Since my divorce, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about marriage. I firmly believe that it’s essential to examine your part in your divorce in order to be successful in subsequent relationships. If you don’t take the time to do this, you’ll be at risk for repeating negative patterns from your first marriage. In other words, making the effort to reflect on your mistakes (we all have flaws) can be a catalyst for change and make your divorce a positive learning experience.
One of the main lessons I’ve learned from my divorce is that by being vulnerable, you can achieve a level of emotional safety with a partner. It’s the primary way to enhance your bond with him or her. Thus, you’ll be able to establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy between you and your partner if you are open about your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Trust and vulnerability are essential aspects of achieving intimacy in intimate relationships. According to, Dr. Brené Brown, disengagement is the most dangerous factor that erodes trust in a relationship. The only way to avoid this is to risk being vulnerable with a partner by asking for help, standing up for oneself, sharing unpopular opinions, and having faith in oneself and your partner. The ultimate risk is being willing to fall in love – which requires letting go of control and fear of being hurt or abandoned.
So here it goes, my list of the 8 most important lessons I’ve learned about happy marriages:
1. Be vulnerable. We all carry leftover emotional baggage into new relationships. As a result, you need to be transparent with your partner when you have a “raw spot” or wound that’s triggered by his or her behavior or comments. However, you are not in a relationship to be emotionally safe. If you can’t be vulnerable with your partner, this is a red flag so pay attention!
2. Learn to trust yourself and your partner. Trust is a skill that develops over time when you are in an intimate relationship with someone who is trustworthy. One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It’s about believing that he or she has your best interests at heart. The first step in building trust in relationships is to work on your fear of being vulnerable and not holding in your feelings with partners – allowing you to reach a deeper level of intimacy.
3. Your partner is not going to change. In other words, you can’t change a cat into a dog. Love just isn’t enough to change a person’s basic nature and upbringing. If you fall in love with someone who is reserved and you are more outgoing and need outward signs of affection to feel secure, you’ll feel chronically dissatisfied. Most likely, these differences will probably eat away at loving feelings over time and erode positive feelings in your relationship.
4. Focus on improving your own life rather than merging with your partners. In order for relationships to be balanced, couples need to feel supported by each other and able to pursue their own interests and goals. In a healthy relationship, partners are interdependent – they feel they can depend on each other yet follow their dreams.
5. Communicate honestly about important issues in your relationship. Be sure to be forthcoming about your concerns. Express thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when couples sweep things under the rug, so don’t allow wounds to fester. When you listen to our partner’s side of the story rather than focusing on what you want to convey, you’ll build trust and intimacy in a relationship.
6. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute and learn to compromise. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.” Apologize to your partner when appropriate and this will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness – allowing you both to heal. Saying you’re sorry can heal a wound even when you didn’t hurt your partner’s feelings intentionally. Successful couples have differences of opinion and disagreements but they are good at repair skills.
7. Accept your differences with your partner and try to understand rather than criticize him or her. In his 40 years of research, Dr. John Gottman found that criticism and contempt are two of the main reasons why marriages don’t last. He demonstrated that happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of interactions during conflict – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
8. Practice forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you but it will allow you to move on. Try to remember you are on the same team. Accept that people do the best they can and try to be more understanding. This doesn’t mean that you accept your partner’s hurtful actions. You simply come to a more realistic view and give them less power over you. If your relationship is basically healthy, develop a mindset of acceptance and forgiveness about daily disappointments. After all, none of us is perfect.
Truth be told, when you focus on what you need to feel connected with your partner, he or she will become less defensive and your relationship will improve. You’ll be able to get back on track faster during an argument when you stop trying to prove a point or play the blame game.
In sum, instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Stop assuming the worst of your partner and put an end to demanding your partner change.
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