Celebrity author on relationships and renowned psychologist Terri Orbuch recently opined in very popular book 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great that:
“It doesn’t take hard work to keep a relationship happy or stable over time,”
Dr. Orbuch isn’t just another person that you can dismiss her opinion. As a doctorate in psychology, she probably understands human behavior, interactions, emotions and its various shortcomings better than most of us. Yet she chose to focus on one of the most overwhelming issues of today with typical candor and pragmatism.
Having conducted her research to follow up her claim with hard facts, she says simple changes, but made consistently, can create a successful marriage. Brick by brick you can build the edifice of a good, long-lasting relationship without having to go through outlandish efforts. Below, she offers a brief overview of the five steps from her book for a happy and healthy marriage, and delivers a real-life lesson replete with practical suggestions which couples should try to imbibe if they care about their marriage.
These tips are valuable for anyone in a relationship, Ms. Orbuch insists, regardless of your marital status. These steps are scientific and have sufficient empirical data based on an ongoing long-term study funded by the National Institutes of Health. In the past three decades, she has surveyed the same 373 couples, who were married in 1985-86. They were chosen at random from a certified married licensing agency in a Midwestern county, and then formally approached for the study. Their participation was solicited based on a number of factors like age, race, demographics of other kinds, and overall national norms. Over time as their relationships went through a variety of phases they were interviewed and surveyed both as a couple, as individuals and several standardized measures on depression, boredom, subjective excitement and relationship values were evaluated. Nearly 50% of the couples divorced in this time, reflective of the National Divorce rate, but the divorced partners were still kept in the loop as part of the study. Such a thorough mechanism was bound to spring some surprises as a research.
Five Steps to a Great Relationship comes to us at a time when relationship advice is aplenty, but sound knowledge and scientific data such as this is rare
- Expect less and receive more from your partner – While many people avoid conflict like plague, assuming it to be the end of relationships, the results reveal it’s actually frustration, Frustration wells up when a partner’s expectations are consistently sold short. Content couples are armed with generally realistic expectations, both about relationships in general and even specific to their relationship. The research busts the myth that healthy relationship is devoid of conflicts. Conflicts, on the contrary are inevitable and lack of it shows, you aren’t talking about the important issues in your relationship. Conflicts show you care enough to voice your opinion, and your expectations. A practical tip from the author is to jot down separately your top three expectations for your relationship. If your partner isn’t made aware of what you want from the marriage, how are they supposed to fulfill those?
- Improve communication – Most couples like to believe they communicate, but maintaining the daily requirements of a household with “What was your day like?”, “How much is the grocery bill?” or “When is your family visiting again?” are the sort of run-of-the mill questions which gradually erode the will to talk about important relationship issues. Meaningful communication involves trying to know what your partner wants, his/her inner joys or frustrations and knowing to connect by words and actions. Know what makes your partner tick, what doesn’t – make an effort to keep in tune with their likes and dislikes. Surprise them often. These are communication points which keep it steady. An everyday routine to discuss things other than work, family, household chores and relationship actually lets couples unwind to each other as friends.
- Incentives – Contrary to popular belief, men often need more affective affirmation than women because women “can solicit it from other people in our lives, girlfriends, work colleagues or even distant relatives” A simple expression of “I love you” letting your partner know that “You’re my best friend.” Or making an effort to acknowledge the best thing they’ve done for you both in a day – even as simple as fetching lunch for you both, could make it many times better for a couple.
- Change things in a stale relationship – work towards things which give you a surge of adrenaline or excitement to you, collaborate on finding new ways to engage your spouse and help them overcome the feeling of ennui. It could be as simple as finding little pleasures of spending time together in a movie date, or things like going for an adventure together. Find what works for you both, and make concrete plans to execute it. Maintain a level of excitement, try new things. It is important to keep re-inventing in a relationship which must run long and strong.
- Keep costs low and benefits high. Auditing your relationship regularly and considering the “costs and benefits are a surefire way of outlining the value your relationship is accounting for. It isn’t to put your spouse through the treadmill of what should be spent on what. There needn’t be a balance between the pros and cons, but just an estimate of what are costly behaviors and how are they outlasting the positive things. The audit would weed out aspects like constant fighting, miscommunication, and jealousy, keeping secrets, household chores, and not getting along with a partner’s family.
It is important to revisit your relationship once in a while. Implement practical solutions to resolve the issues and get to the root of your problems. Derive a way to own up to anything which is a potential rift or point of conflict. Ultimately, it is a two-way street between two adults and nothing works like a will to improve from both parties.