How Good is YOUR Marriage?
Do you know the three indicators for how connected your marriage is? And how to tell in which direction it’s going? Listen to Coach Jack as he teaches you and gives some ideas for starting to rebuild your relationship.
After listening, OTHER STEPS HELPFUL FOR IMPROVING YOUR MARRIAGE:
- You can download some free lessons on how to help your spouse to enjoy talking with you more.
- You get Coach Jack’s book, Connecting through “Yes!” that will teach you how to connect, even with a very difficult spouse.
- You can get a consultation with Coach Jack.
How Good is Your Marriage?
[Introduction to the podcast]
Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.
Jack Ito PhD: Today’s podcast is “how good is your marriage?” Could you be missing some warning signs about your marriage? Everyone has relationship problems sometimes but how do you know the difference between a bump in the road and a looming cliff ahead? In today’s podcast you will learn how to recognize some divorce warning signs and how you can take action to make sure your relationship never comes to that. Many of the people I worked with over the years were not aware of how bad their relationships had become. I think that’s natural because we tend to filter out things that don’t fit our vision about how are our relationship is. Because people tend to pay attention to evidence which fits what they already believe, many people don’t realize that they are having relationship problems until their spouse is bringing it up to them. So a person who believes that their relationship is pretty good is going to notice the good times that they have together. The good time that they had on a vacation or the good sexual encounter that they had last weekend or a good day that they had that they had. But, they might not be paying that much attention to all the little interactions in between and the problems that come up.
On the other hand, people who believe their relationship is not very good are going to notice mostly the things that fit that. How they don’t spend much time together, the little conflicts that happen, and they might not pay much attention to how good they get along when they do find time to spend together, when they cut out the distractions, when they intentionally are with each other. In this way, you can have a husband and wife who have very different beliefs about the relationship but each of them having evidence for their position and not really thinking about how their spouse is perceiving the relationship. Because I work with people who are reconciling relationships after they become very bad, many of these people have not been aware of how bad their relationships were until their spouse was wanting to separate, to divorce, or was having an affair.
In my first session with these clients, I ask them some routine questions about the past few years of their marriage. Almost always the problem started long before these people realized that they did. For most of the people that I talk to, they seem to think that their problem started the very moment or close to the moment that they discovered their spouse was having an affair or around the time that their spouse said that they wanted separation or that they wanted to divorce. They hadn’t noticed how bad the relationship had become before that. However, when I ask them some questions about when they believe their spouse last really enjoyed the relationship, very often it’s been two years or more. With some people that I work with, their problems had actually been going on for many years but had reached a kind of a peak difficulty just before they signed up to work with me. Most of the people who are reacting very strongly (and understandably) to their spouse’s affair, or wanting to divorce, sometimes are surprised when they actually take a look back at how poorly they and their spouse were connecting the six months, a year, or even two years, before the relationship had come to this point. They didn’t really realize how different and how distant they had become from their spouse because they hadn’t been paying attention to that.
Today, I will teach you the three most important questions for evaluating how much connection you and your spouse have, so that you can be aware and take a look at that and do something to make your relationship be on the right track if you and your spouse have slipped off and are heading in the wrong direction. Like a boat floating in the river toward a waterfall, many people are enjoying the ride completely unaware of the falls ahead. Although your relationship may be going along smoothly now, I want to help you to see whether you need to take action. If there are some warning signs, and if your relationship is having problems, I want to help you to see whether this is just a temporary situation not likely to cause serious problems, or if it is something that you need to get help with now.
Every relationship requires maintenance. This is true whether it is a relationship with friends, with children, with your boss, with customers, or with your spouse. If we have a friend we never contact, children we never spend time with, customers that we don’t get back to, or a spouse that we don’t make feel important, then we are likely fooling ourselves about how secure these relationships really are. We might believe that because nothing bad has ever happened to these relationships before, that nothing bad is going to happen. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have heard a woman tell me that she didn’t believe her husband would have an affair because he had never had an affair before. Well, affairs just like everything else, have a first time. I believe that affairs, like everything else, can be prevented and are best dealt with before they happen. Although there are certainly things that we can do after they happen to restore our relationship. An affair does not spell the end of our relationship any more than any other bad thing that happens in our relationship. We just need to know how to deal with it.
A little bit of maintenance though, can help to prevent many bad things from happening. While there are many interactions that go into maintaining a marriage, I have found three to be the most useful in terms of determining whether a relationship is connected. By taking a look at these, you can see how much connection there is in your relationship. The first thing that I would like you to take a look at is how often you and your spouse are going out on dates together. One way to think about this is to imagine that you are single. Imagine that you are single and you have a girlfriend or boyfriend and never went out on dates. What could you guess about the future of that relationship? It would become routine, boring, and you could lose your boyfriend or girlfriend more easily to someone else who is more interested. Plug-in the information from your relationship. How often are you and your spouse going out on dates? Some people tell me that they go out on a date with their spouse every week. I think that’s fantastic. It’s a good goal to shoot for and is generally enough for maintaining a relationship. Some people have told me that they only go out on a date once or twice a year. Can you imagine if you were single and you went out with your boyfriend or girlfriend just once or twice a year? What would that do to your relationship? How about the frequency that you and your spouse are dating? Would that be enough to maintain a single relationship?
What is true for single relationships is true for married relationships also. That’s why we can use this comparison. If you are not dating your spouse, you might not lose your spouse to an affair. Or, then again, you might. You might also lose your spouse to your spouse’s friends, both online and off. Many people have told me that their spouses are not spending time with them—that their spouses prefer to spend their time with the children or on social media or at work or outside or doing something other than being with them. This is a good sign of a relationship which has not been maintained. People who wish that their spouses spent less time on social media, for example, better be offering something more interesting, more enjoyable to do. People are going to want to do things that they enjoy most. They will do other things that they have to do, but that will be work and their tendency will be to put it aside or avoid it or neglect it. When they, or neglect it, as time goes by. That often happens with a relationship which has become unenjoyable. To put a number on dating, make it a point to go out that is go outside of your home to do something with your spouse, without your children, at least once a week.
I love kids. I think they are great. They can certainly be difficult at times but they make life more rewarding. We have to be able to create a home for them and part of that is giving them parents who have a good relationship. So when people have children, it’s really important for them to maintain their relationship too. And to show by example to their children the importance of maintaining that parental relationship. You can’t just set that aside, to have children wait till they grow up, or we are setting them to have problems with their relationships. If you’re gonna have children, then make sure that you plan it so that you can still get time away from your children. That means that you are probably going to need to have either relatives handy or hire a service or put your kids in some kind of program where you and your spouse can get out once a week, at least. I know when my children were young we would put them in scouts, in church programs, and different things like that so that we would have that time to ourselves—my wife and I. Sometimes you have to get creative.
Making time to go on dates with your spouse is something you do for your spouse, for yourself, for your marriage, and for your children. It cannot be neglected. So many people have neglected dating in order to raise their children, they no longer have a marriage by the time their children are raised. So what does a date mean? A “date” means, simply going out and having a good time with your spouse. If you don’t have money that’s okay. You can do things that don’t cost money. Go to the park. Ride a bicycle. Walk the dogs. Go fishing—any kind of outdoor activity usually costs little. In my early years, my dates were picnics in the park rather than nice restaurants. But you know what? They were fun. Even after you get to the point where you can afford to go to the nice restaurants, it’s still good to do those picnics in the park sometimes. The most important thing to have on a date is a good attitude. And, you need to make your spouse feel special. Laughing is really good too.
Let’s look at the second thing for determining whether your relationship is well-connected or not. The first was dating. Besides dating, spending one on one time together at home each day is important. One-on-one time means interactive time, not side-by-side activities. For example, talking or walking are one on one activities. Watching a movie or each of you using your cell phones are not one-on-one activities. Also, if your one-on-one is mainly about your business or practical matters, then they are not going to keep the connection in your relationship good. Talking about business matters is fine, but we need to have good quality one-on-one time in addition to that. The same thing is true for watching TV. That’s fine. I watch movies with my wife. That is in addition to our one-on-one time—not in place of it. It’s so easy for those side-by-side activities to take the place of our one-on-one time and then our relationships can gradually become disconnected without us even realizing it. Again, imagine if you were single and your current one-on-one activities are what you did with a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Would that keep his or her interest in you? Would it be really easy for someone else to get his or her interest just by having a little bit better one-on-one time? Whatever happens in single relationships happens in married relationships, too—it just takes longer.
The third indicator of a well-connected couple are a sexual relationship they both enjoy. What exactly they do or how often they do it are not nearly as important as whether they are both enjoying their sexual relationship. Once sex gets to the point, for your partner, where it isn’t much more exciting than doing a load of laundry, then it needs to be revitalized. Sex, just like one-on-one time or dating, can become routine and boring. The place to start making sex better is not actually with sexual techniques although that’s not a bad thing to learn of course. But the place generally to make a sexual relationship better is to work on improving the dating and one-on-one time you have together. All of these things enhance each other. Your sexual relationship enhances your one-on-one time together and your dating. The dating enhances the one-on-one time you have together and your sexual relationship. And one-on-one time together enhances your dating and your sexual relationship.
Because these are all interconnected and affect each other, a good rule of thumb is that if you have all three of these activities going well—dating once a week, at least daily one-on-one time together, and a good sexual relationship, then your relationship is doing pretty darn good. Take one of these things out of your relationship and it will slowly deteriorate. It doesn’t matter which one. Take out the dating, take out the one-on-one time or take out the sex, and your relationship is going to slowly degrade. If you take two of these things out, then your relationship is rapidly deteriorating. That’s the time you really need to jump into action. If you take three things out of your relationship—that is you don’t have any dating, don’t have the one on one time, and you don’t have a good sexual relationship, it means your relationship is already disconnected. You may not realize it. That’s because of the business of everyday living and because of the family activities you do together. But your relationship with your spouse will pretty much have deteriorated into a business partnership or a roommate situation. At that point you are then in your marriage for practical reasons.
That actually could work if both of you are very practical and have no desire for any kind of close, intimate relationship. Some people have such a marriage style. But, that will not work if only one of you is practical and the other one desires a close relationship. You have to have both people satisfied with the relationship for the relationship to continue. You can measure progress in your relationship—which direction your relationship is headed, is it getting worse, or is it getting better, or is it staying the same? You can measure that progress by looking back two months and comparing it then to now. If these things are better now than they were two months ago, your relationship is growing—it’s doing better. Congratulations! Just keep doing what you are doing. If your relationship is worse than it was two months ago, watch out! Your relationship is failing. The longer you let it carry on this way, the harder it will be to save it. Boats move faster and faster the closer they get to a waterfall. If your relationship is much worse than it was two months ago, that’s a much more serious situation than if your relationship is just a little bit worse. If your relationship is about the same as it was two months ago, then it is stable. That’s a good thing if you are both enjoying your relationship. My relationship with my wife has been stable for many years. But, because we both enjoy it, that’s a good thing. If your relationship is stable but you are not enjoying it or your spouse is not enjoying it, what you’re actually doing is coasting. And like a plane without any fuel, eventually it will start to fail.
If your relationship is stable and you’re not enjoying it, or your spouse isn’t enjoying it, then it’s time to take some actions—slowly, but deliberately—to increase the connection in your relationship with your spouse. Trying to do too many improvements, too soon, actually is more likely to fail then making gradual changesin your schedule, or in the way that you interact with your spouse. Gradual changes are easier to maintain, they’re easier to plan, they cause less stress, and they give both people time to adjust. Many people have difficulty maintaining improvements in their relationship because they try to improve too many things at once. So, when you are considering relationship progress, you need to realize that every relationship has ups and downs. This is the reason that I use the two-month guideline. Most of the people who come to me for help have been in decline for two years or more, as I said. But often they didn’t realize that they were in decline because some days were good and some days were bad. And when you have that kind of up and down pattern, it’s really hard to see on a day-to-day basis which direction your relationship is going. It’s only when you put some kind of time perspective on it, that you can see better. I use two months, but you can use as long as you want—you could use six months from how things are now. Or look back a year from how things are now. I like two months because it generally is not going to be impacted by so many changes that can happen over the course of a year.
So let’s suppose that you have decided your relationship is going in the wrong direction and you would like to make gradual improvements. That will make it easier for you and your spouse. What could you do? Well, if you haven’t dated at all for a while, for example, just start asking your spouse out once in a while. Or gradually work on your talking skills to help your spouse enjoy talking to you like a romantic partner and not like a business partner. That doesn’t mean that you suddenly switch from talking about business to talking about romantic things. That would be weird for your spouse. Your spouse probably wouldn’t like it. You would get rejection and you would feel frustrated. And it could even lead to conflict. Making gradual change is going to be much easier, as I said before. The guideline I like to use for how quickly to change a relationship is this: that if your spouse notices the changes that you are making, you are moving too fast. On the other hand, if your spouse is enjoying your relationship more but can’t really put a finger on what’s making it more enjoyable, then you probably are going at a good speed.
If you would like some free lessons on how to help your spouse to enjoy talking with you more, I have those for download, both for men and for women, on my website. Those are completely free and include five lessons that many people have used to help their spouses to enjoy talking with them again—especially if their relationships have become one where they just don’t talk unless is about something to do with business. As long as your spouse is not rejecting you, you can do this rebuilding on your own. However, if you have already hit that wall of rejection where nothing you do seems to make a dent in your spouse’s lack of desire for you, then it might be time for you to get some extra help. Coaching is one way you might do that. Whenever you get resistance, what it means is “back off.” Do not try to push through that resistance. We have to attract people into relationships with us and not try to push them into relationships with us. You can never really push someone or anything closer to you. You can only push things further away.
Well, in today’s podcast, I gave you three good indicators for how connected your marriage is and how to tell in which direction it’s going. I also gave you some ideas for starting to rebuild your relationship. The sooner you started doing this, the less you’re going to need to do. And, the sooner you and your spouse will enjoy your relationship again.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit coachjackito.com to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.