USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Improving Marriage and Intimate Relationships

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

Key Point

Most of us have no control over those people we find sexually appealing. We usually know rather quickly if someone is attractive to us. This is not always the case, but in most instances, it is.

A close relationship between two individuals, whether it’s a friendship or love relationship, will revolve around what those two people have in common. For example, if both individuals value hiking and pets, this gives them something to talk about. The more two people have in common, the more relaxed they feel in the presence of each other.

However, an intimate relationship between dating and marriage partners involves another key component: sexual attraction. This attraction, which is a powerful element, can make it easy to overlook many things surrounding that attraction.

Riding high on a physical connection, you can become attracted to someone who has little or nothing in common with you. You may not even share the same set of values in life. Once you get to truly know each other, you may find that you have major differences of opinion concerning religion, your work ethic as individuals, and family values.

In any situation, your conversation (either spoken language or subconscious ideas you both share) constitutes your actual relationship experience with someone. To build the relationship stronger, you will need to find additional things you have in common. Or, you will need to nurture the relationship based on things you already have in common. This makes your conversation go much smoother on a day-to-day basis.

We’ve all heard divorcing couples say, “We just grew apart over the years.” When we hear this, it’s natural to think: Couldn’t someone have done something before this love story came to an end?”

The fact is that someone could -- if he or she knew what to do. Unfortunately, most of us do not gain relationship education in any kind of classroom. Instead, we either learn relationship skills by osmosis (taking in ideas by watching our relatives and friends interact). Or, we learn them by reading or via therapy.

Not following any particular rhyme or reason, we all know that a love relationship revolves around feelings. We each fall in love with someone because of the way he or she makes us feel. Conversely, a partner will feel attracted to each of us based on how we make him or her feel. Those feelings can range from making us feel safe and secure, sexy and desirable, or empowered in some way.

Both partners stay in love because each knows the other partner is honoring his or her feelings. In other words, if one partner is suddenly not interested in preserving the family finances, the other may start to feel very insecure. To keep love alive, we have to recognize this fact: We produce feelings in our partner almost every time we speak and every time we act.

Once physical love is consummated, the emotional level of love is sustained through our words and actions. For example, saying to your partner, “I am working hard to stay within our budget” is a positive support measure for the relationship if money is a big issue between the two of you.

The Magic of Words

Key Point

The wonderful thing about words is this: They cost nothing, and they are instantly available. You can begin to change your “love language” right away. This language must be supported by positive actions as well.

The power of your words can heal a relationship that’s broken. What you say can encourage your mate to live his or her best life. Or, your words can validate how much the other person is loved.

While there’s no guarantee that your words can reverse major relationship damage, it’s worth it to try. For example, you might tell your partner, “Honey, I feel terrible about our arguments. I want to change what I’m saying to you. I’m trying to get my point across, and I’m having a tough time doing it.”

Or, you might say, “We’re using words to slam each other. Let’s make a pact to talk more respectfully to each other. Will you forgive me for the awful things I’ve already said?”

Some married couples can argue because they don’t have a lot in common. They’ve lost touch in a number of ways. What they do have in common, via arguing, is a tension-based relationship. The conflict is the common ground. Arguing becomes a kind of temporary glue that forces mutual engagement.

It works like this: If a child is lonely at school, he may bully someone. This forces an emotional connection so the bully isn’t so alone. It’s universally known that, sometimes, if you beat up an in-your-face bully, he’ll become your friend. That’s because a friend was what he needed all along! Married couples or dating partners can “bully” each other with words to force a connection.

The Power of Positive Change

Key Point

You can build a healthier marriage by having supportive friends to help balance the relationship, too. If you encourage your mate to have friends and outside activities, you are actually strengthening the marriage relationship in the long run.

If couples can’t solve pressing problems, however, arguing can serve a different purpose. It becomes a very accessible tool for speaking up about change that one partner needs. Most of us start an argument to let a partner know we’re pushing for change. We speak up to say, “I want to challenge the way things are going. I’m trying to assert my rights, so listen to me!”

Keep in mind that marriage is the most overloaded relationship in existence. Two people sharing everything presents a lot of opportunities for tension.

Marriage is complex because it includes a host of other relationships with in-laws, friends, and children. If you recognize this complexity and the emotional heaviness of marriage, you can proactively step back at times. You can give the other person some space. And, you can look for ways to calm down and regain your own sense of self when tension escalates.

A love relationship works best if you understand these principles:

  1. You want a partner who shares your most important values (love of family, hard work, etc.).
  2. You cannot live in the honeymoon stage. (Mother Nature knew that neither of you would get anything accomplished in life with romance in full swing 24/7).
  3. Anger and arguing are part of 99% of all intimate relationships. Strive to manage the arguing, but don’t expect it to go away totally.
  4. Fixing the problems requires specific skills -- not more arguing.

The True Picture of Reality

Whenever you first fall in love with your mate, anyone close to you can see this happening. The passion is great because in the beginning you don’t really know the other person that well. He or she seems absolutely perfect. Later, when the haze of perfect love clears, you see the real person standing there. It’s usually just an average, normal human being--versus the god or goddess you thought you’d discovered.

Love must turn from a feeling of giddiness to a proactive choice that you will get along with your scaled-back god or goddess. What helps significantly is making a decision to always have a sense of humor about what’s happening each day.

When you burn the steaks or the dog has an accident in the garage, it helps to avoid the anger route. Once anger is in play, it’s tough to call that bird back into the cage. It tends to fly around the room for days. Your children will pick up on the anger, too. Joking about the charred meat or the family pet is a better avenue to take.

Without laughter and humor within a marriage or intimate relationship, everything can turn extremely serious in a very short period of time. When that happens, you will find yourself walking on emotional land mines. One wrong word and you’re suddenly having a giant argument. Your spouse may utter the “d” word, threatening that The Big Split is coming. Or, your intimate dating partner or significant other may simply shout: “I want out!”

The Foundation of a Relationship

Key Point

Plan your daily routine around the strengths of your partner. If he or she likes to drive and get out of the house, ask your mate to pick up groceries or the kids at soccer practice. Avoid pushing the wrong buttons. If your mate absolutely hates shopping, don’t say: “I’d like you to return my shoes at the mall for a cash refund.” Do what works for both of you.

Learning how to preserve a love relationship requires finding the strengths of the other person very quickly. State those strengths out loud to your mate. Do your bragging boldly. For example, say, “I love the fact you’re extremely organized and good with money,” or “You are great with the kids, and that means a lot to me.”

Focus on strengths to offset weaknesses. All of us have weaknesses. Maybe we talk too much, lose our tempers when we miss a lot of sleep, or we might criticize the in-laws too much. But, a marriage or love relationship thrives on the strengths of both people. That’s why most of us hang in there when the going gets rough. We reflect on what we appreciate in the other person, and this keeps us on track.

It helps to build your marriage goals around the strengths of your mate, as well as your own strengths. For instance, if you both love home remodeling, make it a goal to have a beautiful house and garden. If you both are great swimmers, make it a goal to live close to a community pool. Or, better yet--build a pool in your back yard.

Conversely, if you both hate remodeling, don’t get into painting the house together. Instead, hire someone to do it -- even if you must work overtime to pay the house painters.

Psychologists implore us to “play the movie” in our minds about how real situations will unfold. For instance, don’t most of us know how a particular vacation will turn out? We can envision our partner enjoying a great hotel room overlooking the beach. We can see him or her getting along with one of our cousins -- or not getting along with one of our cousins. When we delude ourselves about outcomes in life, we waste precious time and energy.

The point is this: Build your daily routine, goals and overall life plan around what’s going to work. Marriage is a series of life chapters that tell a collective story over a long period of time.

If your talkative Uncle Jack comes over every weekend, his presence is going to impact your mate. If your ex-husband (an alcoholic with anger issues) comes over to pick up the kids, his presence is going to impact your spouse. Think about options to ease the stress.

“I’ve learned to drive the kids to their dad’s office, if they will stay with him over the weekend,” says a woman we’ll call Bethany. “My presence upsets my ex’s new wife, and my ex-husband doesn’t feel comfortable around my present husband. So, I decided to drop off the kids at my ex’s place of work.”

Bethany is wise to keep the boat from rocking on all fronts. Her ex’s new wife is her children’s stepmother. Bethany wants the stepmother to treat the children well, and Bethany insists she doesn’t want to cause any conflict herself for the new woman in her ex-husband’s life.

“I think it helps to tell all adults in your life, ‘I want things to go well for you,’” says Bethany. “I’ve let my children’s stepmother know that I don’t want to become a pain for her in any way. If I did, my kids would end up paying a price for that.”

Again, the power of your words -- which should be backed up by respectful actions -- will help to sustain your marriage or love relationship. Others can easily judge you by your actions, integrated with words out of your mouth, so take the high road and build sound, productive relationships with everyone in your marriage or dating circle. This will take the strain off of the core relationship between you and the one you love.