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The Five Pillars of Marital Success

Relationship experts tell us that there are five pillars which can support a healthy marriage, but not all marriages have all five pillars supporting them. Four or five strong pillars can support a relationship that will last the age.  But if a relationship has only one or two strong pillars and the others are weak, the marriage might not survive the ravages of time. During the honeymoon period when the weather is fair, the marriage stands tall — but when stormy weather comes, when the winds start blowing and there’s been some erosion, the whole structure might come tumbling down.

Before people get married they should assess their pillars. Couples already married can shore up their pillars. People can make an effort to stay in shape and preserve the first pillar, they can write budgets and meet with financial advisors to shore up the second. They can agree to compromise on going out Saturday night. They can read books together. They can learn to accept the other’s spiritual journey. Knowing that the pillars exist is the first step, assessing and working on them comes next and takes time.

Winning Is A Losing Battle

photo by timsamoff via PhotoRee

Is your relationship riddled with disagreements, a constant need to defeat your spouse, or just old-fashioned competition? An article written by Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D., cites a need to “win” as the number one cause for divorce and loss of intimacy.

Love is not about victory for one, defeat for another, but the triumph of the union. The alternative to winning is really hearing where your partner is coming from and what she is upset about. Striving to understand doesn’t mean you agree with your partner or let go of what you value–only that you take his or her feelings seriously.

This reminds me of something Joseph Campbell wrote in An Open Life, “Marriage is an ordeal.  It means yielding time and again.  That’s why it’s a sacrament.  You give up your personal simplicity to participate in a relationship, and when you are giving, you are not giving to the other person, you are giving to the relationship.  And if you realize that you are in the relationship just as the other person is, then it becomes life-building; a life fostering and enriching experience, not an impoverishment, because you are giving to somebody else.  This is the challenge of a marriage.  What a beautiful thing is a life together; is growing personalities.  Each helping the other to flower, rather than just moving into the standard archetype.  It’s a wonderful moment when people can make the decision to be quite astonishing and unexpected, rather than to become cookie-mold products.  Failure to recognize that is the main reason for the high divorce rate that we experience today.”

To read the rest of Jeffery Rubin’s article, click here. To purchase a copy of Joseph Campbell’s book, click here.

The Four Horsemen

According to Gudrun Zomerland MFT, within the first three minutes of watching a couple have a conversation, Dr. John Gottman can predict with 96% accuracy whether the relationship he is watching will survive or not.  Zomerland says that Gottman bases his predictions on four potentially destructive communication styles and coping mechanisms, one of which Gottman calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In the Bible, The Four Horsemen are a metaphor depicting the end the world.  They represent conquest, war, famine and death.  When introduced into a marriage, The Four Horsemen are disguised as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (avoiding conflict.)

Criticism is an expression of disapproval based on perceived faults or mistakes.  When we criticize our partner, we chip away at his or her self-confidence.  With criticism we tell our partner they are not good enough, smart enough, sexy enough, hard working enough.  For example, if your husband comes home late and you say, “Where were you?  I was worried.  You said you’d call if you ran late,” you’re complaining about a behavior.  Laying into him, accusing him of being forgetful or saying something like, “You never think about my feelings,” is criticism.

Contempt is the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.  When we communicate with contempt we are being mean; we are disrespecting those around us by ridiculing, using sarcasm, or name-calling.  If you’re at a party and your spouse launches into a story you’ve heard a hundred times and you roll your eyes and interrupt him or her to say that no one wants to hear that stupid story again, that’s contempt.  In marriage it’s a quick poison.

Defensiveness is easy to fall prey to.  Your wife asks you to get milk on your way home from work, but you have a long day and forget.  When she greets you at the door wanting to know where the milk is, you snap at her and say something like, “Do you have any idea what my day was like?”  We feel accused of something and so we defend ourselves, but often the act of defending our self tells our partner that we’re not listening to them, and that we don’t take their feelings into consideration.  By defending our self we ignore our partner.  Instead, when we feel defensive a better response is, “Hey, I’m feeling under attack.  I’m sorry I forgot the milk.  I had a long day, and I didn’t mean to ignore your needs.  Can the milk wait until tomorrow?”

To stonewall is to delay or block a request, process or person by refusing to answer questions or by giving evasive replies.  People stonewall to avoid conflict, but avoiding issues only makes them accumulate.  People stonewall by tuning out, turning away, being too busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors.  A spouse who stays up all night playing online poker despite his partner’s invitation to come to bed may be stonewalling issues of intimacy.

If all four horsemen are active and alive in a relationship, it is likely too late to turn things around.  If stonewalling and defensiveness are present, couples counseling can help you and your partner get through whatever issues are blocking your path to a truly happy marriage. However, a partner who engages in criticism or contempt is attacking their partner’s self worth.  It is toxic behavior often stemming from childhood wounds, and anyone participating in this kind of behavior should think seriously about seeking individual counseling.

February Newsletter

Dear Friends of the Law Collaborative,

We wish you the best in all of your relationships. In order to facilitate our wish for you, this month we have included a “tool” to help with communication in your relationships, professional and personal.

As February is often referred to as the month of love, we would like to share an article written by Dr. Mark S. Goulston, Author of “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.”

The single best predictor of how children do post-divorce is the amount of conflict between the parents. This is true whether you’re in an intact (living together) family, a separated family, or a divorced family.

You have a unique opportunity to influence the outcome, because it takes two people to fight. You can’t fight alone. And while choosing not to engage in an argument or bad behavior is difficult, it is possible. It may take both practice and commitment on your part to make it happen.

Parents in frequent contact who are supportive of each other have well adjusted children. That’s pretty compelling, isn’t it?

10 Strategies for Preventing and Dealing With Conflict:

1. It takes two to argue. Simply refuse to participate.

2. A certain amount of tension is to be expected when you’re getting divorced. Expect difficult discussions. They don’t have to result in a fight.

3. Try to understand your spouse’s viewpoint. Once you understand what he or she wants, you can begin to see how you might be able to help resolve the situation.

4. Evaluate your own goals. Are you entrenched in a position that may have another solution? If you want your children on Wednesday night for dinner, will Thursday do? If your goal is financial security, is one particular asset the key, or could another be substituted?

5. Use “I” statements. Begin every sentence with “I”, rather than “you”. Example: “I feel upset when I hear you say that I’m a bad father because I have to work so many hours,” instead of “You are always accusing me of being a bad father.”

6. After you explain how you feel, listen to your spouse’s side of the story. Repeat what you heard, to make sure for yourself (and to convey to your spouse) that you understand how he or she views the situation.

7. Plan a time to have a discussion with your spouse about a specific issue that bothers you. Limit the discussion.

8. Choose your timing. The same comment may evoke a different response if, 1) neither of you is tired, 2) neither of you is already angry, and, 3) the children or others are not in earshot.

9. Be prepared to say “I’m sorry” sometimes. “I was wrong” can go a long way.

10. Above all, let annoyances go and choose your battles wisely. They are too important to squander. Research points to the benefits of shared parenting, defined as shared decision making, as well as shared time between two homes. Children need emotional sustenance and comfort from both parents to get their needs met. Your co-parenting responsibilities get easier over time as your children grow and their day-to-day caretaking needs lessen. One way to ensure your adult children have a good relationship with you and your former spouse is to set you own needs aside from time to time and take the high road whenever possible. Remember forgiveness is the permission you give yourself to get over an offense & move into health, healing & a happy life. It is not approval. It is not acceptance. It is a gift to you from you. Forgive.

Visit Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes for additional information. Please call us if you have any questions. We are here to serve you.

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Ron Supancic and Robert Borsky

* A free phone consultation will provide you with general legal information. Legal information is not the same as legal advice – the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, for specific advice on your situation, I will be pleased to provide legal advice after you accept and sign my retainer agreement.

For more information, please visit our website at: www.ronslaw.com or click here: www.divorcemagazine.com/CA/pro/supancic.shtml

Please forward a link for this newsletter to anyone you know who might benefit from this information.

Happy Valentines Day!

Mark Goulston, PhD says:

What does it take to be happy in a relationship? If you’re working to improve your marriage, here are the 10 habits of happy couples.

1. Go to bed at the same time Remember the beginning of your relationship, when you couldn’t wait to go to bed with each other to make love? Happy couples resist the temptation to go to bed at different times. They go to bed at the same time, even if one partner wakes up later to do things while their partner sleeps.

2. Cultivate common interests After the passion settles down, it’s common to realize that you have few interests in common. But don’t minimize the importance of activities you can do together that you both enjoy. If common interests are not present, happy couples develop them. At the same time, be sure to cultivate interests of your own; this will make you more interesting to your mate and prevent you from appearing too dependent.

3. Walk hand in hand or side by side Rather than one partner lagging or dragging behind the other, happy couples walk comfortably hand in hand or side by side. They know it’s more important to be with their partner than to see the sights along the way.

4. Make trust and forgiveness your default mode If and when they have a disagreement or argument, and if they can’t resolve it, happy couples default to trusting and forgiving rather than distrusting and begrudging.

5. Focus more on what your partner does right than what he or she does wrong If you look for things your partner does wrong, you can always find something. If you look for what he or she does right, you can always find something, too. It all depends on what you want to look for. Happy couples accentuate the positive.

6. Hug each other as soon as you see each other after work Our skin has a memory of “good touch” (loved), “bad touch” (abused) and “no touch” (neglected). Couples who say hello with a hug keep their skin bathed in the “good touch,” which can inoculate your spirit against anonymity in the world.

7. Say “I love you” and “Have a good day” every morning This is a great way to buy some patience and tolerance as each partner sets out each day to battle traffic jams, long lines and other annoyances.

8. Say “Good night” every night, regardless of how you feel This tells your partner that, regardless of how upset you are with him or her, you still want to be in the relationship. It says that what you and your partner have is bigger than any single upsetting incident.

9. Do a “weather” check during the day Call your partner at home or at work to see how his or her day is going. This is a great way to adjust expectations so that you’re more in sync when you connect after work. For instance, if your partner is having an awful day, it might be unreasonable to expect him or her to be enthusiastic about something good that happened to you.

10. Be proud to be seen with your partner Happy couples are pleased to be seen together and are often in some kind of affectionate contact — hand on hand or hand on shoulder or knee or back of neck. They are not showing off but rather just saying that they belong with each other.

Happy couples have different habits than unhappy couples. A habit is a discrete behavior that you do automatically and that takes little effort to maintain. It takes 21 days of daily repetition of a new a behavior to become a habit. So select one of the behaviors in the list above to do for 21 days and voila, it will become a habit…and make you happier as a couple. And if you fall off the wagon, don’t despair, just apologize to your partner, ask their forgiveness and recommit yourself to getting back in the habit.

From Mr. Goulston’s website, Usable Insight.