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Sustaining the Excitement of the First Year of Marriage

By: Sarah Kahan, LMSW

Published on www.frumtherapist.com February 25th, 2014

What do women and men want? Lo tov heyos adam levado.

As human beings we seek connection – with people, with parts of ourselves that we repressed, and with the world around us. How can we experience life to the fullest? When we have an intimate relationship with another human being, our lives feel more complete. Many couples fail in relationships because they did not receive it in childhood, so the healing done in the intimate relationship has the ability to heal the present and the past.

How do you define true love?

It is the ability to provide respect to the other person based on what the other person is and not by what you want the other person to be. It is the ability to value the other person based on their uniqueness.
Safety is the number one precondition for connection. Two people cannot connect if they are busy defending themselves against a barrage of negativity and mistrust, or if they fear being abandoned by their spouse. Safety is creating an environment where it is okay to sometimes feel lonely, vulnerable, sad, and weak.

What are the values we find essential to have in a good relationship?

Honesty, trust, loyalty, respect, care, responsibility, empathy, and compassion. The more one demonstrates these traits to their partner, the more these traits will be reciprocated.

How can you make your relationship a sacred place?

By finding the right balance between connectedness and separateness in the relationship. Accept the reality that your partner isn’t you and that your partner cannot fulfill all your needs. Create a porous wall around both of you and keep others out and in when appropriate. Often in relationships, couples may find it challenging to separate themselves from parents and in-laws that are too intrusive. Make the connection with your spouse your primary connection. Gently but firmly give the message to outside family members that your allegiance lies with your spouse. This usually gets easier over time.

What are things you can do to make the love grow between each other?

Use words that make your partner feel appreciated and special. Spend quality time together. Designate a time once a week to do something fun together. Buy gifts that are thoughtful. Do acts of service such as making supper, cleaning the house, and buying groceries that the other one likes. Learn each other’s language. Some will verbally express love and some will show it in actions. Show each other compassionate curiosity. Don’t assume the other knows what you want. Be tuned to your triggers. Know that when you are physically and emotionally depleted, you will feel more vulnerable.

How can you use conflict in a relationship as opportunities for connection?

Learn how to reflectively listen, validate and empathize. By repeating back to your spouse what was said to you, by expressing your understanding of how difficult the other spouse must feel and by putting yourself in their shoes, you help strengthen the relationship. Through rupture and repair, healing can occur. Discuss how you feel about the problem and work on common understanding. The goal is to connect emotionally and not necessarily about resolving the problem. Don’t attack, defend, avoid, or deny. When in conflict, focus on the feeling and emotion behind it, and not the action itself.

What is more important – being right or maintaining harmony?

Many problems in relationships occur because of our pride. We often want to win and sometimes insist on having the last word. Healthy relationships are built, not by winning every argument. Be willing to back down; most arguments are not of critical importance anyway.

Forgiveness is a powerful and important factor in maintaining healthy relationships. Real forgiveness is when we are willing to forget the experience. If we forgive, but bring up the incident later on, this is not real forgiveness. When we make mistakes, just consider how much we would appreciate others forgiving and forgetting.

Humor is a very powerful tool to use to keep the relationship enjoyable. Don’t take yourself too seriously and be willing to laugh at yourself. Humor can also relieve tense situations and sharing a moment of humor can often do more benefit than several hours of discussion. Maintaining healthy relationships means we take time to consider others, such as remembering birthdays and anniversaries. Focus on building spontaneity and newness by doing something unexpected sometimes. It helps to keep the relationship strong and exciting.

When should a couple consider marital counseling?

When discussions often have a negative, accusatory, critical, or a contemptuous tone. Excessive negativity leads to a distorted perception that can affect the past, present and future relationship. Escalated conflict usually leads to one spouse tuning out the other, often making it impossible to problem solve. A competent therapist can help the couple work through these issues and help the couple use more effective tools of communicating and connecting to each other in a more meaningful way.
Most couples can look back to the first year of marriage with tremendous excitement. Are you still excited when you see your spouse come through the door? Do you still laugh at each other’s jokes? Do you still enjoy sharing about your day with your spouse? If your answer is no, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

Sarah Kahan, LMSW is the Coordinator of the Simcha Program @ OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services.

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