“Keeping Your Marriage Strong”: Couples Counseling Tips

I recently found myself bragging about my marriage to a friend at a party. Actually, it was a “mutual bragging” as we shared about our spouses and the qualities we valued in our marriages. At one point, I nudged my friend and jokingly said, “Yeah, next year we’ll hear the other is getting a divorce!” We both laughed! You know the laugh – “Ha ha ha! That would never happen! Never!” But my joking comment begged the question, “What will our marriages look like next year and the years following?” When providing couples counseling, I encourage couples not to be overly confident.

Let’s face it. A lot can happen in a year. Look at the financial situation our world has been in for some time. At one point people were buying new homes and cars, and personal wealth was ballooning. People were doing great! Right? Wrong! At one point, according to a senior economist, American people had lost 11 trillion in personal wealth in less than a year. Lost? Where did it go? How do you lose 11 trillion dollars? You don’t! Poor fundamentals and investment strategies based on selfishness produced what ended up being value only on paper, in people’s perception, and in potential. It wasn’t real.

What happened? This is what couples I provide marriage counseling to in my Newport Beach office are often wondering when they come to me in crisis. “One, five or twenty years ago we seemed to have it all!” they say. As I listen to their stories, most seem to have had the American dream. But somewhere along the way, something went terribly wrong. A marriage that was supposed to be an appreciating asset, sadly became a depreciating liability in the eyes of one or both. Because of poor fundamentals, neglect, mismanagement, selfishness and/or naivete, that which was once most valued had declined to the point of having no value. The marriage became just a marriage on paper, in perception, and in potential only.

How can a couple maintain sufficient value in their marriage? I explain to couples in couples counseling that like most areas in life, the answer lies in practicing
good fundamentals and having a sound investment strategy that takes into account the volatility of life. Life happens! Kids, career, aging parents, and unforeseen events like health problems or the loss of a job put major stress on a marriage. Good fundamentals keep a marriage on course. What are good fundamentals? Good fundamentals are what you did when you established a loving relationship in the beginning. You admired the other, showed respect, expressed affection, tried to meet the felt needs of the other, listened, spent time together and made sincere efforts to repair the relationship when you hurt the other. You expressed value regularly and the other felt valuable.  The couples counseling process helps couples to reestablish these fundamentals.

One particular night I came home from work around 9:30 pm from my Newport Beach office where I provide couples counseling. When I went upstairs to say “hi” to Morag. I noticed she did not seem to be feeling well and so I asked her how she was. She began to share how she had burned her hand while cooking earlier and that she was feeling physically under the weather. As she talked, I listened, empathized and told her how genuinely sorry I was that she wasn’t feeling well. The next morning I noticed a special glow in Morag’s eyes…like she liked me! Then later, when we were standing together at our daughter’s school, she began to rub my back like she really liked me! The fact is we were both feeling valued. We had both practicing good fundamentals.

Marriage fundamentals serve to maintain and/or increase value in a marriage. When I met a felt need for empathy by listening with care and concern, Morag felt valued, which in turn, gave value to the marriage. When she admiringly looked at me and provided me with a little PDA (public display of affection), I felt valued and the marriage was given value. Do you regularly feel valued by your spouse? Do you practice fundamentals that cause your spouse to feel valued? Fundamentals are things we have to practice, and practice regularly I explain to couples I provide marriage counseling to. Otherwise it is easy to get into bad habits.

Morag and I go out to breakfast each week. It is something we do to invest in our marriage. But it is not easy to protect our “couple time” from the demands of life. Like many married couples, we have a lot of areas that require the investment of our time, energy and resources. However, in order to be good investors of our limited resources of time, emotions, and energy we have to work at being intentional about “where” and “how much” we allocate. Our goal is to put our marriage on the top of the list. Other areas of life may have to do with a little less, but we realize that if our marriage tanks, every other area of our life will suffer greatly. As providers of counseling services to individuals, couples and children, we see the devastating impact of marital discord and divorce on a family. Our children depend on us to invest wisely for their future – the most important investment being in our marriage, I explain to couples during couples counseling.

When something does not go right in life, it is easy to wonder if you made the wrong decision. This is illustrated in the joke about two women who were at a party and one woman said to another, “Aren’t you wearing your wedding ring on the wrong finger?” The other woman replied, “Yes! I married the wrong man!” Sadly, when a marriage declines in value it is easy to wonder, “Did I marry the wrong person?” But most often, it is not the wrong person…it is poor fundamentals and bad investing. The marriage became devalued as a result of neglect and mismanagement. In my counseling practice to marriages and couples who are engaged, I remind them that their spouse marriage are assets. By practicing good fundamentals and investing wisely in their marriage, they will stay that way!

Receiving couples counseling to repair, support and strengthen their marriage is always a good investment made by couples. Couples should always be willing to seek good counsel to protect their most important assets, which includes their marriage. Enjoy!