This guest article from YourTango was written by SaraKay Smullens.
It comes as to no surprise to me that a recent major study confirms that education of couples about marital relationships and family life improves the chances of a happy and fulfilling marriage.
After grad school, I was the director of family life education for a large Philadelphia counseling agency. Through working there, I learned how much couples enjoy learning about relationship challenges both together and as individuals.
I learned that young couples who grow up in homes where they see, feel and experience their parents’ fulfilling lives together have a much better chance of creating their own happy marriages. Life is just easier for them from minute one of marital life.
I noticed that those couples who grew up with rage, distance or contempt between their parents had a far harder time living with depth, commitment and harmony. Plus, they did not have a clue about how to handle disagreements and how to express their anger. Often, minor difficulty resulted in out-of-hand arguments that doomed the life of a healthy marriage.
In the family life education courses and seminars, I have continued to teach topics such as control, communication, intimacy and sexual fulfillment. I have also focused on various challenges that couples go through together in different chapters of their lives. In addition, I made it a point to teach couples when to know that counseling is necessary. I also explained when to know that a relationship could benefit from what I call an “intermission,” and when an “intermission” should lead to a divorce.
Here’s my take on control, communication, intimacy and the stages of marriage in a nutshell:
Control: This is a killer of relationships. Controlling partners who dictate what their partner must and must not do at all times can cause unhappy marriages. These type of controlling partners withhold love and affection if they do not get what they expect and make a fulfilling life impossible.
Communication: To be successful, marriage must include some give, some take and some compromise. Sometimes things are one way and sometimes another. Sometimes, couples must find a whole new way to do something, one that they each and both can agree on.
Intimacy: In some homes, closeness and intimacy is frowned upon as unnecessary and “show offy.” It is only when couples learn that it is important to be tender and kind to each other that true, natural and easy intimacy can become part of an ongoing life.
Stages of Marriage: In each of these stages, when horrible fights cannot be avoided, counseling is truly necessary. Here is what should happen at each of the four stages of marriage:
1. In the first stage, the couple must shift their loyalties from their parents to their partners, who must become number one to each other. This does not mean that a couple no longer values or spends time with parents but that parents are no longer the most important family members to them. The parents cannot be the most important or necessary intimacy and devotion to a partner cannot develop.
2. In the second stage, if the couple has children, their loyalty and devotion is extended to them as the couple learns to balance these responsibilities with work responsibilities inside and outside of their homes. If they are successful, sadness and injustices are eased by the family love that is created and maintained.
3. This third stage involves the growing up of children and how this in dealt with. This stage also involves any difficulties with health in the immediate and extended family (which could have come earlier also, of course). In this period, parents work very hard so that communication and time for close sharing between the couple and the entire family can be maintained.
4. The fourth stage involves the challenges and adjustments when sons and daughters are at the age of leaving home. Of course, in this financial climate, many sons and daughters cannot leave. This is a challenge in its own right.
5. The fifth stage five involves the changes in life as a couple ages or deals with devastating illness or death.
Sometimes time apart, or what my clients and I call an “intermission,” as counseling continues can help a couple to become close once again. Couples usually know for themselves when divorce is necessary. If children are involved, continuing counseling can help a couple hold onto the determination that their children must suffer as little as possible for this decision.
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