Couples’ therapists give out a lot of advice. After all, it’s their job to listen and observe and offer expertise to help clients address issues and move towards a better path. While all couples are different, there is a great deal of marriage advice that is universal and thus regularly shared. To share a glimpse, we asked a variety of therapists for the advice they share the most with their clients. Some of it may seem obvious but is smart to remember; some a bit more nuanced but incredibly helpful. All of it was shared by therapists to remind couples of important truths: that patience, good communication, and a desire to learn about themselves and their partner more are crucial components of lasting, loving relationships. Here’s what they said.
1. Don't Be Afraid Of Conflict
Conflict avoidance is a terrible habit. Not only does it result in resentment and frustration but it will inevitably lead to avoidance of bringing up potentially difficult topics. S ubjects that need to be addressed will likely go unresolved and you won’t develop the tools you need to successfully work through issues, says Margo Helman, MSW, a clinical social worker and therapist. Thus, it’s crucial to learn how to argue and responsibly handle conflict. “Knowing that you can be okay if difficult interactions happen you'll have more of the courage it takes to be vulnerable and to talk about the things you most care about and the issues that need to be dealt with,” she says.
2. Stay Curious And Ask Questions
“This boils down to the saying, ‘Try to be more interested than interesting,” says Nicole Kleiman-Reck, MA, LMHC. “Couples will find that, when they stay curious and understand one another on a much deeper level, then a ‘solution’ to any discrepancy will be discovered more easily and will also end in a win-win.”
3. Learn What You’re Fighting About
Michelle Mays, a licensed professional counselor, tries to let her clients know that all the arguments they’re having are essentially the same. Fights about money, parenting, in-laws, or sex all boil down to the same basic argument, with each person asking the other if they matter to them and whether or not they’ll be there for them.
“We often keep moving from conflict to conflict without recognizing what is really at stake,” says Mays. “To create a safe connection we need to dive deeper and talk about the relational needs that are being expressed through the conflict. This is where true connection and intimacy unfolds.”
4. Fights Are Solved In The Relationship, Not Outside Of It
“Turning to people outside of the relationship for advice on conflict within your relationship occurs because people want validation,” says Danielle Dellaquila, a senior associate therapist at Gateway to Solutions. However, this will more commonly lead to more problems in the end. The best place to get assurance about how you are feeling in your relationship, Dellaquila says is, well, from your partner. “Even if you disagree, you can validate your partner's point of view and make them feel heard. Too many outside opinions drive a wedge in the relationship and cause resentment and unnecessary additional problems over time.”
5. Make Time For Each Other
“People in families, with spouses and kids, will often describe feeling lonely, like an island, or 'like two ships in the night' and feel confused about this since they have a partner and family, who are around all the time,” says Sara E.F. O’Brien, a licensed clinical social worker, and clinical director of Thrive & Shine Counseling. “Sometimes being in the same space is not enough. We need purposeful, set apart time to just be with our partner to have a healthy connection.”
6. Defensiveness Doesn’t Solve Anything
When you’ve done something wrong, or your partner needs you to hear what he or she is saying, this is the time to acknowledge and validate what they’re saying to you. It is not a time to get defensive or to try and talk your way out of the situation, notes Leanne Leonard, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Mindpath Health. Even if you don’t agree with them, you can at least acknowledge their feelings on the matter and validate their side of the disagreement.
“Our perceptions are our realities so acknowledging that you can understand where your partner is coming from is especially important as it allows them to feel heard and acknowledged,” says Leonard “Once this is accomplished, you can shift into expressing yourself from your own perspective on the incident. These strategies can help attempt to alleviate power struggles, misunderstandings, and dismissal of feelings.”
7. Celebrate The Small Things
“No matter how busy we are, we can always find time for an intentional ‘good morning’ with a kiss, a quick check in text during the day, a present ‘hello’ at the end of the day, or putting your phone away by dinner,” says therapist Sheina Schochet. “It’s the little moments day to day that can convey love, care, respect, etc. and either make or break a relationship.”
8. Listen Actively
“If a partner describes a tough conversation with a child, a reflection could sound like, ‘It sounds like that conversation was really tough, honey. What can I do to help, listen, give you space, or offer solutions?’,” says Dr. Jan Newman, a licensed clinical psychologist, certified executive coach, and owner of Momentum Psychology. “Sometimes, we shorten this to offer comfort or solutions.”
9. Focus On Repair After A Fight
The happiness of a couple is not made or broken by how often they do, or do not, argue, but how quickly and how well they go about repairing the conflict after it has ended. Couples who are able to reconnect after the fact and apologize are much better off than those who simply sweep the disagreement under the rug and wait for the next one to come up.
“Because it's hard in the moment to always have the perfect response, especially if we are tired, annoyed, distracted or not in our best state, getting really good at repairs is really your best shot,” says psychotherapist Krista Jordan, Ph.D. “However, not all apologies are created equal. You have to be careful not to explain, justify, defend, or otherwise try to say anything other than, ‘I'm sorry that I (insert offense here),’ If you try to tack on justification or defense of any kind it will negate the repair. Conflict happens and is not the problem, so long as you are good at what comes next.”
10. Don’t Let Your Partner Have Control Over Your Emotions
“This is crucial in establishing one's own authority. Almost everyone has allowed another person to dictate how they feel, what they think, or what they do at some point in their lives,” says Katie Adam, a psychologist at Skills Training Group. “Taking ownership of your emotions is a powerful tool for maintaining autonomy in your life.”