All marriages are under pressure. Currently, it feels like my marriage is one step beyond that ... I admit it, nor am I ashamed to share our state of being. I'm no drama king, just a modern guy facing the current realities of my life.
After reading many lists about the top ten most stressful circumstances in life that couples encounter together, I discovered that my marriage is negotiating the rocky rapids of at least four of the top ten. Specifically, we are navigating the turbulent currents of bereavement (my mother died suddenly four months ago), a job change (my husband left his job) and a pending move (Canada or Florida). The Universe has stamped our life's file in bright red ink with the word TRANSITION!
But we are surviving. Here's why: open communication — and love — trumps the difficulties brought about by the unavoidable reactive behavior. We always see the opportunity for positive change in the face of adversity. This makes me feel good, hopeful even.
We feel more connected than ever, as we use the skills we have learned together. I see in our "case study," that we have the tools, maturity and attitude to tackle some short term challenges but that does not necessarily cement long term success. Or does it?
What makes a successful marriage and lifetime partnership?
As a professional executive and personal coach, I help people find answers for themselves. I tap into the wisdom, experience and internal guidance systems of my clients. This method has proved time and time again to be successful. So, I posed this question to 350 of my clever clients, friends and family.
My generous and thoughtful network shared lots of ideas, but here are two of the top aspects for a sustainable and loving relationship: communication and humor ...
"Fighting fair" was a common response to the question of what makes a successful marriage. Pick your battles was a tactic to keep the peace. "Listening" also came out as a key ingredient, whether the respondent was referring to their own personal growth, in how they listen to their spouse or the need for their spouse to listen to them.
In coaching, we recognize that all people ultimately want to be seen, heard and understood. For a marriage to thrive, this consciousness plays a big part in healthy daily communication. A number of respondents commented on "agreeing to disagree" which is a positive and neutralizing strategy in telling your partner that you see and hear their point and understand their position even though you don't agree with it. Using the "agree to disagree" tool illustrates an intention to move forward without further conflict and strife. An internal letting go process may ensue.
Listening within your marriage is really about being with your mate. It all comes down to presence and awareness. In other contexts, we start listening and then shift our focus to formulating our response, listening to our own thoughts as a result.
But true listening involves a clear, present and open mind. You can take concrete steps to ensure that you'll be focused for a difficult conversation. For instance, one friend gave this piece of advice, "Never have a big conversation on an empty stomach." It may sound silly or trite, but they are words to lie by. Think about it. At least in my experience, when my blood sugar level drops, I can be the biggest b*#ch to my mate.
Another important part of communication is recognizing the subtleties in each other. A friend of mine here in New York explained that it is important to "understand one another's unique rhythm." "For instance," my friend continued, "there are times when we are both having an off night and we just need to give each other space. I try not to bring up heavy topics like finances or child related stuff and keep it light instead. We'll have some wine and watch a show together."
My husband and I can shift from a tense moment almost immediately. How? We cut the tension with a good laugh. If we are feeling that we aren't being recognized for something, not being seen, heard and understood, we put a Post-it on a ceramic "trophy" (a vase we keep in the kitchen) and pretend we are making an Oscar-like speech. What is now a funny ritual came out of an in-the-moment joke we made in a tense situation. Now we use it as a tool to call attention to something we need and make it playful, as opposed to unpleasant and emotionally loaded. I might say, "Get the pad of post-its and the trophy, I have something to be acknowledged for" to him. We then laugh and I have his full attention while I'm "on the stage."
An attitude of playfulness is a remarkable energy in a relationship that can circumvent and transcend problems, challenges and life's stressors. Humor and playfulness resonate most for me. What do you do to bring humor and laughter into your marriage? Post below in the comments section!