Let’s start big – what's the one secret to a long and happy marriage?
“For me, it would have to be a classic: communication. By that, we mean being able to express how you are feeling and to be genuinely listened to; to know how each other is feeling; to deal with differences and not let them fester; to know each other’s desires and dreams and to have a regular check in to flag up if you are drifting apart and take corrective action.” – Neil Wilkie, relationship coach & psychologist
“Having a strong connection is the most important thing in a happy marriage. A strong connection will hold you firm, ground you in times of turbulence and carry you through the storm. Being able to express your needs, wants and desires to your partner is an essential part of being connected and, in turn, will strengthen your relationship mentally, emotionally and sexually.” – Samantha Tipples, psychotherapist & relationship counsellor
What should you do if you have the same argument time and again?
“If you continue to argue about something and both get activated, stop. You are probably getting into fight or flight mode and will not be able to hear or process. It will be pointless. Take some time when you are both calm and free of interruptions. Take it in turns to talk about what the real underlying feelings are when you are having this argument. It is rarely about the ‘stuff’ like the wet towels or the shoes across the floor. It’s often about the feelings that this engenders. Take the blame out of it and focus on “I feel’ rather than “You don’t”. Genuinely listen to each other and do not interrupt. Aim to understand their feelings, position and needs, not to problem-solve or persuade. Acknowledge that you understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree. Discuss what common ground there is and whether there is a compromise that will suit both your needs. If not, you will have to accept that this will be a repeating difference and there is no elegant solution.” – Neil
“Try to take a moment to remember what the intention of your discussion was, and you might realise that sometimes you've forgotten what it was you had started talking about in the first place. Often arguments become routine and we forget what it is we are actually arguing about. By taking a moment and creating a space in our minds, we're able to get another perspective – a different perspective – from our own. Ask yourself, are you able to let it go or are you fighting for the sake of it?” – Samantha
Are there any phrases or words you should never say to your spouse?
“There could be a very long list for some and a shorter list for others. Think of what their red flags are and accept that, once spoken, the words can never be retracted. Words or phrases to definitely avoid include ones that you will regret in the cold light of day: ones that are a knife in their heart; direct insults; crude attacks; and attacks on their character and/or values. Phrases that tend to create a chasm in any marriage are: ‘I wish I had never met/married you’, ‘I hate you’ and ‘I’m leaving you’.” – Neil
“Try to be mindful of the situation, and yourself. Before leaping into an argument, have a moment to yourself to take a breath and think about things. Then, you will be able to move from reaction to response. Having some time to give yourself a clear head will provide you with a fresh perspective on things and will lead to a calmer discussion, rather than a full-blown argument which could make the situation worse.” – Samantha
How do you deal with in-laws you don’t get on with?
“There are a lot of interesting dimensions to this age-old problem. The questions to ask yourself are: on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is dreadful) how is your relationship with them? Does your partner feel the same or do they like and love them? Is the issue you (i.e. that they don’t like you) or them (i.e. you don’t like them)? How close do they live and are their visits frequent or long? How often do you have to see them, and can you avoid them sometimes? How many points of attachment do you have with them – is it just you and your partner or are there grandchildren too? Is the problem due to a past incident or are they just difficult people? What would you like to have happen? From there, a potential way of dealing with the problem is to accept that they won’t change, and you have to give way. They are in your life, are important to your partner and you have complete control over how you feel about them. Do what you can to minimise the effect on you. Have a conversation with your partner, express your feelings and see how the two of you can work together to reduce the problem. Have sensitive but clear conversations with your in-laws to clear any bad feelings and get your relationship on a better footing.” – Neil
What should you do if you have different views on important topics?
“A relationship can certainly work if there are disagreements about children, politics and money. In fact, this can create a healthy frisson of difference, but it will be problematic if the difference is so wide that it tramples on the core values of one of you. The really important thing is to ensure these differences do not keep being replayed and causing resentment, frustration or anger.” – Neil
“Having different financial views is fine and not a problem within relationships as long as each person respects the other and doesn't enforce their views on the other person. People can use political views and finances to control situations and people, causing distress which can lead to complications and upset within relationships. Notice how you are feeling in the moment and afterwards see if you are able to identify to your partner any needs, requests and feedback. For example, approach a specific problem with ‘I felt you ignored me’, ‘I need to be heard’ and ‘How are we going to resolve this issue?’ Supporting each other when making decisions about the children in particular, and working as a team, will shine through. Your children will see a connected family unit.” – Samantha
What makes a couple ultimately incompatible?
“Even if two people share great chemistry, if they do not share the same views, this lack of connection can lead to a breakdown of communication, which ultimately makes them incompatible.” – Samantha
If you feel your spouse has broken your trust, how do you find your way back?
“Trust is amorphous, we only know it is there when something damages it. But trust is the foundation of a good relationship. If trust is broken, this requires a deep and open conversation to discuss the following areas: what was your relationship like before the breach of trust? Did it come from a clear blue sky or was it on a stormy place before? Do you know everything you need to know about the breach of trust? If not, find a time and place to ask those questions. Is the breach a one off or is there a repeating pattern? Is your partner being honest with you now? What would you both like to have happen? Is that compatible and coherent? Is achieving that future desirable to both of you and how achievable does it feel? To then rebuild trust can take time (at least a year is common) and requires openness by your partner to reassure you that it will not recur; if it was an affair, a cutting of contact with the affair partner; laying open of phones and email so that no secrets are being kept; and finally, forgiveness by you. Couples who have suffered a betrayal or breach of trust can end up in a better place than they were before the breach. It is often a wakeup call to a couple whose relationship had drifted apart and allows them to examine the old relationship and reset it.” – Neil
Is it ever possible to recover from an affair?
“After a break of trust in your relationship, it may seem impossible to move forward and, for some, you may not want to. If you and your partner decide to work things through and would like to rebuild trust and stay together, it is possible. It will take time, effort and an awareness that things will not be as they were before. It's about creating a new relationship with the emphasis on honesty, openness and communication.” – Samantha
Finally, is there a point at which a marriage becomes irretrievable?
“It is irretrievable when the pain of going on exceeds the challenge of breaking up; one of the couple has given up and emotionally left the relationship; one blames the other and takes no responsibility for their part in the relationship; or they were totally mismatched and should never have got together in the place. If both want to make the marriage work, have compatible goals and have the energy and commitment to last the journey – that’s when a bad relationship can be turned into a great one.” – Neil
“A marriage becomes irretrievable when both parties have made up their minds and made a concrete decision to walk on new paths. It is clear that their intention is to go separately, without one other.” – Samantha
Neil Wilkie is a relationship expert, psychotherapist, author and creator of online couples therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm. Find out more at RelationshipParadigm.com.
Samantha Tipples is a leading psychotherapist and relationship counsellor. For more information, visit SamanthaTipples.com.
Interested? Here are Neil’s 7 rules for a conflict-free marriage…
Understand Their ‘Map of the World’
“What are their beliefs and values? What do they want to achieve in life? And what has made them who they are? Couples rarely explore this, but it can be a cathartic and bonding experience to create the space and time to do so. Ask the deep questions gently and listen well.”
Celebrate Your Differences
“Accept that you are different and celebrate this. In a great relationship, you should be more than the sum of the parts.”
The Six Freedoms
“Understand that in a relationship there are three entities: you, me and us. For the relationship to thrive, there are six core freedoms that each need: difference, individual, privacy, imperfection, life of your own, and evolving/changing. The two that are particularly relevant are freedom to differ and freedom to be an individual. You have a right to be an individual and to have your own personality, beliefs, opinions and values, but there is a common belief that couples have to do things together, think the same way, vote for the same political party and believe the same things. To thrive as a couple, you need to be your genuine self.”
Listen To Understand, Not To Influence
“If you hear a view that upsets you, first pause. Having done this, ask yourself if what you heard triggered an unhelpful response in you? Then, gently, ask your partner about what they said in an attempt to really understand their views. Your role is to really listen and to understand their perspective, not to tell them that they are wrong or to persuade them to your viewpoint. This is a relationship not a debating society.”
Agree On The Issues You Can Park
“If your differences are manageable and no amount of discussion will change the outcome, such as Brexit, then leave it behind. To keep on picking at the scab will just cause discomfort.”
Create A Difference-Free Space
“This one is easy – the bedroom should be sacrosanct.”
Establish The Underlying Dream
“Political, financial and child-based opinions are often a reflection of an underlying dream. Talk and reflect to understand where both your perspectives come from. If your dreams differ, try to find areas where they overlap, or try to make plans to give each of your dreams a chance to grow and become reality.”