I'm often asked if it's difficult being a psychologist and listening to kids' problems all day. I enjoy that part of the job, because it's fun helping young people make positive changes.
It's a lot tougher listening to parents discuss their troubled marriages. These are often narratives of lives of quiet desperation and unfulfilled dreams.
Here's what great marriages have in common.
1. Communicate. Partners in great relationships freely talk about their hopes, feelings, fears and dreams. They are responsive to their spouses' styles, and adjust accordingly. When problems occur, they avoid either extreme of acting with emotional escalation or withdrawal.
Great communication is based upon each partner creating a sense of safety that allows the other person to freely say what they think and feel.
One of my favorite quotes is from the English novelist George Eliot. "Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out ... knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."
2. Build trust. Great marriages are based upon each person being authentic. Partners are real with each other, and genuine in their interactions.
There is no compromise on honesty. Kids are not allowed to ask their parents to keep secrets. Each spouse is faithful to the other. When mistakes occur, the partner takes responsibility for their actions rather than blaming it on others or on stress. While a spouse may never forget the misdeeds of the other, they are truly forgiving and move on rather than bringing up past events.
3. Resolve conflicts. Great marriages don't avoid or lament conflicts, but rather deal with them promptly and positively. Partners accept the reality that disagreements are inevitable and healthy in any dynamic relationship.
Great marriage partners are willing to accept the fact that some issues cannot be resolved, and they value perspectives different than their own. When differences occur, the goal is understanding and compromise, not domination and conquest. Partners are gentle with the other, knowing that harsh words can never be retracted.
4. Be nice. It's fun to be around happy couples. They smile and laugh a lot. They are nice and thoughtful with each other. Their lives are made up of daily deeds that communicate caring and love for the other person.
They don't criticize their partner over small missteps. Rather they look for ways to celebrate good news and they take pride in the accomplishments of their spouse.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is the executive director of Dayton Children Hospital's Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources. Email: Rameyg(at)childrensdayton.org. This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News.
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