Take Your Time, Don’t Waste Your Time

My father just got remarried. My anniversary is approaching. I’ve received three emails in the last two days about new clients for couples counseling. And, the cover of my last professional magazine was about marital counseling.

“Marriage, that blessed arrangement, a dream within a dream..”

Message received: it’s time to talk about marriage.

My husband’s aunt and uncle were high school sweethearts, but my husband and I didn’t get married until our 30’s. Our family seems to prove the statistics in Gallup’s analysis of the last census: When Gen Xers (see: me) were aged 18-30 years old (see also: no longer me),  32% were married. Our parents’ generation saw 40% still pledging till death they do part. And, the numbers of matrimonial bliss drop to 20% for the millennials currently aged 18 to 30.

There are a plethora of cliches and metaphors to try to get others to understand marriage. Science minds nod when you say “opposites attract”. Spiritual minds smile in agreement when you introduce the ying to your yang. When and why you chose marriage is not important. To some extent, neither is who you married. As a family counselor for almost a decade, the secret to a lasting marriage is all about time.

It’s All About Time Management

Not the real John Gottman, but the “real” grand poohbah.

In grad school, I bought thousands of dollars of textbooks that got me through the licensing exam before being boxed up and shipped to another counseling student for pennies on the dollar. The only book that I keep coming back to is one I bought at Barnes and Noble, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John Gottman is the grand poohbah of couples counseling. His Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (of Marriage) are the common mistakes couples make when fighting, the mistakes that allow Gottman to predict with 90% accuracy couples that will remain together or split up. The only behaviors I can predict with the same 90% accuracy are my own. But, I have my own true-isms to add to the field of couples counseling:

  • Explain OR emote: This is not the time to practice what you have learned from me about dialectical behavior theory. It is a neurological miracle to be able to speak eloquently about your feelings while you are having them. Why? Fun fact #1: the area of the brain that processes emotions is as far away from the area of the brain that uses language without leaving your head. Fun fact #2: most people do not naturally possess a high emotional IQ to identify and discern the cornucopia of feelings in the human experience. Fun fact #3: anger, the most primal and present of emotions during a fight, is an alarm emotion.
Fun fact 1 + fun fact 2 + fun fact 3….it doesn’t add up

Anger lets you know that someone or something has breached an emotional, psychological, or physical boundary that you set up for your protection. No matter how you try, it simply does not add up to explain how you feel during a fight.

  • Set an expiration date: You cannot go back twenty years in a fight that started twenty minutes ago.  Yes, there are ongoing unresolved issues in marriage. No, they don’t need to be rolled into every disagreement. Today’s fight is happening because of today’s circumstances. There are some days when getting ice for a glass of water will trigger my startle reflex causing me to launch a full attack on my husband. I have known my husband for 20 years; the startle reflex is not breaking news. He may laugh, duck, or (justifiably) hurl a counter-assault my way.  It all depends on how full our buckets are the moment the fuse has been lit. Giving an accurate chronology of each time my husband has surprised my unconscious in the last 20 years is time consuming and as ridiculous as it sounds. However, focusing on the context of the current quarrel may give you insight and traction on tackling the larger issue.
  • Nice to meet you, again and again:You don’t stop growing up when you are growing old. For those of you who choose to parent, please understand that parenting puts you into stasis. Your world revolves around being a parent, a distant second cousin twice removed from the individual who took vows. A journalist documented this worst-kept secret in the book, All Joy and No Fun; it’s my favorite “homework” to assign  to couples because it freely discusses the not-so-fabulous world of parenting most of us are afraid to admit. A poll conducted by Pew Research in 2014 revealed that 54% of children under the age of 18 were living a traditional home, one with heterosexual birth parents. My unofficial research tells me that these children grew up in homes where the parents stopped learning about themselves and their partners. Who you were when you took vows is not the person you become as you live your life, 585,600 minutes a year. If you don’t share the new you with your old partner, you lose the chance to have a lifelong connection.
  • Spark Note Summary

    Maybe the secret to a marriage that lasts a lifetime is to live in all times. You need to cherish the past shared experiences that have kept you together, hope that the future will keep getting better and brighter because of your relationship, and choose your partner every day.

    Published by

    Amy Slutzky

    This blog is about incorporating practical mental health boosters in your everyday routine. I am a wife, mother, sister…I am a counselor, teacher, advocate…I am a sci-fi geek, a public goofball, a faux Top Chef…I can attach dozens of labels to myself; so can you. My life is both unique and common. Read these blogs to make your life a little easier and your mental health a little stronger based on the lessons I have learned.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *