The 18 months after my daughter was born were terribly tough for us as a couple. My daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition and she needed open heart surgery right before her first birthday. She was on medication that caused her to wet her diaper frequently, but she could only drink a few ounces because she got so tired. She’s only sleep 1-2 hours at a time. Then after the heart surgery I was diagnosed with cancer.
Now that we’ve been in the clear of health issues for over a year, we look back at the habits that we fell into as a couple. As a counselor that works with couples, I too had to step back and reset my marriage to help it regain health. These three tools shifted our unhealthy habits into magnets for relationship intimacy.
It’s all about the ratio
Marriage researcher, John Gottman, has found an interesting ratio. Couples that have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative are less likely to divorce. This means that if I was to watch you interact with your spouse over the course of the week I could tally your positive and negative interactions. If we looked at that data, what would your ratio be? Quick changes of adding more positive interactions will change your direction.
It is not a partnership
In Hal Edward Runkel’s book, The Screamfree Marriage, he discusses being more self-centered. Each one of us needs to take responsibility for how we view the world. Changing our reaction to situations will change the dynamic of a relationship. Like a fire, when one element changes, the entire system changes. If we are unhappy, need something, or want change, articulating this and planning for action to meet our needs helps create honesty in the relationship.
Be a permission-giver
In retrospect, I was a jerk. In the first 18 months of my daughter’s life, I had the same expectations for our house as prior to having a baby. Giving permission to one another to let some things go, goes a long way. As well, giving yourself permission to not always “have it all together” helps reduce stress. Couples that reduce expectations for a period of time, often find that they are better able to connect to the bigger things in life.
When couples take 5 minutes to focus on the 5:1 ratio, respectfully articulate their needs and desires, and give themselves and one another permission to reduce expectations, a healthy marriage is a natural outcome.
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a counselor at the Traverse City counseling clinic, Mental Wellness Counseling. He is the author of Mental Wellness Parenting: A Remarkably Simple Approach to Making Parenting Easier. He has an infographic about what his stay-at-home wife is worth on his website. He is still cancer-free and his daughter is sleeping through the night!