Colorado Handbook  -  this  handbook is no longer being distributed in the state, but is posted as an exemplary
model.

MAKING YOUR MARRIAGE WORK

What makes marriages work?
Why do some marriages work and other couples have such difficulty?  What can you do to keep your love alive?
As a husband or wife starting out, what can you do to make and keep a strong marriage?

Each year, over 30,000 Colorado couples marry or remarry.  Each marriage is a unique combination of two people who decide to join their lives.

No two marriages will be exactly alike, but many couples share similar hopes for their marriages.  When people marry, they hope they are making a lifetime commitment.  Most people believe in "until death do us part" and "happily ever after."  They want their marriage to last and to provide intimacy, friendship, and fulfillment.  Most people want their spouse to be their best friend as well as their partner in life.

Yet, all couples face challenges and obstacles.  Getting married is easy.  Staying married is tough.  About half of all marriages in Colorado end in divorce or legal separation.  And, less than half of all married people describe their marriage as truly happy.

Love is not enough.  Most couples who end up divorcing or separating begin marriage with high hopes and lots of love.  Over time, as problems build up, love is weakened.  Creating a strong marriage demands dedication, commitment, and learning how to handle conflict and disagreements effectively.

RESEARCH ON MARRIAGE SHOWS

THREE FACTORS

PREDICT SUCCESS IN MARRIAGE:

* Communication skills

* Dealing with conflict

* Understanding expectations

BUILDING COMMUNCATION SKILLS

What is good communication?  Good communication means saying what needs to be said, and listening with understanding.

Speaking directly takes practice and skill.  Spouses often assume their partners know what they think or feel.  Love doesn't make you a mind reader.

Communication is a two-way street.  Don't lecture or talk too much.

Many of us do not listen well when we hear another person speak.  As the other talks, we are often judging what is said and thinking what to say next.

The most important thing to do when talking with your spouse is to really try to understand what he or she is saying.

Agreement is less important than understanding.  When you do understand, it is helpful to show your partner that you do.

A great way to show you understand your partner is to try to put your partner's views into your own words.  This does several things:

* It shows that you are really paying attention;

* It allows you to check out possible misunderstandings;

* For the speaker, it feels great to know that the listener is hearing what you have to say; and

* It helps keep conflict from getting out of hand —it's hard to stay angry with someone who is sincerely trying to understand what you are saying!

When your spouse knows that you understand his or her point of view, it is much more likely that you will be able to deal with the situation in a way that is good for both of you.

DEALING CONSTRUCTIVELY WITH DISAGREEMENTS AND CONFLICT

Every couple faces problems in their marriage that need to be resolved.  Early in marriage, many couples report problems with jealousy and in-laws.  Over time, communication and sex may become problem areas.  And money is a persistent area of concern for couples at all stages of marriage.  Differing values and perspectives can also produce conflict.

Problems themselves do not cause distress in marriage—it is how couples handle problems that matter.

Early in marriage, spouses often avoid discussing "hot'' issues because they do not want to upset their newly formed union.  Soon after marriage, many couples become busy with work, parenting, or other obligations.  The demands of the moment may seem more important than issues in the marriage.

Yet, building a marriage requires making many decisions and planning for the future. Having good communication skills—being able to discuss and work out plans together—helps planning go smoothly.

Discussing, negotiating, and arriving at agreements that are satisfying to both partners are crucial to keeping your marriage on the right track.

DANGER SIGNALS ? SIGNS OF TROUBLE AHEAD

Couples risk big future problems when:

* They are not able to handle conflicts constructively;

* "Little" disagreements quickly become big "blow-ups";

* Arguments, once started, are hard to stop;

* Spouses often experience emotional conflicts;

* Over the long term, spouses avoid dealing with significant issues;

* Spouses often put down or insult one another; and

* During conflicts, one spouse withdraws or avoids dealing with the issue.

When people withdraw or avoid dealing with disagreements, they usually are trying to avoid conflict, not their partners.  Also, when people keep bringing up issues, they usually are not trying to nag or pick a fight—they are trying to find a way to connect with their partners.

If you notice some of these danger signs in your own relationship, you should work on communication with your partner.  Set up a weekly "couples meeting" and agree on one issue to discuss.  To have good communication, both partners must feel emotionally safe ? not vulnerable or on the defensive.

A first step is to Iisten to your partner.  By listening carefully, you will go a long way toward improving your couple communication, even if your partner does nothing differently!

Be polite in talks with your partner.  Treat your partner as you would a very valued friend.  (Ironically, research shows that people are often more polite to a total stranger than to their spouse!)  When you have something negative or critical to say, find the most polite way to say it.

When you express your criticism politely, you increase the chances that your partner will actually hear what you have to say.

UNDERSTANDING EXPECTATIONS

In the early years of marriage, it is important to recognize what really matters to you and your spouse.  Talking with one another about your values, beliefs, and expectations builds your relationship.

Expectations play a big role in determining how satisfied we are in life and with our relationships.  Expectations include feelings, desires, anticipations about life, relationships, "how the world works," and what is likely to happen in the future.

Our expectations shape the meanings we give to our partner’s words and actions, and how we react to our partner’s behavior.

When we are happy in our relationship, we tend to see only the positive.  When we are unhappy, we tend to see only the negative, and it becomes difficult to see our partner’s good aspects.

It is important to understand and talk about expectations.  Expectations include:

* How communication should take place in relationships;

* How husbands and wives should handle conflicts and disagreements (such as "never raise voices" or "don’t argue in front of the kids");

* Who has more "say" or whether there should be "equal say" in the marriage;

* Expectations about sex;

* Who should do what around the house; and

* How finances should be handled.

Many spouses think their partners’ expectations are similar to their own.  Actually, it is more likely that you have different expectations.  Remember, it’s how you handle your differences that count.

For example, what are your ideas about how feelings should be expresses?  Is it O.K. for spouses to raise their voices when having a disagreement?  How should you and your spouse act when there is trouble, anger, or sadness?  What are your ideas about parenting and children?  What are your expectations about your spiritual life?

Working through disagreements creates intimacy and trust in your marriage.  Handling conflict lays the groundwork for satisfying and fulfilling marriages.

DEVELOPING TEAMWORK AND FRIENDSHIP IN MARRIAGE

Spouses often say they want their partner to be their best friend.  Friendship is part of your marriage relationship.

Friends listen to each other, show respect foe each other’s opinions, and are truly interested in each other’s lives.  Friends talk about their interests, dreams, and plans, and discuss what is important to them.

Life after marriage makes it harder to keep time for friendship.  As life gets busier, and issues come up, friendship may suffer.  However, keeping friendship alive is one of the best tools for a successful marriage.  Friends work as a team ? making life easier and more fun.

Make time for "friendship talk" with your spouse, focusing on each other’s work, dreams, and interests.  Keep these friendship talks free from conflict ? do not talk about relationship issues or try to solve problems during this time

MARRIAGE AS A BALANCING ACT

Individuals have many different roles in their married lives.  These roles include work and family, being a spouse and a parent, and keeping a sense of self while also being part of a couple.  It is important to keep a balance between these sometimes-competing roles.  Doing too much of one often comes at the expense of another.

RECOGNIZING WHEN YOU NEED HELP

What are signs of marital distress?  If you often have communication problems, if your arguments are more destructive than constructive, and especially if your disagreements lead to pushing or shoving or other kinds of "physical" behavior ? it may be helpful to get assistance.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR HELP

If you or your partner ever need help of any kind, knowing where to look is important.  Family and friends can provide support.  Often, though, expert help is useful.  There are many highly qualified professionals to help you decide if you need assistance, and what kind of assistance might be most helpful.

Fortunately, there are many resources in our community to help develop you skills and improve your marriage.  Investigate programs and counseling offered by:

* Community mental health centers

* Religious organizations and spiritual leaders

* Relationship enhancement programs

* Marriage and family therapists
 

Many of these resources are available free of charge or on a sliding fee scale.

All couples have the potential to succeed in making a wonderful marriage.  It does not happen naturally.  It takes a lot of effort.  The most successful relationships are ones that partners continually work to improve.
 

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