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"HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MARRIAGE GREAT: 

Little Habits That Can Make All The
Difference" by Mary Ganske

Even the most happily married couples fall into ruts now and then.  You
know, those times when minor irritations override the love and affection
you feel for each other. To the rescue:  a new breed of marriage schools
aimed at helping happy couples make a good thing even better.  Unlike
traditional therapy, these workshops -- which range from evening seminars
to weeklong retreats -- don't require participants to sit around
dissecting their relationships and dwelling on what's wrong.  Instead,
couples learn concrete skills that make any relationship stronger.

To tap into these strategies, Woman's Day mined the top marriage renewal
programs across the country.  The result: five ways to improve
communication, smooth over rough spots and get closer than ever before.

MARRIAGE TIP:  TAKE A MINUTE TO SET UP YOUR DAY TOGETHER

The worksop: The Marriage Clinic, the Gottman Institute, Seattle

"We tell couples not to leave home in the morning until they find out at
least one thing that's going to happen to their spouse that day" says
John Gottman, Phd., co director of The Gottman Institute.  Ask your
husband what he's doing on his lunch hour or after work.  And don't
forget to fill him in on your plans.

It's also important to make sure that at least once a week, perhaps
during dinner, you talk about what really matters.  Ask how his
relationship with his boss is going or if he's worried about his annual
checkup.  "You can't get emotionally close if you don't know anything
about your partner's inner world,"  says Dr. Gottman.

MARRIAGE TIP:  DISCUSS YOUR EXPECTATIONS

The Workshop: The Third Option, Syracuse, New York

Everyone enters into marriage with preconceived notions of how things
should be:  We should spend certain holidays with our families, save as
much money as possible, go to church every Sunday. The key is to make
sure you both know what the other person expects, says Patricia Ennis,
M.S.W, director of Third Option.

"Whenever you're disappointed in your marriage, as yourself, 'What did I
expect?'  says Ennis.  Let's say, for example, that you bristle every
time your husband asks you to iron his khakis.  In this case, you might
have assumed you'd be able to send his pants to the cleaners, just like
your mom did.

Next, you need to determine if this particular request is realistic.
Perhaps you'd rather not increase your dry-cleaning bill, in which case
you might rethink your position.  In any event, tell him how you feel.

"He may not agree with you, but at least you'll be opening up the
topic," says Ennis.  If you don't verbalize your expectations, he may
misinterpret your actions and assume you don't care about his needs.
The bottom line:  Talk it over and negotiate it.

MARRIAGE TIP:  UPDATE YOUR DREAM LIST

The Workshop:  Couple Communication, Evergreen, Colorado

Sit down together at least once a year -- New Year's or your anniversary
is a good time -- to go over your dreams for the future.  These may
include things you want to have (a new couch) things you want to do
(create a flower garden) and things you want to be (more spiritual, a
better listener).  Pinpointing your desires not only helps you both
grow as people, but keeps you aligned as a couple.

"We are constantly changing," says Sherod Miller, Ph.D, co developer of
Couple Communication.  Find out if any new dreams have surfaced in him,
and be sure to tell him yours.

Then make an agreement to help each other achieve one or more of those
goals.   For example, he may agree to spend more time with the kids so
you can enroll in a computer class.  You may give the thumbs-up to the
camping trip he's always wanted.  Too often, couples harm their
relationships by sabotaging each other's dreams, says Dr. Miller.  "But
supporting your partner's goals is is one of the best and simplest ways
to show you care."

MARRIAGE TIP:  CONTROL THE WAY YOU ARGUE

The workshop:  PREP, Inc.  (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement
Program), Denver

Every happy couple has hot-button issues.  Even the most compatible pair
yell and scream sometimes.  The trick is to contain the disagreements
before they spin out of control.  "If you handle conflicts poorly -- with
hostility, nagging, or icy distance -- the love and affection you feel
for each other will erode over time,"  says Howard Markman, PhD, founder
of PREP, Inc. and coauthor of "Fighting For Your Marriage".  Your best
bet is to head off fights in the first place by bringing up tough issues
before they erupt.

When you find yourselves together with some time to talk, bring up your
concerns:  what to do about your ailing mother, how to budget for the
kids' education, when to renovate the kitchen.  That way, you won't
initiate a debate when you're stressed and likely to lash out, says Dr.
Markman.   If despite your best efforts, the conversation turns into a
screaming match, call a time-out and agree to revisit the issue when you
can both be civil.

MARRIAGE TIP:  USE PRAISE TO CHANGE BAD HABITS

The Workshop:  National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, Bethesda,
Maryland

Too often we try to change our partner by railing about what he's doing
wrong.  "Don't drive so fast!"  "Why can't you hang up your clothes?"
But highlighting your spouse's flaws is unproductive.  "He'll only get
defensive and counterattact,"  says Bernard Guerney, Jr., PHD, director
of the Institute.

A better approach is to explain what you'd like him to do.  Instead of
"No one should have to live in such a pigsty" a simple "I'd love it if
the bedroom weren't so cluttered" will do.  The next step is to heap on
praise when he does what you ask"  As basic as it sounds, people repeat
behaviors that make them feel good,"  says Dr. Guerney.  Just be careful
not to temper your approval with digs such as, "That's a good start" or
"It's about time".  The more positive you are, the more compliant he'll
be.

 

 
 

 

 

 
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