A note from the author: This is part of my column for Verily called Tools for an Intentional Marriage. It’s a collection of best practices for moving through your marriage on purpose. I’ll share the best tips, tricks, and ideas that I’ve discovered over my years as a marriage therapist and also as a husband. I hope you’ll collect, use, and even enjoy these tools as you seek to build your own Intentional Marriage.
A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a marriage retreat, and I asked the couples in the crowd to give me all the “marriage” or “relationship” words they could think of that started with p. They came up with quite a list.
Perseverance, patience, play, passion, pain, partnership, pissed off, priority, polite . . .
We had a lively discussion about what many of those words meant and why some were on the list at all. Then I proposed two other “p words” to consider—words that could help an intentional relationship. When certain permissions are missing from a relationship, it’s hard to form secure attachment. When perspective is clouded or distorted, it’s hard to sustain hope and momentum through difficult times. The two work together to form a pathway through the many phases of a relationship.
When couples come in to my office for therapy, permission is one of the first things I offer them. Permission to struggle. To be normal. To hope. Often people get so caught up in their idea of a marriage that they fail to see it for what it really is. They need a way out. They need permission—to borrow a phrase—to be more of who they are and less of who they should be (thanks, Verily). My professional bio says that I’ve been happily married for seventeen out of eighteen years. It’s true; we had one that was terrible. I hope that in some small way, my bio gives couples permission to know that it doesn’t have to be all happy all the time.
Dr. John Gottman’s research revealed that all couples have problems. In fact, about two-thirds of your problems are unsolvable or “perpetual.” This means that they will never go away. Do you need permission to accept this fact? Do you need permission to stop solving your unsolvable problems? Do you need permission to believe that arguing is normal? More importantly, do you need permission to hope?
If so, from whom do you need permission? Your partner? God? An “expert”? I can tell you that my marriage has been way better after the terrible year than before. So I give you permission to believe that you can achieve the kind of relationship you want and deserve. It may, however, require perseverance and patience and perspective. Ahhh, more great “p words.”
That last one—perspective—is especially important. As an expert, I want to give you permission to gain as many perspectives on marriage as you can. Make it a priority.
Have you ever asked an older couple how they’ve made their marriage work? How about a peer couple? How about a younger couple? It’s a tough question to ask. It’s intimate. But it’s also eye-opening. Here’s the thing: No two marriages are the same. And, we can all learn something from someone else’s experience. Too often couples ignore the diverse realities and experiences and ideals that can help define an intentional relationship.
For instance, I have a client who lacks perspective. She is so committed to mirroring her mother’s marriage that she cannot see that her husband is not her father. Her idea of marriage is so close to her face that she can’t see the many possibilities and opportunities that lie in front of her. If only my client would step back to look at her marriage from a different vantage point, she might be able to better appreciate her husband for who he is in their unique relationship.
Are you too close? What happens if you take a few steps back and consider the long view of your relationship? Could your past struggles gain new meaning? Could you craft a different view of your future?
The problem is that “life” wants us to focus on this-thing-right-here-right-now-you-better-check-your-phone-to-see-what’s-up-or-you-might-miss-something-important. But actual life isn’t like that. It requires you to pick your head up, ask questions, and consider alternatives. The absolute best way to be intentional about this is to collect as many different perspectives as possible by asking questions. Choose a few couples right now that you think can help you back up a little bit. If you’re stuck, send me a note, and I’ll put you in touch with some couples.
There are a ton of other “p words” that can help you think about your intentional relationship. I think of: predictability. Purity. Process. I’d encourage you to make your own list. I actually think this is a fun exercise that you can do with any letter and any topic, and it’s a great way to have an intentional marriage through Creative Communication. But at least for now, I hope you will grant yourself permission to explore new perspectives about your partnership. It will be a great way to be intentional, and it’ll help you over the long run. I promise.
As always, I’d love to hear your point of view. Contact me on Twitter (@kzbrittle) or Facebook, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan