During the 90’s the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, became a big hit, because the habits worked. They worked so successfully that Covery applied them to improving our relationships and our personal lives. This article summarizes the steps to improving your relationship using The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Marriage.
Habit 1. Be Proactive
Take responsibility for your actions. Take ownership for your part in any conflict; don’t blame others (like your partner) when you make a mistake; own it! Rather than automatically reacting to your partner, take a breath, calm down, and choose how to respond. Check your feelings and explore the internal trigger that your spouse touched. Decide what response will help the situation with your spouse. That leads to the second step…
Begin with the End in Mind
Like taking a vacation, know your destination before you get on the road. Before you begin a conversation with your partner, think about your goal for the conversation. Before you respond to your partner, ask yourself what positive goal you want to achieve. I once counseled a couple about the best way to handle their problem child. After hearing them both explain their side and before having them speak to each other using health communication, I reminded them of this step: they both wanted to support their child.
Put First Things First
Key to improving your relationship is identifying its importance in your life. Your spouse will be with you much longer than your children. Put your marriage and your family first. Everything else, including work, is negotiable.
Do not approach conflict with your partner thinking that someone must win and someone must lose. Work to find a solution where everyone feels respected, heard, and valued. The best way to do that is to practice the next habit.
Seek First to Understand…Then to Be Understood
Probably the most important skill in improving your relationship is to learn to use active listening skills:
- Listen without interrupting.
- Paraphrase what your partner said, with words like, “If I understand you correctly,…” or “In other words,…” to let your partner know you were paying attention and to get verification that you did not misinterpret their words.
- Pause to think about their position, assume it is valid to them even if you disagree. Try to imagine why they see the situation the way they do; imagine yourself in the same position. Ask yourself, “If this was true for me, how would I feel?”
- Offer Empathy. Say something like, “If I believed…, I would feel…” Do not tell your partner how they feel but how you might if you were in their situation.
For example, with the parents I worked with previously, when the husband listened to his wife’s concerns, he said, “I hear that you believe that Joey (not his real name) does not value the (very expensive) gift we gave him (that is now broken) and that he doesn’t understand value of things we give him. If I believed that, I would be worried that he would become selfish and entitled. Is that how you feel?”
Work together. If you practice the previous habit, this habit becomes a no-brainer. I believe that if a couple can really understand each other and work so both feel satisfied and validated, you almost always will find a solution you can both live with. Also, work together to achieve your goals for your family and yourselves as a couple. Support each other in your personal goals.
Sharpen the Saw
According to Covey, “We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.” Make time for self-care and the care of your relationship. Find fun, nurturing activities to share with your partner. Have regular date nights. Have “state of the relationship” conversations regularly. Allow each other time alone. Eat well, exercise, rest, and recreate.
If you would like help to use these steps to improve your relationship, please contact our office. We have excellent therapists who use sound and effective marriage counseling practices and we would love to help you.