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Create a Remarkable Marriage

Get more bite marks on your tongue

Valentines Day comes once a year. What marriage really requires is a daily practice. We need both to lighten up and to have a strong voice when the situation calls for it. Here's eight steps to meeting that challenge. Make a promise to follow one of them.

1. Get More Bite Marks on Your Tongue. Dial down the criticism. Many people value criticism in courtship stage of relationship, but become allergic to it over time. Remember that no one can survive in a marriage (at least not happily) if they feel more judged than admired.

2. Respect Differences. One of my favorite cartoons, drawn by my friend Jennifer Berman, shows a dog and a cat in bed together.
The dog is looking morose and reading a book called "Dogs Who Love Too Much."
The Cat is saying, "I'm not distancing! I'm a cat, darn it!"
Lighten up about differences. We all view reality through different filters depending on our culture, gender, birth order, genetic makeup, and unique family history. A good relationship requires us to stay emotionally connected to a partner who thinks, feels, and believes differently, without needing to change him or fix him up.

3.Apologize and repair disconnections
You can say, "I'm sorry for my part of the problem" even if you're secretly convinced that you're only 14% to blame. Marriage goes best when at least one person can apologize or find some other way to cut right through the nonproductive "whodunit" or "who started it" mentality.

4. Don't Demand an Apology. Don't get into a tug of war about your partner's failure to apologize. An entrenched non-apologizer may use a nonverbal way to try to defuse tension, reconnect after a fight, or show he's in a new place and wants to move toward you. Accept the olive brance in whatever form it's offered.

5. Warm your Partner's Heart. During the courtship stage (or "Velcro Stage," as I call it) of relationships we automatically focus on the positive and make our partner feel valued and chosen.
The longer people are married, the more this "selective attention" flips. Now we automatically pay attention to what we are critical about and that is what we notice and speak to. Be intentional about making positive comments ("I loved the way you used humor to deal with your brother on the phone tonight.") even if you're feeling angry and resentful.

6. Practice Pure Listening. Lower your defensiveness and truly listen. Listening is the greatest spiritual gift you can give your partner. Practice listening without interrupting, offering advice, defending your position, or correcting distortions and exaggerations. Listen only to understand. Save your defense for a future conversation.

7. Focus on your self, not your partner. When people come to see me for marital therapy they are secretly hoping that I will fix or change their partner. But change will not happen until at least one person takes his or her blaming or worried focused off their spouse and puts it back on himself or herself. Self-focus means we put our energy into observing, clarifying, and changing our own part in relationship patterns rather than trying to change the other party.

8. Know Your Bottom Line. Take a clear position on things that matter. Define the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to you in your marriage. Don't sacrifice your core values and beliefs under relationship pressures. If you have an "anything goes" policy, your marriage-and sense of self-worth-will spiral downward.

Real change is usually a slow and bumpy process that takes patience and time. Don't try to change too much too fast, or nothing will change at all. Remember that it's the direction you move in over time that counts-not the speed of travel.