Most couples postpone going to marriage counseling until things get really bad. In truth, the health of your relationship is just like your physical health – a little bit of preventative care goes a long way. Coming in for marriage counseling before the breaking point, instead of after, can make a huge difference in the length and health of your marriage. So how can you tell if your marriage would benefit from a tune-up in marriage counseling?
Couples therapist John Gottman studied the same couples and their interactions over the span of 15 years to better understand the structural elements of a healthy relationship. The Sound Relationship House derives from his research, and lays out 4 tiers of relationship function. In marriage counseling, many therapists now use the Sound Relationship House to assess where a couple needs support.
The Foundation: Friendship
Friendship is key to sustaining long-lasting romantic and life marriages. In this model, friendship is made up of three elements
- Love Maps: familiarity with the day-to-day experiences, preferences and disappointments of your partner
- Fondness & Admiration: mutual respect and actually liking the inherent qualities of your partner.
- Turning Towards vs Away: The degree to which partners “turn toward” or attempt to engage each other versus “turning away” or shutting them out is a key part of relationship health.
Tier 2: Positive Sentiment Override
The ability to assume that your partner has good intentions allows you to still feel loved and calm even when your partner says something thoughtless or forgets to run the dishwasher for the 5,000th time.
Tier 3:Conflict Regulation
All healthy marriages involve conflict. No two people are going to agree all the time, so the ability to “fight fair” and disagree without dissolving the marriage is key. There are three elements to fighting fair
- Dialogue vs Gridlock: contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily important for couples to align on “The Big Stuff” like religion, as long as they are able to dialogue through their differences, rather than get stuck in the same old fight.
- Solving Solvable Problems: healthy couples are able to compromise often to address fixable disagreements
- Self-soothing: the ability to take a time-out and calm yourself down during a fight is key to both dialogue and compromise.
Tier 4: Creating a Shared Meaning System
Even couples who are good friends and can navigate conflict reasonably well may find themselves in trouble without a shared vision of their future.
Take this quiz to assess whether you and your honey could benefit from a tune-up in marriage counseling.
|Tier 1: Friendship|
|I can name something my partner was excited about this week.||T||F|
|I can name 2-3 of my partner’s close friends.||T||F|
|I can name someone who irritates my partner at work.||T||F|
|I can list 2-3 qualities in my partner that I genuinely like.||T||F|
|Things are better when my partner is around||T||F|
|Tier 2: Positive Sentiment Override|
|My partner is overall a good person||T||F|
|If we hurt each other’s feelings, most of the time it’s by accident||T||F|
|My partner respects me and my ideas||T||F|
|It’s easy for me to apologize when I’ve made a mistake.||T||F|
|Tier 3: Conflict Regulation|
|My partner and I can take time-outs during fights when we need to.||T||F|
|When we disagree, it’s rare for us to call each other names.||T||F|
|There are some things I want to talk about, but don’t because it will “get out of control.”||T||F|
|My partner and I often compromise on small and big decisions.||T||F|
|Tier 4: Creating Shared Meaning|
|My partner and I have daily rituals to say goodbye/hello and show each other we care.||T||F|
|My partner and I have a shared vision of our decision to parent, or not, and the roles we will both play.||T||F|
|My partner and I have discussed how involved we want to be with our parents and/or families of origin from an emotional, geographic and financial perspective.||T||F|
|My partner and I know each other’s life dreams and how they fit together.||T||F|
Take stock of your answers. Are there any tiers where you had more than one “false” answer? If so, you and your partner may benefit from marriage counseling. Specially trained couples therapists like those at the www.therapyinphiladelphia.com The Center for Growth / Sex Therapy in Philadelphia can help.