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Strengthening the bond: Building a better marriage
Back to the future
Express yourself

S.O.S. for couples
S.O.S. for couples

Certain patterns point to trouble in a marriage. If you recognize the following signs, consider seeking professional counseling.

  • Avoiding each other
  • Frequent arguments that don’t end in resolution
  • Avoidance of or dissatisfaction with sex
  • Mentioning divorce during arguments
  • Physical abuse of a spouse and/or children
  • Disagreeing over how to raise the kids

Can marital spats make you sick?
Can marital spats make you sick?

Very possibly. Researchers at Ohio State University measured the immune function of 90 couples before and after asking them to discuss their most sensitive issues (the family finances, for example). The encounters were videotaped, and researchers rated subjects on their display of positive behaviors (the ability to compromise, agreeing with a partner, accepting responsibility) and negative behaviors (accusing, criticizing, withdrawing). Their findings: Although immune function dropped in all the participants, those displaying the most negative behaviors suffered the most dramatic declines. What’s worse, the negative types also experienced a significant rise in blood pressure that lasted at least half an hour.

Do you expect too much?
Do you expect too much?

Movies, novels and TV foster a romantic view of marriage that doesn’t often resemble real life. And that’s leading to problems, say marriage counselors. They report that many partners enter into marriage expecting perfection—and they’re disappointed when they don’t get it.

Think about the last few times you were disappointed by your spouse’s words, actions or “inactions.” Did you have good reason to be upset, or were you holding him up to some impossible standard? If so, give him a break!

Hurried dinners, stale conversation, whole evenings devoted to TV watching, routine sex. It’s a predictable pattern that many couples fall into after years of working, childrearing and coping with everyday fatigue. But it’s a pattern that needs breaking if both partners are to remain happy, fulfilled and secure in their roles. Because it’s one of the best antidotes to stress, a solid relationship also promotes good health.

Back to the future

Ironically, the more secure we feel about our partner’s love, the more likely we are to take him for granted. That’s when boredom, resentment and frustration begin to enter a relationship. To reignite the spark, recall the earliest days of your relationship and try to inject some of that romance into your current relationship. One of the simplest ways is though the art of surprise. For instance:

  • Tuck a love note into your husband’s briefcase or lunch box, or leave an affectionate message on his voice mail.
  • Meet him at the workplace as he’s ready to leave for the day, and whisk him away to your favorite romantic restaurant.
  • Remind him (and yourself) that he’s your soul mate. Light some candles, set a vase of flowers nearby and have a long talk.
  • Get a video of your husband’s favorite movie. Cuddle up next to him and watch it together.
  • Save up for tickets to a sporting or theater event you’ll both enjoy.
  • For a more ambitious plan, put money aside for a weekend getaway. Choose a romantic spot that will appeal to both of you.

Express yourself

Effective communication helps defuse stressful situations. Between partners, it’s necessary to foster trust, resolve conflicts and survive the typical events that occur over the life of a marriage—the birth of a child, job changes, illness, the loss of a loved one.

Experts say there are two properties of good communication: the ability to express your feelings openly and honestly and the ability to encourage others to do the same. An effective communicator does not blame, deny or attack. Rather, she tries to express her feelings without losing control of them and recognizes when a good dose of humor is needed.

Here are a few tips for enhancing communication between you and your mate (you can apply these techniques to work and other interpersonal relationships, too):

  • Make your expectations clear. Unless your husband is a mind reader, he needs verbal guidance—from you.
  • Don’t try to “win” every discussion. That makes you both defensive.
  • Discuss a problem immediately. Don’t wait for it to escalate.
  • Stick to the present when you’re trying to resolve a conflict.
  • Acknowledge and express your emotions in an appropriate way. Use “I” statements (“I feel angry when … ”) rather than “you” statements (“You make me angry when … ”).
  • Practice “active listening.” That means paying attention to what your partner is saying instead of planning your response.

A reminder: Don’t forget the power of touch to communicate love, compassion and reassurance. Hold your partner’s hands, give him a warm embrace or just cuddle. Research suggests that being deprived of touch may lead to depression, anxiety and other ills.