In western society half of marriages are expected to end in divorce. The Good Marriage Guide is a compact, concise and informative guide for couples who want to save or strengthen their relationship and prevent it from becoming part of this trend. Based on over fifteen years experience in relationship counselling, mental health and social research it provides psychological and social insights that will enable couples to transform, consolidate and most importantly enjoy their marriage and relationship. Written in modern and easily understandable language, The Good Marriage Guide examines the key challenges for couples and assists them in confronting and mastering the inevitable crises of life whilst maintaining the strength of their marriage.
John Farrelly is a specialist psychotherapist with over twenty years’ experience in relationship counselling and is one of Ireland’s leading experts in the area of marriage and family. He is a former director of counselling with ACCORD, Ireland’s largest relationship counselling agency, and is now clinical director of Achieve Balance Counselling Service (www.achievebalance.ie).
The sum which two married people owe to one another
defies calculation. It is an infinite debt,
which can only be discharged through eternity.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Someone once said that marriage is the riskiest activity taken on by the greatest number of people in our society. In western society half of marriages are expected to end in divorce. This book is a compact, concise and informative guide for couples who want to save or strengthen their marriage and relationship. The content is based on over fifteen years experience in relationship counselling and in mental health and social research. It aims to provide psychological and social insights that will enable readers to transform, consolidate and most importantly enjoy their marriage and relationship.
The main audience for this book is married couples and those interested in marriage. While it has to be acknowledged that there are other ways that people form couple bonds these days, this book is written based on the experiences of married couples. All the concepts and illustrations are about married couples or those planning to marry. I hope that readers who are in other kinds of relationships may benefit as well, though they will have to adapt what they read to their own situation.
The Good Marriage Guide is written in modern and accessible language. Too often when people attempt to find information to help their marriage they are confronted with professional jargon that is out of contact with the reality of modern living. This book is a resource that couples can build their marriage around. It can also be used to help couples deal with a specific problem that arises in their relationship. It examines the key challenges for couples and assists them in confronting and mastering the inevitable crises of life whilst maintaining the strength of their marriage. It looks at how couples need to behave towards each other and how best to understand difference, whilst providing nurturance and comfort to each other, satisfying their mutual need for independence and offering continuing encouragement and support.
There can be no doubt that the core social and personal challenge of our time is how to make loving, permanent marriage work for ourselves and our children. It is the married couple who provide the glue for society. No amount of public policy, education or economic reform will solve societys problems unless we understand how men and women can sustain permanent bonds that are good for them, their children and their communities. Over the last decades a sneaking unintended trend towards pathologising marriage has slowly gained momentum. Most people only receive support and guidance when their marriage and relationship gets into trouble. A lot of experts and policy makers have fallen into the fantasy trap of assuming that a marriage is either good or bad. If a couple do certain positive things a marriage will be good and conversely if they do not the marriage will be bad. We need to reframe our thinking on what is a good or bad marriage. We need to change our thinking from the metaphor of the thin line between a happy and unhappy marriage. In happy couples, the thin line has been replaced by the circle. The marriage as circle has to learn to roll through good and bad times. All marriages, no matter how good, are exposed to external stress and the constant barrage of modern life. All marriages will have conflict and indeed all marriages will have a time when each individual may feel isolated, alone and at their wits end.
This book maps out the typical marriage journey showing that, in the process of marriage, conflict will be encountered many times. The trick is how we deal with it!
Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the concept of family of origin. This chapter makes readers aware that both they and their partner are not just people who have dropped complete into each others lap, but instead are individuals who have been shaped by the family and environment in which they grew up. The reader will begin to understand how each partner views the world through their own particular family lens. This lens has been crafted, refined and in some cases even cracked by the experiences each person has in their family of origin. The family we grew up in had rules, regulations, codes of behaviour and certain ways of looking at the world. This chapter explains how each partner is actually a product of their family of origin; how we have to become aware of our own worldviews, perceptions and prejudices. The reader is given the psychological tools to examine their own family of origin, begin to understand their own perception of reality and crucially learn how to overcome any faulty thinking and perceptions that belong to childhood and are of no use in their present reality. The chapter sows the seeds that facilitate the reader to separate emotionally from their childhood so as to invest fully in the marriage and, at the same time, to redefine the lines of connection with both families of origin. This allows the couple to build togetherness based on mutual identification and shared intimacy, while at the same time setting boundaries to protect each partners autonomy.
Love and commitment to the relationship are necessary for a marriage, but they are not enough. Good communication in marriage includes honest sharing of feelings, accurately sending and receiving messages, and empathy. It involves couples talking to each other more often, discussing personal topics more often, spending less time in conflict and showing a greater understanding and sensitivity to each others feelings. Chapter 2 looks at the area of communication and more particularly how to communicate effectively with your spouse and family. Communication involves almost every aspect of our interactions with others. For this reason, communication and relationships are inseparable: you cannot have a relationship with someone without communicating with them. One of the greatest assets in any relationship is being able to communicate. Articulating your thoughts and being certain that your spouse understands what you wish to say take considerable practice. Often we believe we are saying one thing, while our partner is hearing something entirely different. Communication requires both good transmission skills (articulation) and good receptive skills (listening). Without both, communication will be difficult at best. This chapter helps couples to avoid the fatal trap where all too often the genuine warmth and concern that they have for each other gets lost in the murky world of perceptions and miscommunication.
Once the reader has an understanding of their personal history and how to communicate effectively we then move on to the specific area of conflict. Time and again couples come to my clinic appearing dizzy, dazed and confused, as though they have just gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali. In reality they have spent the last few years in a confusing battle with their spouse. The kitchen or bedroom is the ring and the tools of the trade are insults, criticism, hurt and confusion. Chapter 3 sets out clearly how couples can avoid the draining, repetitive conflicts and fights that jump out of nowhere and leave both partners feeling confused and alone. Readers will learn that conflict is a part of life; it exists as a reality of any relationship and is not necessarily bad. In fact a relationship with no apparent conflict may be unhealthier than one with frequent conflict. Conflicts are critical events that can weaken or strengthen a relationship. They can be productive, creating deeper understanding, closeness and respect, or they can be destructive, causing resentment, hostility and separation. Every couple will have at least ten areas of disagreement, each of which involves conflict. Conflicts run all the way from minor, unimportant differences to critical fights. There are conflicts of needs, wants, preferences, interests, opinions, beliefs and values. The real test is how the conflicts get resolved, not how many occur. In this chapter we describe the simple steps the reader can take to deal with conflict and ensure their relationship stays healthy, mutually satisfying and intimate.
The greatest story never told is how hard it is to come to terms with the challenges of parenting while maintaining a healthy relationship. Chapter 4 looks at how to ensure your marriage stays intact following the birth of a child. Building on the insight gained about their family of origin the reader will begin to understand how the psychological move from being somebodys son or daughter to being a father or mother has to be negotiated effectively by both partners. The chapter works through some of the known problems for couples in this area, ensuring that they look after each other at this critical period. It highlights the need to balance the couple?¡-centred marriage and child-centred marriage.The final section of this chapter examines the whole area of sex and intimacy: how people can lose their sex drive following the birth of a baby, the reasons behind this and most importantly how to get it back on track.
Most of us have certain assumptions about our marriage: we chose someone and the other person chose us; we have the same values and have decided to have an exclusive relationship; even though we may have some problems, we love each other and therefore we are safe. Infidelity is one of the most deeply wounding encounters in marriage. When we find out our partner has been unfaithful, everything we believe is totally shattered and we have to rebuild our world. The fact that infidelity is often unexpected and not part of our assumption about how a relationship operates causes traumatic reactions. Chapter 5 examines the area of infidelity, specifically why it happens, how to avoid it and how to rebuild a relationship following infidelity.
The fact that we now live in a computer and technology age is examined in detail in Chapter 6. No matter where we look, technology is changing and shaping our lives. Twenty years ago, computers, mobile phones and the modern information age did not exist. Now it is so pervasive that it warrants a chapter all to itself in this book. Whilst all of this has led to greater connectivity and ability to communicate, it has also created a context in which it can be hard to just stop and give time to your marriage and family. This chapter looks at how we have to ensure that we maintain time for our marriage and partner whilst living in this modern era. It then drills down to the three main areas where the internet is putting pressure on relationships: infidelity, pornography and gambling. These areas are addressed and solutions are offered to help couples avoid these pitfalls and regain balance in their relationship.
The challenge of work-life balance, a major challenge for all modern married couples, is the central theme of Chapter 7. Before couples can move forward they need to realise and figure out what work-life balance means to them. If couples can work out this conundrum, then their future life together will be dramatically better. In the modern age of results-driven living most workers need to be obsessive, work incredibly hard and generally end up maxed out. This manifests itself in many ways, including always being overcommitted, regularly being exhausted and having a marriage and home life that are squeezed into leftover time. This comes at a cost - no or low balance in life. Many married couples are on the road from Monday to Friday, arriving home exhausted at the end of the day. At weekends the modern couple sleeps a lot, spends time in front of the computer getting caught up on all the stuff they didnt get to during the week and when they go out, are always tired and withdrawn. The burnout cycle continues year on year and creates an environment that is not conducive to a happy married and family life. This chapter looks at the whole area in detail and offers readers tips on how to create a healthy balance that favours family and married life.
The real secret to getting the most out of this book is for each partner to read it and pledge to change their own behaviour and thinking. It is essential to realise that personal change and growth is the key to developing a successful marriage. Good things in marriage dont happen without the effort of both partners. Couples need to avoid the modern trap of viewing marriage more as a contract rather than a covenant by revisiting marital vows, ensuring their marriage becomes their highest priority and making the time needed to keep it strong. Each couple needs to learn to work together unselfishly in building a relationship that will meet, as far as possible, the needs of both partners. They must be prepared to make all possible changes for the good of the marriage. Couples who stay together do what is necessary to make the marriage a happy one. They find out what brings their partner happiness and then do it often. They realise that not all times will be good and gain an insight into the everyday obvious pressures and also the psychological structures to ensure that the love that brought them together is strengthened over the lifetime of their marriage. This book facilitates that quest. It will help you, your spouse and your children to be part of a marriage and family that is good, balanced and enjoyable.
FAMILY OF ORIGIN IN-LAWS, OUTLAWS AND MOVING ON
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton,
you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw
It sounds strange but separation, particularly psychological separation, is the key to developing and maintaining a strong marriage. This in essence means that both partners in a marriage have to separate emotionally from their childhood so as to invest fully in the marriage and, at the same time, to redefine the lines of connection with both families of origin. A specific example of the implications of family of origin is research which shows that how tied a husband is to his parents can make or break a new marriage. The researchers discovered this by surveying couples who were eighteen to thirty years old and had been married between six and thirteen months on how much they felt they were psychologically detached from their parents and had established themselves as distinct individuals. Each spouse was also asked whether they felt they got along as a couple, whether they were satisfied with the marriage, whether they received enough affection and whether they agreed enough on various issues.
A husbands lack of independence from both his parents was the biggest predictor for both spouses not adjusting very well to the new marriage. Both spouses reported higher levels of adjustment and satisfaction in their marriage when the husbands were free from excessive guilt, anxiety, mistrust, responsibility, inhibition, resentment and anger in relation to their mothers. The couples were also better adjusted in their new marriage when the husband possessed a greater ability to manage and direct practical affairs without the help of their fathers. Wives adjustment to marriage seemed to depend on how well the husbands separated from their parents, whereas husbands adjustment to marriage depended on how well both spouses separated from their parents influence.
Wives can also become enmeshed in communication and structures that have developed in their family of origin. Research by Gottman, Katz and Hooven (1999) indicates that women who grow up in punitive and emotionally dismissive families or in an invalidating environment tend to dismiss their own emotions in adulthood. Another example is the finding that parents-in-law who are high in expressed emotion can have a destabilising and intrusive effect on the new married couple and their family. It can be hard to put boundaries on the behaviour of a parent who is volatile. Very often the new family begins to form around the behaviour of the unbalanced parent from the family of origin.
A lot of things affect the type of family of origin we come from, particularly:
Familys social class or economic status
Parents relationship with their own parents
Culture (extended family influence) and exposure to other cultures . Sibling relationships
Faith - familys active or non-active participation
Divorce and separation
Illness and addictions.
When the above dynamics are blended together, we tend to have a number of possible ways of viewing a family of origin:
1. Close knit family - they love each other and socialise around each other. There is regular direct face-to-face contact as well as quick communication via phone, e-mail etc. However, in general, each family member knows when to draw the line.
2. Loosely knit family - they love each other, but do not socialise with each other so much. Family members will call each other at their convenience.
3. Enmeshed family - they are too close, do not know when to let go and when to draw the line. There is over involvement of the family in individual issues and relationships.
4. Laissez-faire family - there are loose bonds; siblings and parents forge individual lives with very little communication and rare socialisation. It can appear that family members do not care about each other.
So we grow up in our family of origin with its own particular shape, circumstances and world view. The first relationship we observe is that of our parents. This forms a template deep in our unconscious that affects our future choice of partner. Our parents form a model of what relationships are like and what adult males and females are about. As such, these early imprints have a profound effect on our choice of mate and our expectations with respect to a relationship. If this early imprinting was positive, we are likely to have satisfying interpersonal relationships and a positive image of others. However, if it was negative, it may well have the opposite effect. Sometimes the effect was so negative, even though we may not be aware of it, that it can severely interfere with our interpersonal satisfaction. Repeated destructive relationships, co-dependence and generally unhealthy relationships may ensue. In these cases, professional intervention may be necessary before you can proceed with some of the steps outlined in this book. If in doubt, seek the help of a qualified professional trained in relationship skills.
A good example of how traces of the past sit in our minds was given by Sigmund Freud (Strachey, 1966), who cites the magic writing pad of our childhood days. We all remember Etch a Sketch, the toy board that you could draw on and then, as if by magic, erase the picture and begin again. As happens to most toys at some stage we get bored and rip it apart to see how the magic works. On the carbon underneath we see traces of all the drawings - and yet we thought that we had wiped them away. The human mind works in a similar way. Traces of all the encounters and experiences we have in our life are stored in the back of our minds. Over time experiences repeat themselves and before we know it some traces are bigger and more prominent than others. These traces are the building blocks of what we call our psychological worldview. Then, in the blink of an eye, these traces take on a power of their own. They begin to shape, create and alter how we see the world. Experiences and events that fit and add to these traces we notice and are drawn to; conversely, those that do not tally with this worldview often go unseen or cause us psychological distress.
These traces, built up during childhood, are suitable for the childs world, or for your role as son, daughter, brother or sister within your family of origin. However, many of these traces, evident in our behaviour, thoughts and attitudes towards our spouse, are not useful in adult life. They can choke and suffocate a marriage. The task for each partner is to think deeply about their behaviour and worldview; become aware of the repetitive traces and decide if they are worth having as part of their adult worldview and current love relationship or if they are a hindrance. Only the individual can decide to track and tackle their own traces. It is pointless to try to tackle your partners traces unless you are aware of and have worked on your own.
People have great difficulty understanding how patterns, fights and ruptures can occur. One minute they are walking happily down the aisle and then, before they know it, their marriage seems to be falling apart. Very often this can be because spouses are interacting based on thoughts and emotions that belong to their role within their family of origin. I want to give you some basic understanding of how you can identify some of the patterns you may have experienced with your families of origin and are now unknowingly repeating in your new relationship. These can also occur in adulthood with your aging parents, your children or any other relationship where an out-of-date trace is rerun.
A simple example of this is whether you grew up in a family with high or low expressed emotion levels. High expressed emotion is where all things are spoken about, where all feelings are put on the table and where strong emotions are part and parcel of everyday interaction. Low expressed emotion is the opposite: here behaviours are more guarded; it is not acceptable to speak openly on all topics. Instead events are handled in a guarded matter-of-fact fashion. Now imagine if two people get married who come from these very different perspectives. What is comfortable for one partner can cause extreme anxiety for the other. This is not one spouse being antagonistic or troublesome - they are just acting in a way that is normal for them. To ensure satisfaction both spouses have to come out of their comfort zone, whilst at the same time learning to accept that the behaviour of their partner is not an offensive action.
To separate out from our family of origin each of us has to accomplish two major psychological tasks - separation and individuation. These are normal and healthy phases of human development. They are psychological processes that begin in the first year of life and are reworked throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Separation relates to personal autonomy, independence, self-assertion and freedom of choice. It is characterised in early childhood by the use of the word No. When a two year old says No to their mother, they are exercising their inborn strivings to separate from the mother. Individuation relates to identity, uniqueness, having your own interests, points of view, likes and dislikes. It is characterised in early childhood by the words me and mine. It is also an inborn striving for children and, like separation, can either be aided and fostered by parents or thwarted and considered bad by parents. Dysfunctional families often punish both these struggles in their children. Often those who choose to separate and individuate are seen as traitors to the family. Health, growth, financial progress even sobriety can all be seen as moving too far away from the culture of the family of origin. Individuation, i.e. having your own identity and point of view, can be perceived by some families as a rejection of them. I have often seen people who have become successful, psychologically evolved and healthy being rejected by their families of origin. They are seen to have abandoned the family by those who have a hard time with separation; they are treated as if they have devalued and degraded the family by those who have greater difficulty with individuation. It is important that you think carefully about your ability to say No. If this is not developed in each of the partners in a marriage then, over time, the relationship will become unbalanced and one partner will grow too dependent on their spouse or, even worse, the marriage will become dependent on outside influences or, worse again, will meander down a road to unhappiness.
One way of moving from your family of origin is to consciously construct boundaries of well-being. Boundaries are barriers that protect us and our marriage. There are two main types of boundaries: rigid and diffuse. If you have rigid boundaries, then barriers may exist that keep you from having meaningful relationships and understanding with your spouse. People who have rigid boundaries can become isolated or withdrawn from others, which can cause relationships to suffer. A diffuse boundary is the opposite of a rigid boundary: people with diffuse boundaries do not have clear, definable boundaries with others, and such individuals can have problems defining who they are. In situations where diffuse boundaries and a lack of individuation and separation exist within a family, it is common to find family over-involvement in the individuals life and marriage. This degree of understanding or accommodation between family members can be characterised by a loss of independence by one or all involved family members. This over-involvement is usually reflected by parents and in-laws who maintain and in some instances become increasingly over-dependent on each other at the expense of relationships outside the family of origin.
In this over-protective or enmeshed family example, empathy for each person within the family is so great that it allows an individual to feel what the other or others within the family are experiencing. These behaviours occur when individual boundaries break down. This empathy is unhealthy, as it does not allow development without dependence. This causes the family to exclude other outsiders from having meaningful relationships with individuals within the family, often leading to frustration for the spouse, who is left outside and can very often be viewed as an outlaw because they will not accept the over-involvement of their spouses family of origin. In a way, the diffuse or soft boundaries within the family of origin cause the family units boundaries to become more rigid to outside-the-family relationships. This serves to increase the familys dependence on each other and allows the destructive behaviour to continue.
As with most things, there exists a happy medium. This happy medium is defined by having stable, healthy boundaries that allow for personal and meaningful relationships with others. A person with healthy boundaries is able to have a solid sense of self along with feelings of belongingness to their family as well as to their partner and others outside the family. Marrying our spouse means we turn our loyalties to them. That does not mean we are not loyal to our parents, but that we place priority on our husband or wife. One obvious step to leaving our parents that shows we place priority on our spouse is changing homes. Our attentions and efforts turn towards our new familys well-being and happiness and a calm, loving home. Heres an example:
Janet and Tim had been married for a year when her mother complained about her daughters situation. Youre just wasting your money living in that apartment, she began, and besides, thats no place to have children. When are you going to have children, anyway?
Janet didnt want to be disrespectful to her mother, but she and Tim had already discussed their wants and needs concerning their home and having children. They were happy in their apartment and wanted to wait a few more years before having children.
When Tim walked through the door, Janet told him about the discussion with her mother. Maybe Mammy is right, she said. Tim became angry. Its none of her business! Its not her life; its our life!
The two argued for several hours. Janet felt she needed to defend her mother, and Tim felt disrespected by being told what he and his family should do.
It is important to mention that Janets mother said those things because she loved her daughter. She wasnt trying to meddle or intrude - but she did. Janet would have best served her marriage by politely telling her mother that she and Tim made decisions together and, though she appreciated her mothers concern, in order to protect her marriage she had to ensure their independence and freedom to choose for themselves.
The middle-man rule
One primary difficulty married couples face is managing conflict with the parents of their spouse. It is a very good idea to make your spouse the middle man for conflicts you have with their parents. Relationships are stronger when they have time behind them and, as they say, blood is thicker than water. Therefore, in-laws will probably react better to a request from their son or daughter. If her parents need to back off, for example, its better that it comes from her.
Jim and Laura lived about twenty miles from his parents. Many times, on weekends, Jims parents would drive to their house and the four would play cards or chat. After several months of this, both Jim and Laura wanted to spend a weekend at home alone. Why cant we go to a film or go out for a meal or something by ourselves? Laura asked.
If Laura had gone to Jims parents, they might have been offended when she said she and Jim wanted time alone. They may have felt she forced Jim into siding with her. It could even be that because of this, they resented Laura for the rest of their lives. If, on the other hand, Jim went to his parents and told them he and Laura loved them very much but needed some time to do things by themselves, they would probably react with much more understanding and patience. It is important to be sensitive to your spouses feelings concerning your parents. If they feel crowded or disrespected, it is important you take these feelings seriously and act to improve the situation. These principles should also be taken into consideration by parents and should influence the way they treat their childs spouse.
You will know you are in a situation where change should occur when you and your spouse do not feel you have your own identity. One of the purposes of marriage is for a couple to establish an identity that is independent of their parents. If this does not happen, a healthy marriage becomes much more of a challenge. Some marriage experts say couples should not live in the same town as either of their parents. The reasoning is that with the constant availability of their parents, the couple does not learn to rely on each other. Its difficult to form an identity together unless each of you learns to rely on the other instead of parents. It is not my opinion that every couple should live in a separate town from their in-laws, but for some, that situation might be best. It might be better for you, for example, if your in-laws are too involved in certain aspects of your relationship - especially if they are too involved in conflicts between you and your spouse. Part of what it means to have your own identity as a couple is that conflicts are resolved without the involvement of in-laws. The scenario below shows ways a couple could fall into the trap of in-law dependence and the consequences they might face if independence is not a priority.
After six months of marriage, Eileen and Steve had their first big fight. What was the subject? It doesnt matter!
While in tears, Eileen called her mother and told her about the entire ordeal. Her mother listened and became angrier by the minute. Im coming over there, her mother said.
When she arrived at the couples home, she immediately began telling Steve why Eileen was correct and scolded him for disagreeing. According to her, Steve owed Eileen an apology.
From that point on, Steve had difficulty trusting his mother-?¡in-law. He felt she plotted against him and wanted to control him. He also felt betrayed by his wife. He felt that she, rather than being on a team with him, called for backup to defeat him.
If you and your spouse are arguing about any subject, neither has the right to invol