Making a marriage work takes effort, no matter how long you have been married. Divorces have doubled among couples 50 and over in the decade between 1990 and 2010, according to research conducted by the National Center for Family and Research at Bowling Green State University, but there remain just as many successful, long-term marriages that do work. A happy, healthy marriage is fostered by two people who work at the relationship and strive to improve their communication and connection.
Write about your relationship for 15 minutes every day in a journal. Journaling is a tool used by health professionals of all types. Writing strengthens the immune system as well as the mind, as it helps a person deal with and learn from negative experiences, suggests the American Psychological Association. Start by writing out whatever comes to mind. Ask your spouse to participate in this exercise as well. If he is unwilling, you can still use it as tool for working on your relationship.
Make a list of all of the positive things you can think of about your marriage and your life together. Invite your spouse to create his own list in his notebook. Set aside a quiet time and place to share your lists with each other. Before tackling problems in your marriage, take the time to remember the good.
Create two more lists in your notebooks. First, list everything you love about your spouse and why; if you can think of specific examples, write them down. Second, write the five highlights of your life together. Again, share these lists with each other at a separate time when you can focus your attention on one another. After years of trying to fix what is wrong with a marriage, it is helpful to look at what is right with it.
Compile a list, in your notebook, of some of the problems you would like to address in your marriage. Pick one and write out your feelings on the issue. Get as clear as you can on what is bothering you. It may be helpful to do a little research on the problem area. When you are clear on the issue, share your thoughts and feelings with your spouse. Take turns doing this.
Practice good communication skills when talking with your spouse about your concerns. State the issue clearly and concisely. Be patient when speaking and listening. Begin each sentence with "I" rather than "You," and focus on your thoughts and feelings when describing an issue. Allow your spouse time to digest what you have said and ask questions before responding. It may be helpful to plan a 15-minute break before receiving feedback on your concerns.
Seek support from a trained professional to overcoming habitual relationship problems that are not easily resolved. The steps above may be enough to jump start what is already working in your relationship. It may also just stir the pot and help you see what the issues are. A marriage counselor can help you move forward more quickly. Use your journaling as a spring board for your initial conversations with the therapist.
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Does Marriage Counseling Work?
- National Center for Marriage and Family Research: Marriage: More Than a Century of Change
- BMJ: Key Communication Skills and How to Acquire Them
- American Psychological Association : Writing to Heal
- Advances In Psychiatric Treatment: Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing
- American Journal of Public Health: The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature
- Add uplifting quotes, books to read and your reflections on your marriage in your notebook.
- If your spouse is unwilling to keep a journal, allow for verbal participation. If that doesn't work either, it may still be beneficial to you to do the exercises suggested.
Dorothy Sander has been writing for the over 50 market since 2001. Author of two books and hundreds of articles, she writes on topics such as elder care, aging, empty nest, health and wellness, personal development, loss and more. She holds a B.A. in Economics and a M.Div.
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