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10 Building Blocks for a Better Marriage

Shira Hart

Experts share the ten essentials for a healthy, growing marriage

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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1) Cure Conflict with Curiosity

What’s the biggest obstacle to resolving conflicts in marriage? Typically, the way you approach them. Change your approach, advises Lisa Twerski, LCSW, and you’ll end up with a totally different result. For example, try to move from judgment to curiosity. When you have a difference of opinion with your spouse, or disagree on a life choice, you have two choices. You can stay in your head, internally judging and thus destroying any chance of resolving your differences. Your spouse then becomes the adversary. Unable to hear his perspective, you just dig yourself deeper into your own point of view. From this place it is incredibly difficult to have a productive, expansive conversation. Reframe by switching from condemning to curious — wondering about the difference, asking questions, trying to understand where the difference comes from, or how your spouse reached this opinion — and conflicts will shrink.

2) Your Happiness Is in Your Hands

Take responsibility for the quality of your life, urges Yaffa Goldsmith, a kallah teacher in the Five Towns. Your happiness, your sense of fulfillment — those should never be his job, his burden to carry, because that will take the delight out of his caring for you. You’ll hopefully experience the joy of marriage, and your husband may contribute to your contentment, but he should never be your only source of positivity. Be proactive, nurture healthy friendships, connect with the One above, and notice the good in the world around you. Build your own inner peace. Once you have a stable foundation of your own, you can truly appreciate the gift of marriage.

3) Are You Hangry?

You are what you eat, they say, or in this case, what you don’t eat. According to Stella Volpe, PhD, RD, chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University, your mood is greatly affected by your eating habits.


If you haven’t eaten in a while and your blood glucose (sugar) is low, you are very likely to be irritated. Your brain is craving the energy it gets from food, so it would be best to reach for a snack — rather than bite off the head of someone you care about. You may be legitimately busy Friday afternoon, but a quick lunch might just save you and your spouse a fight you will quickly regret.

4) Don’t Say the D Word

What will almost guarantee a short marriage? Injecting the concept of divorce into your relationship, says Simcha Ribowsky, LCSW-R. Marriages go through tough times, when it’s easy to say things in anger and frustration. Early on, make a pact with your spouse never to utter the word “divorce” in regards to your relationship. No matter how bad the argument, how intractable the problem, don’t say it, ever. This takes the option off the table, which forces you to address the problem without an “easy” out. Because once the option of divorce is introduced, it’s there, and it doesn’t go away. (Caveat: This addresses the vast majority of relationships. It’s not referring to abusive or deeply unhealthy relationships.)


5) Never Stop Nurturing

You’re busy and overwhelmed — the last thing you need is something else on your to-do list, but having your husband on there is a must, teacher Yaffa Goldsmith. When couples are married for many years, it becomes even more important to nurture the relationship and spend enjoyable time together, sans children. To prioritize this, especially when life gets hectic, make it part of your weekly routine. For instance, set aside 20 minutes to spend together, whether it’s Friday brunch, a Shabbos walk, or a fun activity Sunday afternoon. Recognize the differences between spending fun quality time together versus spending time discussing the issues in your life. Both are important, but they’re not interchangeable. Work on creating an emotional relationship, devoting time to your spouse, and simply paying attention to each other. 


6) Text Much?

Another biggie from Simcha Ribowsky: Never communicate by text. If you have something important to discuss, do it in person. While texting is useful for brief, purposeful interactions (“Can you pick up milk on the way home?”), it is devoid of emotion. Most important, you can’t see facial expressions, hear voice inflections, or see body language — all critical components of interpersonal communication that clarify a speaker’s intent. Without them, misunderstanding abounds. So, avoid texting between spouses except for quick, mundane exchanges — like when you need more milk.


7) It Takes Two to Tackle

When an issue or disagreement comes up, stop thinking of your spouse and his differences as the problem, suggests Lisa Tweski. The better strategy to face conflict? Envision you and your spouse on one side of the negotiation table, and the conflict on the other side. If you and your spouse can think of yourselves as on the same side, and the conflict you’re having as something to tackle together, this can keep you close and connected even while dealing with a significant difference in opinion. In this model of conflict negotiation, the couple acknowledges that they don’t agree, but their attitude is that the problem is what they have to tackle (not each other), without wounding each other in the process.


8) When Honesty is Not the Best Policy

Being honest? Great. Hitting your spouse’s raw nerve? Not great. Sometimes honesty is not so simple, says Esther Friedman, MSW. Your spouse wants to feel loved and encouraged; you can achieve both by not saying everything you hear or think. When he didn’t buckle down and study, and then doesn’t pass his license renewal exam, you might have guessed that was going to happen. Still, “Honey, I’m sure you will do better next time” pushes your relationship in a better direction than, “It’s your fault — you should have studied properly.” This is doubly true for hurtful comments others share with you about him, from his needing a haircut to comments on his weight or his Torah knowledge. Hashem gave you intelligence to build your spouse up, and not pull him down.


9) Rise and Whine

One of the most common pieces of advice given to kallahs and newlyweds: Don’t go to sleep angry at your spouse. Esther Friedman, doesn’t agree. What if you’re both overtired? Your communication skills aren’t going to be shining when you’re too exhausted to keep your eyes open. She advises pausing the argument and taking it up again when you’ve both had your coffee. You may not have the sweetest dreams, but when you pick up the conversation in the morning, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to resolve the issue with fresh eyes. And then you can hopefully forgive and forget.


10) Respect and Respond

Why was this guy Mr. Right? You had good reasons back then, and calling them to mind now will strengthen your bond with your spouse, suggests Ted Raddell, PhD, counseling psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. Respect and appreciation keep any relationship strong. Jot down things you admire in him and mention them during the day. Side benefit: Hubby may load that dishwasher again, if you’re verbal about your appreciation.

(Originally published in Family First, Issue 589)

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