My Brain on Relationships
Last weekend my husband and I went for our “almost” daily walk around the neighborhood. We have a particular route we always follow and on this day our 3 dogs thought it would be beneficial for us to bring them along. My husband had the two smaller dogs which, for the first few blocks, act more like Alaskan sled dogs pulling him down the street as he leans backwards about 40 degrees to keep them from a full run. I had our 70 lbs. well-mannered Weimaraner named Greyson. Since my husband had been nursing an old foot injury, he decided to shorten the regular route and head back to the house. I, of course, had to complete the 1.1-mile route because, if you’ve read my other blogs, I’m OCD and not finishing a task causes me a certain level of anxiety.
He commented to me, as he redirected the 2 little urchins (as we call them) down the alternate path home, that the sky had gotten darker since we left the house and that little bit of thunder you heard could be bringing rain quickly. He suggested that I follow him home via the shorter route. Of course, I didn’t listen.
We parted ways and I began thinking about the clients that I had in store for tomorrow. As I walked down the long back street in our neighborhood, the wind began blowing and the clouds turned into a dark ominous boiling gray mass moving rapidly over me. A few strikes of lightning and claps of thunder later made it evident that my husband was right…again!
As I rounded the corner and headed for home, I still had 3 blocks to go before turning down our street. Four blocks away and across the main road entering our subdivision, I could see a developing blanket of water that began peppering buildings, trees and cars, making them almost obscure under the growing deluge. At this point, there was no rain in our subdivision, only across the main road at the entrance of the subdivision. Do you know that feeling you have when you are trying desperately to reach the open door of a building just before it closes and locks you out? That was my feeling. I was going to get drenched.
What I didn’t know was that my husband had dropped the dogs off at the house and immediately got in his truck and headed out to find me and Greyson. He rounded the corner at our street as the first large drops began slapping the top of my head. By the time he pulled up beside me, my dog was spotted head to tail from the large droplets and I had never been so relieved to see my husband.
He opened the back door of the truck and Greyson jumped in as I hopped into the front seat. As I closed the door, I stared at my husband for a few seconds and said, “I’m so grateful for you, not just for rescuing me from the rain, but for ALL the ways you care for me. “He grinned and said, “That’s what I love to do!”
I relate this little short story not to brag about the fact that I am blessed beyond measure with a great marriage, but to highlight the beauty of spouses that anticipate the needs of their betrothed. Selfless acts relay to the other how much they truly care for them and that their thoughts are constantly filled with that person.
This was not an isolated incident with my husband. He constantly and forever is meeting my needs, even when I don’t think I have a need. He keeps me filled up and never wanting for love, acceptance and security. That’s what I want to convey to my clients – what does it takes to keep a marriage fulfilled to the nth degree? Marriage is an ongoing relationship that needs constant interaction between the spouses to truly fulfill what God intended with this institution. We truly do become one flesh, knowing each other’s thoughts and needs.
Gottman, who has studied relationships extensively, says that we need to always follow what he calls the 5:1 ratio rule. For every single negative interaction, we have with our spouse, it needs to be followed with 5 positive interactions to refill our “love buckets”. Each of us spouses should do a quick check of our marriage from time to time by asking questions like:
Are we just like ships in the night passing each other?
Do we have humor, affection and active interest in each other?
Do we feel a real emotional connection to our spouse?
Would you count your spouse as your best friend?
What is our shared meaning together?
How would I feel and react if I lost my spouse?
How are we doing on the “first base goals”: trust, love and respect?
If you are not happy with your answers, consider seeing someone experienced with couples counseling to give you tools and ideas to bring you closer to your “ideal relationship.”
As a therapist, many clients come to me looking for a solution to their current problems. Some relationship problems are solvable, but as I explain to everyone most problems are unsolvable, you simply need to learn how to manage your problems. And remember, choosing a partner is “choosing a set of problems” (Gottman). In other words, what Gottman is saying is that it is NOT about solving the perpetual problem, but rather it is the affect that surrounds the discussion of the perpetual problem. Learning to accept “problems” as part of any relationship and having the skills to dialogue about them is key to a productive resolution that does not escalate to anger and disconcertion. Something else important to remember is that romantic relationships and marriage often bring out our own “stuff”. This is good provided we take the opportunity to process our “stuff” and learn to heal as individuals. Often our own “stuff” is what is causing the “couple problems.”
I am grateful to be a therapist and I am also thankful to be a “marriage friendly” couples’ therapist and a member the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapist, because I know first-hand that having a great marital relationship offers so many benefits. I am not value neutral when it comes to marriage. I believe that marriage is important for our legacy, our community and our society at large.
Rescuing your spouse from an impending deluge, telling your spouse how much your life is better with them in it, knowing how to anticipate your spouse’s needs and genuinely taking care of every aspect of each other’s lives is essential to maintaining and growing a fantastic marriage.