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Aleteia

2 Secret weapons that can renew your marriage

COUPLE HOLDING HANDS
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Licensed psychologist and relationship coach Dr. Jack Ito says these are the keys to making love last.

Dr. Jack Ito (“Coach Jack”), a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship coach with more than 20 years of experience in marriage and relationship coaching and counseling, takes a realistic yet hopeful view of relationships on the rocks. What makes him unique is his belief that when one half of the couple decides to change, the entire relationship dynamic will improve.

Coach Jack spoke to Aleteia about how men and women can turn their marriages around if they are willing to take the lead and set out on a new path.

Aleteia: What wrong assumptions do many of us unconsciously carry into our marriages?  

Coach Jack: Probably the most unhelpful assumption is that once you fall in love with someone, that love is going to last forever no matter what happens. All relationships require maintenance in order to keep that “in love” feeling alive.

The three main things that I have found to be necessary are to date your spouse at least once a week, spend one-on-one time together every day, and for both of you to enjoy your sexual relationship. Without these specific actions, no amount of patience or sacrifice is going to recreate those loving feelings.

Another problematic assumption is that these relationship activities can be put on hold to raise children, get a degree, start a business, and so on. Relationships can’t be put on hold any more than a garden can grow without water. 

Some are ready to say their relationships are over once those loving feelings are gone. This is far from the truth.

Loving feelings can be regained if we are willing to give up trying to convince our spouses to be different and instead do the work of re-attracting them. As a relationship coach, I have helped thousands of people to do that.

What communication technique would you suggest when marriages are not going well? 

There are many damaging things that people do to try to change their difficult spouses. The top three are criticizing, complaining, and arguing. These never result in a closer relationship, but actually make things worse.

The bottom line for any relationship is that you need to help your partner enjoy talking with you and being with you. If you don’t do that, then he or she naturally won’t want to interact with you.

Needy people, in particular, tend to do these three damaging things. They must learn to stop trying to control their spouses and instead learn to use the same skills they would with a single man or woman they were interested in. Married people don’t like criticism, complaining, or arguing any more than single people do.

How can setting boundaries help? 

There are two common situations that require the use of good boundaries in addition to good connection skills. These are when a spouse is being disrespectful and when a spouse is having an affair. Many people try unsuccessfully to change these situations with ineffective behaviors like arguing or being patient — neither of which improve their relationship.

When a spouse is engaging in a behavior that is actually damaging to the relationship, boundaries need to be used to help them to stop — out of love for them as much as for the relationship. Since criticizing, complaining, and arguing are not boundaries, they don’t stop damaging behaviors, but actually increase them.

Whether with children or spouses, the idea with boundaries is to help the other person to behave in a way that is good for them as well as the relationship. This is also what God does with us. Seen in this light, boundaries are our loving way to help our spouses for their sake and ours.

Boundaries are not likely to be effective for people who do not treat their spouses well, since their husbands or wives are not likely to care about the relationship. That’s why our most important objective in any relationship, and particularly in our marriages, is to help the other person to feel loved.

Boundaries are motivating to people who enjoy talking with and being with their spouses. They do not want to risk their relationship and so they work on changing their behaviors.

How have you seen spouses use connection and boundaries to turn their marriages around?

One woman I worked with, whom I will call Sarah, had been married for more than 20 years when she contacted me for help. Her husband had a short temper and was often criticizing her for the smallest of things, such as forgetting to turn the light off in the bathroom.

At first, these criticisms made her defend and explain herself, but that just led to arguing. Over time, her husband became more critical and she began to avoid him more and more. This in turn resulted in him increasing his disrespectful behaviors. They were in a downward spiral that had already taken a toll on their feelings of love for each other.

This was when Sarah started working with me. I taught her a three-step approach of: 1) ending her needy behaviors of defending, explaining, and arguing, 2) helping her husband to feel appreciated and important when he wasn’t being angry or disrespectful, and 3) using boundaries when her husband was being disrespectful. One of the boundaries she used was to immediately walk away for one hour whenever her husband yelled at her. After one hour she was to be friendly and not even mention what happened earlier.

Using these three steps, Sarah was able to make her relationship better than it had been in years.

This example shows how effective actions are often much more helpful than talking about problems, especially when talking only leads to conflict. It also shows the importance of not relying on either relationship-building skills or boundaries alone. To be effective, they must both be used together.

Jack Ito, PhD, lives with his wife Toshie in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology. He has more than 20 years of clinical experience counseling and coaching people to better relationships. Dr. Ito is the author of four books on building relationships. To visit his author page, click here.

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