Long moonlight walks while gazing fondly into your partner’s eyes. Intellectually stimulating conversations while sipping champagne on the veranda. Wow! Doesn’t that sound nice? Both of these events make great Hollywood love scenes and makes us hunger for these types of romantic interludes in our own marriage or relationship. A successful and happy marriage is more than romance. It takes a lot of work to communicate without nagging or discounting your partner. To compromise and learn to respect your partner’s needs can be difficult, especially in the beginning of the relationship when you are starting to decipher your partner’s likes and dislikes. Handling conflicts maturely and rationally without getting in a shouting match sometimes takes a lot of restraint. Certainly love is the first ingredient to a sound marriage but it is not the only ingredient. To expect there will never be conflict, miscommunication, or arguments is unrealistic. If the building blocks or foundation of the marriage is solid then those irritants, missteps, and quarrels become non-events. If they are shaky, then small arguments become escalated fights. The three essential building blocks of a successful marriage or relationship are: Open Dialogue, Trust, and Vulnerability. Let’s take a closer look at each component.
The first response most couple’s say when we talk about open dialoguing is, “were good, we talk all the time.” Open dialoguing is more than just talking. Most couples do a great job of talking about their children, the household, activities, vacations, extended families, even the weather, but when it comes to talking about their relationship the conversation quickly fades into silence. We are often fearful our partner will reject or abandon us when we share our true feelings about our needs. Many people think it is better to sweep unpleasant feelings or thoughts under the rug or stuff it down deep inside and never speak about it. This strategy often causes internal conflict or hidden resentments and are often brought up when a disagreement emerges.
Open dialoguing is more than just talking. It is about making a meaningful and heartfelt connection with your partner. According to Tom Stockmann in his article Open dialogue a new approach to mental health care, “words carry only fragments of meaning, with a more complete meaning arising only through an exchange of words (dialogue) with others” (2015, Psychology Today). Connecting words to feelings with another human being creates an emotional bond that increases intimacy, love, and respect. Often times when we communicate our spouse or partner is trying to decipher what their spouse wants from the communication. In general there are four patterns: I want to connect with you at a deeper level. I want to vent about something or somebody, I want to problem solve with you, or I want you to fix the concern.
Open dialoguing is not about fixing concerns it about sharing strengths our partner brings to the relationship. It is discussing both met and unmet needs and problem solving together to strengthen the relationship. Talking about future hopes, dreams, and fears. Telling your partner why you love being with them and appreciating their unique gifts. Failing to do this daily or weekly can cause disengagement, disconnection, or worse divorce.
Naturally we expect to trust our partner but what does trust really mean in relationships. Most couples equate trust with fidelity. Trust is more than just being emotionally and physically faithful. It is about nurturing and growing together in your relationship. This means showing care and compassion to your spouse or partner. Listening empathetically and sympathetically when your partner is hurting or needing to vent about work. Supporting your dreams by believing in you as much as you believe in yourself. Trust is about honoring your words and following through with actions. Respecting boundaries, providing help, and feeling reassured they will always love you no matter what job or how much money you make during the year. Knowing that every day acts of kindness and love come from the heart and not done just to get something in return.
Trust. This small word carries a lot of emotion. It is hard to build and easily broken. The best way to build trust is to be true to ones words by ones actions. This means if we say we are going to be home at a specific time, we arrive home at the appointed hour. Sometimes uncontrollable events impede us from doing what we say. This should be the exception and not the rule. Being honest with our spouse or partner when breaches occur happen immediately. Waiting for them to find out or ask why we are late and then telling them a long winded story creates trust issues. Being honest, showing integrity, and respect towards self, partner and relationship deepens trust levels. Mastering this component increases communication and reduces conflict.
Vulnerability is the hardest component to master because it encompasses both open dialogue and trust. In order to be vulnerable we have to trust that our partner will provide empathy and understanding. This can be difficult if shame or blame has occurred previously in the past with our current partner, past relationships, or from our family of origin. It is devastating when one partner opens up and shares pain only to be discounted or blamed for their feelings by the one person they trusted the most. All thoughts and feelings are valid. What we do with those thoughts and feelings can bring us closer or move us further away from our partner.
Being vulnerable with our partner means taking a risk and sharing an emotional state with our partner. It takes courage and practice to say to our partner, “I am feeling anxious about…” Why it is so hard to tell our partner what is on our mind? We want our partner to see us as competent, strong, or independent. Vulnerability is often seen as being weak, incompetent, and dependent. Being vulnerable by telling your partner your thoughts and feelings honestly and respectfully brings you closer together. It allows your partner to see you for who you really are and helps them understand why a word, phrase, or a request may be hurtful or painful to you. Too often we don’t want our spouse or partner to know we are hurting so we use anger as means of protecting our most vulnerable thoughts or feelings. This generally leads to escalated fights with saying things we don’t mean. Sharing vulnerability increases communication, intimacy, and passion.
Open Dialogue, Trust, and Vulnerability are the three building blocks of a successful and happy relationship. Strengthening all of these areas in your current relationship creates joy and fulfillment in many other areas of our lives.