, Gloucester, MA

March 29, 2013

Personal Matters: Steps to sustaining a marriage

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — This week, the Supreme Court is adjudicating the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

So, I thought that, since the institution of marriage is so powerful a force in our culture, it might be appropriate to re-visit the issue of cultivating and sustaining any marriage, whether it be same or opposite sex coupleship.

It seems that in our society we seem to be the least creative about the things we claim to care about most — our health care (although the Affordable Care Act seems to be spawning new, group approaches to individual care), quality education for all our children and the most personal and powerful foundation of our lives — family, and its core, marriage or life partnership.

Although we find new and novel ways to entertain ourselves, to make a living and to communicate using a myriad of technological gadgets, it seems to me, that on a daily basis we give little attention and energy to one of our most socially important institutions: marriage/coupleship.

Many social scientists agree that one of the primary causes of violence and dysfunction in our society is the breakdown of its most basic component — the family and its source, the relationship of the two people who create it.

Perhaps if we could re-examine and recreate marriage so that it meets the real needs of its participants we would see more emotionally viable families.

So, how do we begin?

By Becoming Emotionally Healthy Individuals: We must learn to value ourselves and honor our individual needs. We need to heal childhood wounds and take appropriate action to solve our current problems. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and judging ourselves harshly. We need to view life as an ongoing learning and growing experience.

By Re-examining the Language of Marriage: For some, the words “husband and wife” have meanings that can bring out inappropriate behaviors. For instance, a woman may feel that she should be taken care of by her spouse if her unconscious definition of a husband is “caretaker” or “father.” A man may unconsciously assume that his wife will be a cook and homemaker, even though she has no inclination toward that role.

Since language so powerfully influences and reflects thoughts and behaviors it would be more productive to use the more descriptive language of partnership: life partner, lifetime supporter, life sojourner, life teammate or lifetime co-creator.

These words can help us approach marriage in a more creative way.

By Creating a Marriage Vision: Each partner, separately, writes down a list that describes his or her honest, no-holds-barred view of the perfect, fulfilling marriage.

For example: “We set aside one night per week for romantic pastimes — a date night,” “We verbalize daily our appreciation for our partner’s thoughtfulness,” or “We share the housework 50/50,” are a few possibilities. Each should rank each item on their list from most to least important and then share their list. Then, after discussing why each item is meaningful and important to each — which is an essential part of the process. (“When you acknowledge how hard I work to co-provide for our family, it makes me feel appreciated and loved.” “When we divide household chores, it makes me feel that we are sharing more of the daily responsibilities of caring for our family, and that we are a team working toward the same goals”), the couple should combine their lists and again rank the items.

This document is the basis for forming their marriage vision. It could be decorated and hung up where it will be seen frequently by the partners - a loving reminder of their shared vision with openness to its development and modification through the years.

By Setting Goals: While the marriage vision expresses what a couple wants from their partnership, it does not necessarily describe how to attain it. By meeting weekly and setting a small goal for each item on the vision list, the couple can progress toward a functional, constantly growing marital relationship based on their current genuine needs and desires rather than outdated unconscious expectations.

Based in Rockport, Life Coach and Psychotherapist, Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches individuals, couples, and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at and by telephone 978 546-9431.