Trust in a relationship isn’t just about answering the question “will this person cheat on me?” Trust is also about whether a person believes that his or her partner will provide experiences that reflect back a sense of self worth and interpersonal value.
As stated previously, each interaction is an opportunity to show concern and love or to express apathy or resentment. Whether we know it or not, we are in constant communication with our partners, continually reflecting back messages that may remain only subconscious to us but are entirely felt by the person to whom we are communicating.
Trust, in this context, is a daily, conscious act.
Four Research-Based Tools for a Healthy Marriage- Part II: Scanning for Positives and Affirming Successes
What does it mean to “see” another person? I would propose that for me one characteristic of “being seen” would include another person noticing the good in me. According to research, this can be accomplished through scanning for positives and affirming successes. These two tools from the work of John Gottman and other marriage researchers deal with the topic of recognizing the positive in one’s partner.
The first research-based tool, functional conflict style, dealt specifically with moments of change, growth, or disagreement. These two research-based tools, however, deal with the every day interactions in which every couple engages.
As part three in the marriage series, I am sharing four research-based strategies for building a healthy marriage: functional conflict, scanning for positive interaction opportunities, affirming one another’s successes, and building a trusting environment.
For each of these four, I will summarize the research and suggestions from the experts, with a particular focus on the work of Dr. John Gottman, an influential researcher in the field of marriage.
I have also created resources for couples to inventory their current use of these strategies and look for opportunities to grow together. Each strategy will have a short quiz couples can take and score. These quizzes are exploratory tools; they are not definitive measures of a couple’s health. I hope that they will be useful in creating discussion, exploration and possibly growth; that is the only goal.
In my last post, I told the history of my marriage to my husband Jamey and ended at a crux moment: the moment our marriage almost ended. This was not, however, the end of our story. We stayed together and are very happily married today. So why did I decide to begin my series on marriage by talking about this difficult moment?
One reason I did this is to try and alleviate some of the stigma of difficult and failing marriages. When I was struggling in my own marriage, I felt a lot of shame. When I did talk to others about it, however, what I found is that there were many other people dealing with the same issues and emotions that I was feeling.
I’ve read a lot of research on shame and vulnerability (shout out to Brene Brown) and shame and secrets cause disconnection, pain, and suffering. Marriages fail. It’s a fact. I don’t want to idealize marriage. It does not come easy, and even when it lasts it is often not as good as one might hope. If by saying this out loud I can help one other person to say “Me, too” or “I’m not alone, and it’s ok that this is happening” then I want to do that.
I also believe that seeing how bad it gets and then knowing that it can get better is life and marriage affirming. Couples can go through the lowest points, and come back from it and be better and healthier than ever. It happens. It happened to me.
This was the worst moment:
After telling the kids we are going on a date night, Jamey and I sit in our car staring out at the Olentangy River glistening in the dark. I am trying to hand him a very long letter; he doesn’t want to take it.
He reads part of the first page and crumples the papers in his hand, “I can’t read this. You are making the worst mistake of you life.”
The letter tells him I want a divorce.
This was another bad moment:
A week before, I sit in another parking lot, this time by myself. I am in the middle of panic attack. My head might explode, so I hold it between my knees and try to remember my meditative practice. My hands are shaking. I felt like I might be going crazy. I feel like I might die. How am I going to do this, and why? How did it come to this?
I need to get out. I need to breath. I just want it all to be over.
This was the antecedent to these other two very bad moments:
I am sitting in my therapist’s office and I am telling her: “I feel very clear about this. Things are not changing. My feelings are not changing. I have to make a change.”
“Sounds like you know what you need to do. Our next appointment is in two weeks. Why don’t you tell him before we meet next? You are ready.”
Marriage is one of the most profound and deeply complicated commitments one can make. I believe firmly that regardless of who you are, it is impossible to know and comprehend the truth of it until many years into the experience.
Before I go to into what I mean by this, what I think I have learned after a decade of marriage, I think its important to tell part of our story, my husband’s and mine.