Relationships: What I Have Learned From My Marriage (So Far)

There are all different kinds of couples and different ways of being in a relationship. I am in what I can call a mixed marriage with Inass, my wife. We come from different cultures and we see the world in a different way, sometimes a very different way. Our backgrounds could not be more different and sometimes that particular difference has caused friction and conflict as we have struggled to understand each other. We highlighted this in a podcast we did together a few years back: A Husband and Wife Discussion.

This post is really about how we deal with the fundamentals of our marriage. The more romantic side exists and co-exists and we work on this as well, quite happily.

However, it works and it works for a specific reason, in that we choose to make it work, even in times when it would have been easier to give up. Those experiences have helped us to form a base where we can work through issues as they come up. As we are not perfect, it doesn’t always go to plan but even that can help to bring learning about the next dysfunctional event. Some of these events have been self-inflicted and some out of our control.

I don’t want this post to be misunderstood as preaching from upon high. Believe me, as a couple, we make and made all the same mistakes that others make in terms of communication breakdown and ineffective conflict management. While culturally, any issues we have in this area are very specific to us as a couple, there are some things we have learnt about how to handle our marriage (and differences), that might help others. This is my hope in writing this. We are by no means, the finished article and we will always, like other couples, have things to work on. However, we choose to stay together and making that choice every day means that we also choose to accept each other and ourselves as flawed human beings.

If I think about how we have got to where we are, it has been a slow road. We have moved many times, continent to continent, dealt with stress and overwhelm, officialdom on every corner and unfortunately in some of these areas, blatant discrimination and racism. This was in places where you would least expect, which left us shocked and surprised. Thankfully, my wife is a person who lives her life by the sort of values that don’t keep her down for long. We have plans and those plans are heading to fruition on a personal and business basis. We work extremely well together in the business and that helps.

Around this, we have had to deal with how to deal with each other and what we have brought to the relationship in a positive and not so positive sense. Only now, after many years are we starting to see the wood from the trees and just how important we are to each other. That fact may have become somewhat lost at times as we strive towards solving problems. Listed below are some of the things we try to do to maintain our relationship and make love last. Some you will read in any magazine or website but others are not so common.

1. Do Work On The Four PillarsThis, for me, is the basis of a relationship. Adherence to the four factors: Trust, honesty, respect and the mutual meeting of emotional needs (real not assumed), is an essential daily practice. In the early part of our relationship, we didn’t always see the importance of this. Nobody cheated but it took us a while to find our strengths in this area. Keeping the Four Pillars in mind also means that you are putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and trying to understand where they are coming from. It also helps to set boundaries when needed. Once emotional needs have been discovered (through discussion), work on fulfilling those in a reasonable, non-codependent manner. It worked for us.

2. Avoid EnmeshmentOn a journey like ours, it would be very easy to believe that we only need each other. At times, we have truly only had each other but that should not be a permanent state. I have suffered more with this than Inass due to my codependent tendencies. I have felt at times that I need to fix and rescue her, which made her a victim in my eyes. She doesn’t want this and expresses this well. Enmeshment also triggers hyper vigilance, especially in me, and the opportunity to fix. We have learnt (again, applies to me) that a couple truly needs to bring separate identities into a relationship. The work is done matching the values that these identities live by.

3. Conflict, Yes That! No couple can live together without conflict. I often worry with couples who don’t have it, that they have nothing to fight for! Conflict is inevitable but it needs to be managed so that it doesn’t overwhelm the relationship. In our case, conflict management has been an issue from the start and has been damaging at times. We have different ways of dealing with conflict which are on opposite ends of a scale. Inass tends to shut down and I anxiously badger her to try and get the conflict solved. Exactly the opposite method to the one I advise in therapy! These methods, of course, are generally automatic and once they jump in are very difficult to control. This is a work in progress for us and we have tried to set rules around conflict. However, there is only a small window of opportunity to do the right thing and the real work is done through mindfulness, effective listening and applying the four Pillars. It is always effective to ask yourself mindful questions in the moment and making sure your response is the right one. We are heading in a good direction with this.

4. Communication. If you follow the link in the title, you will look at the ideal for most people, four effectives ways to communicate. It is the gold standard to aim at but not many couples are anywhere near this. However, that doesn’t mean that major effort cannot be put in to improve effective communication. This is one area where I am truly happy with us at present. We communicate quite well and always have an ear for each other. We are very busy people in general but communication can always be improved and I am proud of us that we do this.

5. Support. Inass is my best friend as well as my wife. I love to see her do well and support her all I can. She feels the same about me and we have got through some tough times with this attitude. We are very much part of each other’s plans on an individual as well as a couple basis. It is heartening to know that we are moving towards a common goal. This helps to put all of the above in context.

6. Humour. All of the above sounds fairly serious but we also laugh a lot which is important. Inass does a cracking impression of my very British accent, which actually sounds better than mine! Seriously, we can always find something to joke about and that truly helps.

One thing I really like about us is that we mostly understand each other and how where we came from affects how we see the world. This is finally starting to come to fruition and I enjoy our relationship. We are a work in progress and that’s the way we approach our relationship. There are many reasons why we could have given up but I personally, could not imagine my life without her.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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