7 tips for a healthier marriage

by: Andy Gear, PLPC
1. Avoid blaming

In our consumer culture it is tempting to look for ways to change the other person. We often look at the people in our relationships as we would products and want them to perform to our liking (Doherty). However, it is ineffective and destructive to try to change someone else. Instead it is much more effective to initiate change in your own behavior. In most cases changing how you approach the relationship will have a positive effect on the marriage, regardless of your partner’s intention to change. This is a countercultural way of living, but one that will improve relationships immensely if lived consistently.

2. Take time to reflect

Changing the way you act in relationships requires a great deal of self-reflection. We must think about who we truly are and how we want to live. It is vital to see beyond our surface frustrations to the softer emotions that are driving our fears and longings. If we do not reflect, we will see our marriage issues as merely frustrations with the other person’s behavior. In order to communicate with your spouse effectively you must know what is going on inside you.

3. Determine true needs

Reject the consumer mentality that your partner must meet your each and every desire. Spouses cannot meet every one of our needs and that is ok. We can distinguish between our needs and desires. We all have hopes and desires, but it is unfair to establish goals for another person. Determine what you truly need from your spouse, and what are simply desires or qualities that can be met by a friend.

4. Communicate your needs directly

Communicate to your spouse what you truly need in the relationship honestly and directly. Though it may be terrifying, we must have the courage to communicate our honest feelings to our spouse instead of someone else. If we do not communicate what we most long for in the relationship, our partner is unable to respond to our deepest needs.  But if we communicate our deepest feelings we open ourselves up to the possibility of closer intimacy.

5. Respond to each other’s needs

Respond to your partner’s feelings, reassuring them that you are there for them (Johnson). Be emotionally responsive to each other’s deepest fears and needs. It is not about agreeing with the other person’s view but trying to understand where the other person is coming from. Our problems often have more to do with the hurt and the disconnection than about the disagreements. Seeing one’s partner respond empathetically to their deepest needs has a deeply bonding effect. This does not imply that we solve them, but that we show that we understand. Showing your partner that they matter to you helps create a safe and secure relationship where one can be less defensive (Johnson).

6. Clarify your commitment

Knowing that you are both committed to the marriage can help lower the emotional intensity of your conflict. It helps to understand that the frustrations you are pointing out in your partner are not deal breakers. Agree that you do not want divorce to be a part of the conversation (Doherty). With this commitment, you can take the time to improve the marriage at its root, rather than frantically trying to rescue the marriage from the brink. Of course not all couples will be able to tell each other that divorce is not an option, but for those who can, this can reduce tension and improve your ability to work on your marriage.

7. Fight for the relationship

Relationships naturally weaken when they are neglected. Resist the urge to simply fight for your own needs, instead fight for the needs of the relationship (Doherty). Take responsibility for the relationship and be intentional about it.  Work together to look for creative and practical ways to continue to connect in your daily lives. Make it a priority. Staying together even through a difficult marriage (except in extreme cases) is rewarding, both for you and for your entire family. But keeping that close connection requires work, commitment, and making the relationship a priority.  

Learning to be Mentored by the Lord

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at a conference being held at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church.  The conference was called, “Beautiful.”  I was by no means the keynote speaker.  I simply led one of the breakout sessions.  I was asked to speak on the challenges and joys of being single.

While we talked about the many statistics associated with those that are single, as well as the lies singles are often tempted to believe about themselves, we purposely spent most of our time talking about what it would be like to be mentored by the Lord.  Since the bible would tell us that all of our thoughts and actions flow from our heart, it made sense to focus our attention not on changing our actions but on beginning to think about changing our mindset when it comes to our relationship with God.  This is where the idea of being mentored by the Lord comes into play.

In our society we have a human way of thinking about being mentored.  It usually consists of an older person taking a younger person “under their wings” to teach them things about life.  When I think of the word mentor, I am reminded of my mentor in life.  Her name is Karen.  Karen was (is) wonderful.  From  pretty much the very first moment I met Karen she began investing her life into mine.  She spent time with me, she invited me into her families home, she taught me about God and about life.  I am forever grateful to Karen and her family for the many ways they have remained (even to this day) committed to my growth as a human before the Lord.

As I think back on this mentoring relationship, I am struck by some realities that need to be present in any mentoring relationship.  This is what I came up with (and honestly this is what Karen taught me)…

1.  In any mentoring relationship both parties must be FAITHFUL.  Both the mentor, and the one being mentored must be committed to one another by faithfully meeting.
2.  In any mentoring relationship both parties must be AVAILABLE.  Both the mentor, and the one being mentored must be emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually available to one another.
3.  In any mentoring relationship both parties must be TEACHABLE.  The one being mentored must be relationally in a place to trust their mentor to challenge, correct, and learn from them.  (And honestly, the one mentoring will also need to be teachable.)

Is this making sense?  I hope so.  So now what if we take these same characteristics of a human-to-human mentoring relationship and apply them to the Lord-to-human mentoring relationship?

The beautiful thing about now applying these characteristics to God is that He is already FAITHFUL and committed to us.  He is already AVAILABLE to us.  He is already committed to TEACHING us His ways so that we are safe.  Where the Lord-to-human mentoring relationships can often break down is our lack of being faithful to Him, our lack of being available to him, and our lack of allowing Him to transform us.  Most often, I would say, we lack these characteristics because we do not trust Him with our good.

Intimacy is a function of time.  The more time we spend with anything, be it a person or a thing, we will know it better.  What if you chose to spend more time with God?  What if you chose to allow Him to mentor you?  To love you, to nurture you, to learn from, to become familiar with Him.  What if you moved slowly towards the Lord through prayer letting Him know you don’t trust Him?  He will listen.  He will move towards you.  And you, by risking, will begin to know and believe your identity in Him and feel safe.  Over time….over time….over time…

I’m still learning how to allow the Lord to mentor me.  Everyday.  Some days I fall flat on my face trying, but at least I am trying.  And no matter of how “well” I am doing at the Lord-to-Lianne mentoring relationship He always remains.  I cannot, nor will I, ever change His love, commitment, or presence in my life. Whew…..