Marriage may be the most challenging relationship in one’s life. Loving feelings are precious, and can be fragile and difficult to sustain. Many times when a couple enters the office in a crisis, the issues and problems they bring up in therapy have developed over a period of years, and have become compounded by a recurring cycle of disappointment, feeling wounded, and being ignored or taken for granted. Often times the drive, energy and focus devoted to one’s career and children are exhausted, and little is left over to nurture the marriage. As a result of this neglect, a valuable life together built upon the foundation of marriage begins to crumble. Every divorce is tragic, even when justified.
Marriage counseling is designed to surface and explore the root causes of marital conflict and distress; reconstructing how, when and where the relationship went off-track; hopefully bringing understanding to the inevitable misunderstandings that have been created and amplified over time; and learning how to implement new tools, for more effective emotional connection and problem resolution. Understanding one another can help to reduce the feelings of anger and hurt, and break the negative cycle that threatens to destroy the marriage. How are feelings of love restored in a battered marriage? The most important ingredient is listening, truly listening to one another. Exactly what does that mean in practice?
Listening has an enormously powerful effect when a loving relationship has been damaged. The most effective type of listening is best characterized as empathic and compassionate. Listen from your heart. Pay attention without interrupting. Take note of what is being said, and really try to understand what you are being told, even if you don’t agree with it. Put yourself in your partner’s place and work hard to understand what he or she has experienced. Listen with a spirit of cooperation, of jointly embarking on a journey of discovery, even when it is painful. Convey your understanding without hostility, and whenever possible, and where it is true, take responsibility for what you are being told about your own destructive or neglectful behavior.
Empathic, thoughtful listening creates a feeling of safety in the relationship. A readiness to blame your partner is the surest way to reinforce feelings of vulnerability and rejection, and discourage the honest sharing that is needed. How often in our lives do we feel listened to and understood by those we care about? The healing power of empathic and compassionate listening should never be underestimated. Injecting a needed dose of hope into the relationship, it enables one’s partner to feel special, and loved. It helps to restore a caring emotional connection and positive momentum.
Mignon McLaughlin once said, “A successful marriage means falling in love many times, always with the same person.”Falling in love once again with your spouse protects and enhances the life you have built together, and is energizing and rejuvenating. It can bring newfound satisfaction and joy to the other areas of your life as well.