding to your partner’s bid with judgment, anger or aggression. Phillips says that turning away or against will create emotional distance between you and your partner. “Research shows that over time, the choice to turn toward or away or against your partner’s bids for connection can make or break a relationship,” Phillips says. On the other hand, she says, turning toward your partner builds a foundation of trust, emotional connection and satisfaction.
Express your appreciation
When you’re feeling resentful, it may be hard to see the good in your spouse, says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a therapist with The Marriage Restoration Project in Baltimore, Maryland. “But it is precisely at that moment that you can — and need — to make the shift from negativity to feelings of fondness,” Slatkin says. “The more you express to your spouse what you appreciate about him, the more good you see in him. In turn, your spouse’s resentment will diminish as he realizes that you appreciate him.”