Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Marriage as a Transformational Experience - Part II
To read Part I, click here
This newsletter is the second in a two part series for couples wishing to transform their ordinary marriages into Extraordinary Marriages. While most marriage books and articles urge you to solve problems and reduce symptoms of marital distress, we invite you to move beyond a problem focus to a possibility focus. By broadening and building on what is right and good in your relationship, you will call each to greatness.
In the first part we covered three practices for deepening your influence with one another: communication, connection, and creative contentiousness. In this issue, we will add three more practices: strengths, strategic planning, and sit-downs. Adopting these six practices will help both newlyweds establish good lifelong habits and other couples rise above the dailyness of married life to new levels of intimacy and satisfaction.
Using your strengths both individually and as a couple can deepen and enrich your life. Studies by positive psychology researchers have found that the more you use your strengths in vocation and avocations, the better your overall happiness. One of those researchers, University of Michigan psychologist Chris Peterson has developed a strengths tool called the Virtues in Action (VIA) which measures 24 self-rated strengths. Using a method of matching similarities of the virtues or values from the literature of the world religions and philosophical systems, he and his colleagues boiled them down to six categories of four strengths each. To measure your own 24 Virtues In Action, go to authentichappiness.com and take the VIA. It will give you your top five strengths. Putting these strengths in the forefront of your life will make you a happier individual – more likely to enjoy life - and bring a good energy to your marriage.
While the VIA has not been validated for couple use, we suggest that after you get your individual scores, you retake it together noting how you might answer those same questions collectively, namely, “Is this true of us as a couple?” Once you have a VIA profile as a couple, discuss the ways you use or could increase the use of your individual and couple strengths vocationally and maritally. As a result, you will begin to deepen your connection by emphasizing your collective strengths. For example, maybe your spirituality is a strength that you can draw on during the difficult times. Or maybe you can deepen your shared love of learning by taking a course together.
Use the results of your VIA (individual and couple) to write individual and couple mission statements to give focus to the use of your values and strengths.
To write your mission statements, use this quick formula developed by Laura Beth Jones in her book, “The Path.” Pick three verbs that describe your strengths as a couple, for example, “we entertain, teach, and support.” Then pick 2-3 groups for whom you do those verbs, for example, our friends, our family, and our church. Then list 3-8 virtues that you believe to be important to you such as faith, hope, love, truth, justice, beauty, etc. Here is the formula:
Our mission is to _________, _________, and ________(verbs),
For our _____________, _____________, __________ (groups),
Who want (or need) ___________, ____________, _______ (values).
Once written, your mission statements will give focus for how to spend your time, talent and treasures. To project a future vision of the results from livingyour mission(s), ask yourself:
- “If we keep developing our lives around our mission(s), what will happen to
us, our immediate circle of influence and the world around us.”
- What is already working well? How can we deepen our connection through
deepening those activities?
- What are our dreams? Do we have old hobbies or interests that we used to
do together that we could take up again? Are there any new interests that
would deepen our connection with each other?
- What are the action steps we need to do to reach our dreams?
Remember to adopt an attitude of openness when you bring up suggestions for your individual growth and your couple growth. Throwing cold water on your partner’s ideas will discourage s/he from bringing up other new ideas. Instead, encourage creativity at this stage by holding off on the practical details about time and expenses.
Once you have articulated mission statements and visions, it is time to get practical. What are the steps towards the realization of those dreams? How will you know if you are on track?
The marital sit-down is an excellent practice for creating and tracking transformational change. Its simple format can serve many functions – brainstorming, problem solving, or tracking individual and couple goals. Here are the guidelines for a good marital sit-down:
- Lasts one hour or less.
- Frequently occurring, paced to the challenges at hand. Normally, once a month
will be enough until a major change such as a move occurs when you might need
weekly or daily meetings.
- Find a quiet time and place free from distraction. Possibilities could be a
coffee shop where you won’t be overheard by other patrons or in your living
room after the kids are in bed. Turn off the TV and don’t overdo alcohol but
a meal or snack with a glass of wine or cup of coffee might be a good start.
- Signal the official beginning of the sit-down with a ritual such as lighting
a candle or saying a prayer.
- Lead with strengths by telling each other one thing you like about your spouse
and one thing you like about the marriage. It could be a recent occurrence or a
long standing trait. This ritual sets a positive mood so that even when hard
things are talked about, you know that you appreciate each other and your coupleship.
- From this point on, set an agenda relevant to your challenges and dreams. The
agenda should be clear and agreed upon – no surprises, ambushes, or wandering.
- Report how you are doing with the pursuit of individual goals.
- Track the steps that each is doing to contribute to a major project such as remodeling or planning a big trip.
- Review budgets for home repairs or holiday gifts.
- Record any decisions and commitments in a marriage notebook so that you can
avoid those, “yes, I did tell you about that” conversations.
- Defer all but the most urgent important decisions to the sit-down so that you know the work of the marriage will get done in a timely yet structured fashion.
Experimenting with these practices requires trust and a non-defensive openness to feedback. Implemen-ting them will take you past the everyday challenge of living with your mate to a realm of intriguing possibilities.
Email us if you would like a ½ hour complementary coaching session to:
- Experience a guided sit-down before you launch this practice on your own.
- Interpret and implement your Virtues in Action.