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What Keeps Couples Together

There are several things you can do, especially when your relationship is loving and happy, to ensure that it remains this way for the long term. The first principle of a lasting relationship is your clear intention to preserve your mutual affection, respect and friendship.

Dr. John Gottman, a towering figure in couples counseling, achieved this insight after more than thirty years in the research and study of couples. In his bestselling book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he discusses why most marriage therapy fails, concluding that resolving conflicts and improving communication is important but not, of itself, what keeps couples together. Rather, he finds that "friendship fuels the flames of romance."

However intense or frequent their battles, the couples that last have never lost their fondness and respect for one anther. After describing the kinds of behavior that undermine mutual regard, Gottman describes seven things that happy marriages have in common, then he shows you how to introduce those seven principles into your own relationship. If ever you feel that the ties that bind are weakening, this would be a good place to start looking for things you can do to rekindle affection. This material is also available in audio or video format.

Other factors that contribute to relationship success include learning to express your feelings, both positive and negative; learning to disagree in ways that are not destructive; and learning to accept things you can't change.

Beyond self-help

Beyond information in books, tapes and videos, there are couple workshops. Some might find it more effective to go directly to a good couples counselor. If one of you is allergic to the idea of counseling or therapy, look for a couples coach, which might be more acceptable. Enter "couples coach" into Google and see what comes up, or ask a recommended therapist to serve as a coach. Many religious organizations have trained conciliators who work with couples and many clergy are trained in couples counseling. In any case, you should only work with someone who is trained, experienced and certified to do the job.

The important thing is that you not sit on your hands if one of you begins to feel that your mutual regard is fading. If you are committed to your relationship, you need to make it a priority, meaning there will be times when you have to put extra effort into it--get information, go to a workshop, get help. Above all, try to discuss things you can do to increase mutual regard and affection and decide together what steps to take.

Relationship Resources

The companion CD that's included in my book Legal Essentials for California Couples has a fine article, How to Get the Most From Couples Therapy. Appendix B in the book lists relationship resources that professionals have told us they recommend to their clients. One we like is The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, who points out that people have different ways of expressing and receiving love, so that one person might be expressing it in a way that the other does not get, as where a man works hard to earn material things for his loved one and buys her gifts, but she craves touching and nice words. It's a matter of getting your signals straight.

Other resources include the highly regarded Couple Communication workshops, which have trained over 600,000 people and are conducted across the U.S. by thousands of certified instructors. To find an instructor near you, visit www.couplecommunication.com. Then there's the respected Marriage Encounter with nation-wide programs for troubled couples that are based on Judeo-Christian concepts, though you need not be religious to participate. You can find more information about them at www.marriage-encounter.org.

There's a mountain of good books, tapes, videos and workshops out there that you can use besides the examples I've given. Time spent on this subject will be richly rewarded. That's the whole point--to make the effort. The most innovative parts of the Couples Contract, featured in Legal Essentials for California Couples, are the agreements you make to take these kinds of actions when your relationship needs some help. The Couples Contract can be used by couples in any state with some minor revisions. To learn more about how the Couples Contract can protect and preserve your relationship, visit www.nolocouples.com.

Copyright 2005 Ed Sherman

Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, award-winning author, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. In his latest book, featuring the Couples Contract, Ed applies what he has learned from years of experience to help couples protect and preserve their relationship. You can order his books from http://www.nolocouples.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.

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