It seems like the perfect week to talk about relationships with Valentine’s Day quickly approaching. Now, I’m not bashing Valentine’s Day - I do enjoy a little romantic fun at times. But the idea that love is always pretty, breezy and easy is a great misconception. All too often it seems that people enter into relationships with the idea that what they see on TV or in commercials is actually going to be their reality. Those images may be beautiful but they reflect just a glimpse, a moment in relationship. They don’t reflect the work and effort that goes into a committed relationship or a marriage.
As a therapist, I see many relationships walk in and out of my office door…then I go home to my own marriage and my husband Matt. Marriage is wonderful and beautiful. It’s also frustrating and hard. I mean you have to share, no really share, everything!! Not just your stuff but your “stuff” for it to really work. And for you to be able to share your “stuff”, you have to know what your “stuff” is. If you don’t know what it is, just ask your spouse. He or she will be able to tell you.
Trust is the foundation of a marriage. That’s not just something therapists say. It really is true. I believe there are three things critical to creating the type of trust you need to make a marriage work:
1. Safety - In a marriage, you create a safe place with your spouse. It is a place where you feel warm, loved…like being wrapped up in a soft blanket. Safety in a marriage means that you feel free to be open, to be who you are, knowing that your spouse will continue to love and value you. It means that you will be met with warmth and love as you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
2. Security - Not only do you want to create a space that feels safe, you also want it to be secure. Trust is built on the understanding that we won’t belittle or tear down each other. This means that you can tell your spouse every crazy idea or fear you have and know that you will be met with a gentle voice, one that shows patience and understanding -- and that your spouse won’t tell you you’re crazy. A book by Gary Smalley that literally saved my marriage shared that people share about 80% of their thoughts out loud. We want to create so much safety in our marriage that we feel comfortable enough to share the other 20%.
3. Respect - We need to know and understand each other and our differences. To really understand our differences, we have to know ourselves. We have to take a look in the mirror, to understand how our brain works, how we take in and push out information. We need to be able to share this information with our spouse, so he/she can understand and respect our differences. Differences in a marriage are frustrating, but understanding them is vital. Two people in a relationship can work to complement each other, to work as a team once they understand how they differ.
If you’re at a point in your relationship where you are struggling to create that perfect picture you’ve seen on TV or that beautiful image you have created in your mind, it might be time to put in the work. Start by taking a look at yourself and get to know the deep “stuff” within you. Then, talk with your partner about ways that you can create safety, security and respect within your relationship and develop the trust you need.