Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Summer 2001

Lower Marital Stress: Go Back to Basics

Most couples try to relieve the stress of conflict by working out their differences. Researchers, Christensen & Jacobson, at the University of Washington discovered an interesting paradox: couples who learned to accept their differences as unchangeable changed faster than those who didn't. A better strategy at times is to emphasize your similarities and commonness, working from strength instead of weakness.

To find these strengths go back to basics - to the simpler times, the earlier times, the times before you became convinced that the aliens captured your spouse and sent a substitute - similar in appearance but not at all the loveable person you fell in love with.

In a recent wave of nostalgia we scheduled a long weekend in the Pocono Mountains at the same time of year that we used to vacation there. That refreshing getaway reminded us of all that has sustained us over the years, the enjoyment of nature, the laughter, the quiet reflection time.

Psychotherapist, Thomas Moore, writes in the summer issue of Spirituality & Health: "The past often gives intimations of eternity and addresses the deep needs of the soul." How do you use the past of your relationship to address the deeper needs of your soul and to create a better future?

Dating or newly married couples. Now is the time to create a past. In her student days at Loyola University, Susan heard a retreat director advise students to do a wide variety of interesting activities when they date. Seeing your date in athletic, family, or cultural activities gives glimpses into the many dimensions of a person's personality - what (s)he enjoys and how the person responds to stress. It helps you decide if this could be a possible good match to your interests and values. As a dating relationship moves to marriage, this proactive strategy will build good memories, a past from which to create a future.

Married couples. Returning to those early activities will remind you why you choose this person. Examine and revise the rituals, traditions, and celebrations you have established. Examine stale spiritual practices and experiment with new ones. Visit other places of worship in your community and when you travel to see if your current affiliation meets your spiritual needs.

Couples without things in common. Start dating each other now. Take turns reading the Weekend section in your paper and planning recreational and cultural activities, perhaps different from any either of you has ever done. You can't fail; if you don't enjoy an activity, the experience still teaches you something.

The choices you make today will create the past of tomorrow.

How to Find a Soul Mate

When we attended psychologist Wayne Dyer' "Manifesting Your Destiny" workshop, he said, "Look around for a person who pushes your buttons, who really knows how to get to you. Marry that person for (s)he is your soul mate." Does it seem like you must have unconsciously followed that advice? You may never have thought about how the stress points of your relationship may give clues to the spiritual side of your relationship.

Does your partner know just the things to push all your buttons? Just think of the advantage married people have over singles: you have a live-in spiritual director who has found the entrance to your soul and may be daring you to grow exactly where you need to, even beyond where you think you want to.

Couple Dreams

One way that couples can deepen the spiritual side of their relationships is through a shared sense of meaning and purpose. All extraordinary marriages and successful business coupleships are based on dreams. Gloria and Emilio Estefan started with a dream: to bring Latin music into the mainstream of popular music. Critics told them they would never be successful. Backers refused to loan them money. Fortunately for listeners and dancers of Latin music, the Estefans were sold on their dream and persisted. They took their life savings to produce their first album. Seventy million sales later, they are still producing Latin music and still dreaming. Now they see themselves in a position to mentor and support newer rising stars in the Latin style.

Even long after you reach retirement the habit of dreaming together will pay off. A 1998 study at the University of Denver on aging couples found that the happiest and healthiest older couples were those that still took time to dream aloud and make their dreams come true. Here are some steps for making your dreams come true:

  1. The right setting can create the right atmosphere for dreaming. A weekend away at the beach or mountains can remove you from the humdrum of work, house chores, and child rearing. After you are in the habit of exploring your couple dreams, include bigger kids in family dream making. They have good ideas to contribute and including them provides good training for creating dreams with their spouses and families.
  2. Ask yourselves interesting questions. "If money were no object…" "If I (we) could be known for one accomplishment what would it be?" "Before I die, I'd really like to…" These kind of interesting questions lead to more creative dreams than, "Where do we want to be in five years?"
  3. You know you have some good dreams developing if they:
    • Get you excited as in, "I could really enjoy this."
    • Represent your personal best.
    • Organize much of what you are and what you do.
  4. A good partnership lets both persons have the best of their individual dreams as well as having joint dreams. Asking, "If I were widowed, what would bring me joy (success, happiness, etc.)?" does not mean you have a death wish for your partner. It suggests what individual dreams need to be incorporated into the couple dreams while you are both alive.
  5. Start a dream notebook. As you reach your dreams, more will rush at you. You will know you are dreaming enough when you have more dreams than you can ever accomplish in a lifetime. Students of Frank Lloyd Wright are still design-ing buildings off the thousands of designs Wright was not able to build in his lifetime.
  6. To have no regrets in life, you must make some of those dreams come true. Bring the practical back into the discussion with questions such as "How much would it cost?" "What are ways other people have done similar things?" "What resources (people, materials, knowledge, etc.) do we already have?" "What resources do we need?" "How will we find them?" Writing and keeping notes will help.
  7. Set goals, deadlines, and assignments. Write them into a marriage log. Planning is a tool to make those dreams come true.

The Myth of Spontaneity

In case you are thinking during this discussion about the link between strategic planning and couple greater spiritual satisfaction, "This is too much like work. I don't want structure in my relationship. I want to be spontaneous." Here is your guideline: Are you getting enough satisfaction, fun, harmony, and sex out of your relationship? If not, you need to dream and plan more with your soul mate.


Our audiotape series, Secrets of Extraordinary Marriages, covers strategic planning and couple spirituality.

Jacobson & Christensen. Reconcilable Differences.
Dyer, Wayne, Manifesting Your Destiny.

Copyright 2001 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information:

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