When Justin and I got engaged we didn’t need to do pre-marital counseling, (which I know is sometimes required, like if you’re getting married in a church) – but you know what? We did it anyway! Ten years later I am so glad that we did. I often think that it’s crazy how easy it is to get married or have children. You don’t even need a license to have a human being! Does anyone else think that’s crazy? Yet, to drive a car, you’re put through all sorts of tests and driving exams before you’re allowed to go out and drive (like an adult). Anyway so that’s just what we did, and today I’m sharing the lessons that we learned that have stuck with us throughout the years.
Lesson 1: Can you see my boat?
One thing that has stuck with us the longest is this silly game we played while talking with the counselor – I was given a picture of a boat (Justin didn’t see it), and I had to get him to draw what I saw, without telling him what it was. I know it’s a silly game, but this is what we learned from it – it’s sometimes difficult to see each other’s point-of-view, and it takes patience and good communication to get the other person to see your point-of-view. They don’t have the picture you do; they have an entirely unique perspective of their own (they might have a picture of a lamp that they’re trying to get you to see). So sometimes when we don’t see eye-to-eye on a situation, (it’s easy to get upset then), what cools it right down, is a simple “I don’t see your boat.” And then we quickly realize that we need to explain it better.
Lesson 2: The four horseman
(these are taken from Dr. John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for making marriage work)
Everyone has arguments. It’s normal. But the words you use while you fight can make or break a relationship. Another lesson we carried throughout our marriage (although to be honest we’re not always so good with remembering these) is the lesson of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It’s all about how you argue, not IF you argue. Just think about it, old couples argue all the time, and many are in happy marriages 50-60+ years long, and I’ll bet that these horsemen don’t enter their vocabulary very often.
Horseman 1: Criticism – things like “why didn’t you fill up the car like you said you would? You’re always so careless!”, would make someone feel bad about who they are. Whereas; I’m upset that you didn’t fill up the car like you said you would. Can you please deal with it tomorrow? Will make them feel bad that they didn’t do it, but isn’t a personal attack on them.
Horseman 2: Contempt – these are things like name-calling, eye-rolling, sarcasm, mocking and mean jokes that are personal blows. Oh! You actually think you’re going to follow the list this time? (eye-roll) – It generally just leads to more conflict rather than a happy ending. When someone feels like the other just doesn’t like the person they are, it rarely ends well.
Horseman 3: Defensiveness – If you’re always thinking that you’re being attacked, basically that means that you’re blaming your partner for their complaint and not taking any ownership in it.
Horseman 4: Stonewalling – if all of a sudden in an argument you just shut down completely, without saying another word, that’s stonewalling. And it can be poisonous to a relationship. I totally understand sometimes you just need a minute to think and can not handle another minute – just communicate it as kindly as possible. I just need to cool down for a minute and will finish this talk in a few minutes. This will save you a lot of heart-ache.
Lesson 3: There will be ups and downs
Even though we were in the lovey-dovey stage of planning a wedding and our relationship just seemed like sunshine and roses (how could that ever change?) – we knew that there would be ups and downs throughout our marriage (everyone will tell you that). I don’t think I fully understood that until we were in it, so maybe this lesson was best learned through practice. Being patient and remembering that love is also a choice and you chose this person to be there through your everything. So just keep choosing love, and you’ll be fine.