The Goods

To have and to hold and to drive completely crazy: Tips for a healthier marriage

Couples counsellor and registered psychotherapist, Janna Comrie, gives her best advice on keeping your union strong

Couples counsellor Janna Comrie gives her best advice on keeping your union strong

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First comes love, then comes marriage... then comes a lot of other things. We all know marriage is a lot of work, so registered psychotherapist Janna Comrie recommends a yearly marriage checkup. Couples can let things slide or let their emotional needs become less and less important over time, so Janna says it's important to do this annual inspection so that things don't fall through the cracks. Here are her five key points to analyze in order to help check in on your marriage:

Attitude

It's important to understand that your partner doesn't see things the same way you do and there are always two sides to every story. Often there isn't a right and wrong, there's just "different."

By recognizing your partner's perspective and taking the time to look at things through their eyes, you increase the likelihood that they will do the same instead of immediately getting defensive during a conflict. So check your perspective, and remind yourself that it's not the only one!

Emotional connection

It's important to really ask yourself if your emotional connection to your partner is the same as when you started dating. This is different than your sex life and the intimacy connection you have together. So date your partner! This is important to keep the spark alive. Skip topics like kids or work on your date, and find other topics of interest that will allow you to connect with your partner. Communicate your thoughts, feelings and opinions when things are good, especially when you are in a fun setting.

There are other practical ways to strengthen an emotional connection. Your partner will feel small actions adding up, like holding hands, a gentle touch across the back, or sharing something that they've always wanted to try but you thought was silly. This can be sending a suggestive picture or a flirty phone call but at the end of the day, this is what is special or unique about your partnership to be shared just between the two of you.

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Trust

We often find ourselves disconnected from our partners because we think they'll get upset or they won't understand or do what we need them to. Instead, you need to trust yourself to handle a conflict with a partner well. If you're trusting yourself to handle whatever the response to your question is, you tend to ask better questions in a more effective way. With the right questions you'll often realize that they are willing to be a part of more than you think. Recognize their perspective and see if there is a solution that would work to meet both sets of needs.

To do practice this, picture someone who's bold without being domineering. Ask yourself, "how would they ask their partner a potentially tricky question?" Throw your ideas and requests out there as if you expect your partner will be game. Don't ask tentatively or shyly as if you're afraid they will say no. You'll get a better outcome with some prep work and a little confidence.  

Expectations

Do you expect that your relationship should be like everyone else's? You aren't everyone else and they aren't your partner. Relationships are unique and function in unique ways in many respects. If you expect your relationship to look like everyone else's, you will only be as good as the people you know and you may be entirely missing your own potential as a couple. Your expectations need to be based on your relationship and not the relationships of those around you.

To do this, talk with your partner about what is unique to the two of you personally and relationship wise. How might you use those talents, skills, thought processes etc. to move your relationship ahead emotionally, physically, functionally, sexually, or financially? Ask, "What do you think we're really good at individually and as a couple? What do you think we could accomplish using that?" Form a plan of attack around those strengths and see where you end up as a couple.

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Happiness

The happier you are with yourself, the happier your relationship is. Be grateful for the things your partner does but also doesn't do. If you're unhappy, you will subconsciously or sometimes consciously judge your partner. You assume if they knew you, they'd think the same as you do about yourself, so they either don't know you or don't understand how "not good" you are. The unhappier you are with yourself the more you will tend to judge them for being with you/putting up with you. The happier you are, the more you appreciate your value in the relationship and the more likely they are to see it. Also, the more you tend to trust yourself and your partner to handle situations and conflict and the less you look for your partner to validate you.

A few practical ways to get happier include making time for friends, exercise, and relaxation – things that make you feel good about you. Try new things, and try to stop counting all the negatives because there's no need to keep score. Or try a gratitude log – each day write five things you love/like about you, your life and your relationship. This exercise will bring you into the present so that you can be grateful for what you have today, not just pining for what you want tomorrow.

The key to a happy marriage may lie in analyzing our attitude, emotional connection, sense of trust, expectations and happiness levels. While not simple, trying to apply Janna's tips can help the decades fly by with love and support. Good luck to the happy couple!  

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