Maintaining open communication with your spouse is an essential component in a successful marriage. Unfortunately many are not able to achieve open communication in their marriage resulting in frequent conflicts, anger and depression. To help understand why married couples today have a difficult time in maintaining open communication and what married couples can do to keep the lines of communication open, I have interviewed therapist Dr. Lee Horton.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a psychologist, marriage counselor and author of Crumbling Commitment: Managing a Marital Crisis. I am an independent practitioner in Memphis, TN. I have been in practice for over 25 years. My primary focus is on helping couples to overcome barriers in their relationship that prevent the connection and intimacy they desire.”
What do married couples today have a difficult time in maintaining open communication?
“It is important to understand that you are not striving for the same marriage that your parents and grandparents desired. A couple marrying today want to be emotionally, physically and sexually connected for a lifetime, while each shares the power to define what type of relationship they have.”
“Marriage for previous generations was a means of survival. Roles were traditional ones in which the man had economic and social power, while the woman was placed in a dependent role. Even my parents’ generation looked down on women who were divorced as being of dubious moral character – even when the husband was harmful.”
“Why is this important? Today women want an equal say in defining their marriage. Women are more economically and socially independent. Unfortunately, couples lack skills to negotiate such a relationship. Why do I say this? Well, first the couple who marries today has nearly a 50% chance of divorcing. Plus, a sizable number of those who stay married will be disconnected but remain married for fear of divorce, for the children’s well being, for economic reasons, or for religious reasons.”
“The marriage we desire is treated as something that should come naturally. You find your soul mate, and then are happy ever after. To remain connected through a lifetime is a huge challenge that most will fail. It takes a great effort to have an exceptional relationship, one in which you gain greater intimacy over the years. Yet, we offer couples little in the way of training in how to maintain a connection.”
Can a lack of open communication lead to divorce?
“Divorce does not happen when the couple files legal papers. Rather, divorce is something that happens gradually. Divorce is a process of emotional detachment. Filing divorce is simply stating legally what has happened in the marriage. Many, many couples believe that emotional detachment is a normal process of marriage. It is not. Emotional detachment is a symptom that must be addressed with as much energy and effort that you can muster.”
“Marital problems do not lead to divorce. Hopelessness is the enemy of the marriage. The decision to divorce is based on the belief that the relationship will remain dissatisfying. Divorce is an escape from pain. When both partners are willing to work on improving the relationship, then this effort communicates hope for a better, more satisfying relationship. As long as there is hope, couples will remain together.”
So, how can couples maintain a connection that lasts a lifetime?
“First, intimate couples value the relationship and each other. They value the relationship by nourishing it. Relationships must be a priority that competes with career and children for time and effort. They demonstrate value in each other by giving each other the message, “You are important to me” on a regular basis, not just once a year on your anniversary. When we are willing to give to our partner instead of being selfish, we are saying, “You have worth”.
“Second, connected couples respect their different viewpoints, feelings and desires. They know that their partner will try to understand their perspective even though they may not share the same view. Differences aren’t criticized or judged as inferior. Feelings are shared appropriately. Hurt sounds vulnerable, not angry. You can express pain because you know your partner is there for emotional support. Your desires are shared in the knowledge that neither of you will receive all you want, but that you share a willingness to give up some of your desires because connection is more important than having your way.”
“Lastly, couples must address problems as they arise. Problems must not be ignored. Some issues are less important than others, but all are worthy of being addressed. The most dangerous spouse is not one who constantly complains, it is one who holds in his or her views and feelings, allowing them to build into strong resentment and hopeless dissatisfaction with the relationship.”
What type of professional help is available for a married couple that is having a difficult time maintaining open communication in their marriage?
“Couples who seek marriage counseling must be careful in choosing a therapist. Choose a therapist who has specifically trained in marriage counseling. The average psychologist has had no more than one course in marriage counseling. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy certifies marriage counselors by requiring supervised training before they are accepted for clinical membership.”
“Marriage counseling is typically a briefer, more active type of therapy than individual therapy. The therapist must be able to control sessions so that the couple does not disintegrate into harmful interaction. This means the therapist must be comfortable with interpersonal tensions and willing to guide the couple into a more productive interaction. If you end up spending your sessions arguing and feeling hopeless, try another therapist before you assume your marriage is hopeless.”
Thank you Dr. Horton for doing the interview on how someone can maintain open communication with his or her spouse. To learn more about how to stay on a path of intimacy with your partner you can read more at Dr. Horton’s blog, http://marriagemattersblog.blogspot.com/. For help in overcoming a crisis in your marriage, you can purchase his book or download his ebooks at www.relationshipcrisis.com.
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