The rehabilitation of marriages is something that every professional family lawyer should explore rather than race headlong into driving the last nail into the coffin of a bad marriage.
I have to say, however, it is somewhat difficult for a family law attorney to expound upon the essentials of a good marriage, since as you might suspect, our offices are not the place where one would deal with healthy marriages.
It is with this reality in mind that I was pleased to happen upon an article on the Internet addressing how good relationships could be maintained and poor relationships could be rehabilitated. The author’s name is Laura Doyle and she has a website at LauraDoyle.org. She is a relationship expert, and New York Times best selling author, who specializes in training and coaching intimacy skills.
In that article she expresses her belief in intimacy skills that she has learned over a period of time in her work of counseling women. She refers to these skills as “Six Steps for Women to Stamp Out Divorce”. She begins by recognizing what most of us would readily admit which is that most people do not have good relationship role models. Many of today’s marrieds are products of single-parent households or broken homes or marriages that have washed up on the rocks as a permanent condition. Her humorous line was that learning intimacy skills from broken marriages is the equivalent of learning oral care from parents with false teeth.
Many of us know that there is very little teaching in schools or colleges about marriage and the skills of intimacy necessary to maintain a good marriage. Normally a Sunday school class or church sermon is as close as some of us get to lessons on how to conduct a good marriage. Most of us learn marriage skills after several years of marriage, and the resulting unhappiness has driven us to seek counselors for help after a great deal of damage to the relationship has already been accomplished. This, then, becomes our belated classroom.
I read the article out of curiosity since it related to my practice of family law but after I had finished the article I could see how most men would probably respond in a very positive manner to a spouse who initiated these skills, and that they would, no doubt, encourage reciprocity on the part of the husband.
I am going to refer to her comments because I believe that her approach could lead to a very successful rehabilitative process. However I may add some of my own comments where I feel my professional experience might assist in your understanding. The six intimacy skills that she espouses are as follows:
Skill #1: Do at least three things a day for your own pleasure.
She is of the opinion that there is a direct correlation between your self-care and your level of tolerance for your husband. She says relationships require patience and compassion but if you’re tired, frazzled or undernourished, you give your relationship little chance of thriving. She believes that focusing on your own pleasure through self-care takes the pressure off of your husband to make you happy (and she acknowledges that your happiness is your own responsibility and not that of your husband anyway.) She believes that your good mood also signals to him that he can succeed in delighting you which inspires him to want to do just that. Here, it seems to me, for a person to have fun every day reduces the demands and expectations on a husband to provide an escape from a mundane life, and you might expect that relief to encourage a positive response.
Skill #2: Relinquish control of people you cannot control.
She states, with a great deal of insightfulness, that “helpful” in wife language means “controlling” in husband language. She says that when you correct your man’s driving, or what he wears, or what he does at work, you are sending a message that he is not competent to guide his daily life properly. She knowingly states that unwitting criticism is an attack. This pushes intimacy away no matter how well-meaning your comments. She knows that intimacy needs safety and encouragement in order to thrive, and the intimacy vanishes with criticism. She prescribes for the woman to take a step back and trust her husband to run his own life without any help from her, and then watch him take a step forward and start acting like the man that she initially fell in love with.
Skill #3 -Receive gifts, complements and help graciously
Her opinion is that “receiving is the opposite of rejecting. When your husband gives you something that’s not what you had in mind, receive it anyway by saying, “you were so thoughtful. Thank you” On the other hand, deflecting a gift or a complement is rejecting the giver as well as the emotional connection you could have had, had you accepted the gift graciously. She recommends that when your husband offers to bathe the kids, accept his help graciously no matter how imperfectly he does it. Rejecting a gift, or compliments or help, contributes to reducing the quality of your relationship. She believes that if you receive gifts graciously that you’ll probably see more gifts start to come your way almost immediately.
Skill #4 – Respect the man you chose.
Laura believes that being respectful will resurrect the man you fell in love with. She readily concedes that you probably didn’t marry a dumb man to begin with, and if he appears to be dumb now, it’s probably because you are focused on his shortcomings. She understands that a man who feels respected by the woman, who knows him best, also feels self-respect, which is far more attractive than him cowering or bristling with hostility. She goes on to say that the lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does, because for men, respect is like oxygen. She thinks that they need respect more than they do sex. The exercise of respect means that you don’t dismiss, criticize, contradict or try to teach them anything. It should be obvious, according to her, that he won’t do things the same way you do. And it follows that if you wanted to have that, you could’ve just married yourself. She is convinced that with your respect, he will once again do the things that amazed and delighted you to begin with.
Her statement here brought to mind my recollection of the biblical encouragement found in Ephesians chapter 5 at verse 33, where Paul is speaking to husbands and wives saying that “each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband”. It seems that if respect is important enough to find its way in the Scriptures then it is certainly a skill worthy of development.
I once heard a counselor state that if a wife praises her husband for being thoughtful, even though he is not thoughtful, that by hearing it enough he will be inspired to grow into that description. I believe there’s a lot of validity to that statement.
Skill #5 – Express gratitude three times daily.
Laura states the following: “gratitude has magical powers. It turns an ordinary meal into a feast an average relationship into a lifelong romance, and an ordinary husband into your hero.” Laura admitted that in her personal experience that she had been reluctant to thank her husband for anything because she thought that she was doing more than he was anyway, and he wasn’t thanking her for what she was doing. She also thought that he would stop doing the things that she thanked him for because he would consider those efforts as being optional. However she admits that she was wrong and that currently she thanks him for washing dishes, replacing light bulbs, and working hard at his business. She states what appears to be a truism, that the more grateful she was for what he did, the more inspired he was to do the things that she appreciated, which made her feel more cherished and adored.
It strikes me as only logical that if the husband receives no appreciation for the things that he does, because his wife feels that he is supposed to do those things anyway, then it would follow that the husband believes that he is no better off than a hired hand who is doing no more than what is paid for doing. Surely, fostering an employer/employee relationship is the farthest thing from encouraging the intimacy that one would seek to enjoy in a marriage.
Skill #6 – Strive to be Vulnerable
Laura is of the opinion that intimacy and vulnerability are directly connected. She believes that if you want intimacy, then you will need to take the risk of admitting that you are lonely, embarrassed or hurt, or whatever admission sends the message of vulnerability. This is not a sign of weakness, according to her, since it takes a lot of strength to do that. But she illustrates that when you are vulnerable you don’t care about being right. You’re just open and trusting enough to say “I miss you” instead of “you never spend time with me”. She recommends that it simply means saying “ouch” when he is insensitive, rather than retaliating. She knows that such vulnerability completely changes the way that your husband responds to you. She encourages you to understand that vulnerability is not only attractive but it’s the only way to get to that incredible feeling of being loved just the way you are, by someone who knows you very well. She paints the picture that there is nothing like the joy of intimacy that results from vulnerability. She urges women to understand that it is really worth dropping the burden of being an efficient, over scheduled superwoman in order to have the intimacy that vulnerability brings about.
The bottom line for Laura Doyle is that an intimate, passionate, peaceful relationship is not a matter of luck – it’s a matter of skill and good habits.
What I observed in my practice is that most unhealthy marriages result from a lack of focus on the essential needs of your spouse. This is what Laura Doyle covers very well in her statement about the six skills. What has become evident over the years is that spouses become very self focused and begin to develop a primary concern that their own needs are not being met in the marriage. These feelings inevitably result in feelings of resentment, and the resentment level slowly increases until you almost can’t stand being around the other person. That is the result of self-focus.
Many people state that marriage is a 50-50 proposition with each person doing their fair share. However, in my view the wise ones are the ones that advocate marriage being a 100/100 proposition. This calls for focusing on his needs as well as your own.
When you review the six skills that she’s talking about, it really doesn’t call for a great deal of sacrifice. All it calls for, is doing at least three things a day for your own pleasure; relinquishing control over people that you can’t control anyhow; receiving gifts, compliments and help, graciously; showing respect for the man; expressing gratitude three times a day, and risking to be vulnerable, because it’s more attractive.
When you really think about it, those skills don’t demand a great deal of sacrifice, but they may well draw more intimate attention from the man you married, because in this kind of relationship, pulling, by attraction, is far more successful than pushing.