How to keep marriage alive past the honeymoon

2011-11-09T00:00:00Z How to keep marriage alive past the honeymoonBy Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Is your marriage more like a roller coaster ride than a cozy love relationship? Are you barely hanging by a thread, as you toy with the idea of divorce?

The truth is, most couples have their share of extreme tension. We fall in love, feel enthralled by our good fortune, and then various stressors start to erode the relationship.

What's sad is looking back on the honeymoon phase. Love was like a beautiful spirit covering you — totally surreal and wonderful. That pleasure, contrasted with the pain of present arguments, is like having a very distant memory of heaven.

"It feels like you've got a handful of helium-filled balloons when you first fall in love," laughs a psychologist we'll call Katrina. "Then, life gets hold of you! The balloons start to get loose and move into the sky. Suddenly, you wake up and wonder what happened!"

Katrina is presently working with a couple who came into therapy on the brink of divorce. She is trying a therapy approach that she says is working well.

"I'm coaching this couple to become engaged in activities they both enjoy," says Katrina. "I'll call them Dan and Donna. "You wouldn't believe how this marriage is smoothing out. At first, Dan and Donna were nipping at each other like angry bulldogs!"

Katrina says that tension rises from all of the things we disagree on with a partner. Love comes from spending time in total harmony — and it doesn't have to occur every minute of the day.

"If you have lots of good experiences with someone," says Katrina. "You can't wait to be in this person's presence."

She talks about well-known couples such as Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their common goals and time spent together reaching those goals solidified a bond that was already in place.

Katrina explains that these very public political couples had lots in common before someone decided to run for office. These couples didn't magically start to work as a team when the election process kicked in.

"You can't go hiking with someone, figuratively or literally, if you haven't enjoyed walking in low-lying fields with them," Katrina points out. "Start with something small to create a better bond."

Try these simple activities to cool tension with your mate:

Find one TV show you enjoy watching together. As simple as this sounds, it gives some basis for decent conversation.

Find one topic of conversation that you totally agree on. We all know which topics push the wrong buttons with our mates. Discuss a ball team or a charity that you both fully support.

Brag on your mate. If you tell your wife how beautiful she is, you're not likely to get an argument. If you tell your husband he looks sexy in his new jeans, you are not going to crank up tension.

Make the biggest problems seem fixable. Tell your mate, "I know you hate working two part-time jobs, but you'll find a great job soon. Don't get discouraged."

The recipe for growing tension is to talk about things getting under your skin or your partner's skin. In talk like this, you're giving life to the negative influences around you.

"Beware of relatives, friends, stepchildren and neighbors planting negative seeds in your marriage," Katrina warns. "They dish out crazy comments that they hope you'll discuss later. They know, subconsciously, that they are causing problems in your marriage. Don't discuss their irritating remarks. Instead, create harmony and move back to the honeymoon phase."


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