Keeping the Couple Strong Within a Family

February 12th, 2011
By Wendy Kovacs, LMFT - HCC Senior Clinician It is amazing how often people ask where their sense of being a couple went after starting a family! The couple often gets so wrapped up in the stresses of daily life that they lose who they were before children. Research indicates that in strong families, the partner relationship between the parents is the foundation for the entire family. The couple is there before, during, and after children, and it holds the family together. Remembering to value and take time to care for your partnership is especially difficult during parenting years, and its maintenance takes the effort of both partners. There is no doubt that having children changes the couple, and their relationship, but it does not have to overpower the sense of partnership that exists within a couple. Research has uncovered six characteristics in healthy couples with strong relationships. Not all characteristics were found in every couple, but most characteristics were present more often than they were not. All couples have strengths as well as areas for improvement. Reflecting on this list can help you to assess your own couple, and help you and your partner channel your efforts effectively to strengthen not only your partnership, but your whole family! First, strong couples have commitment to each other. They have many common goals and morals, and yet support each other’s individual goals as well. These couples tend to have some common interests that they share, but are also willing to engage in activities that are primarily interests of the other partner. These couples also tend to celebrate more together, including small successes and accomplishments. Second, strong couples express appreciation to each other. They find ways to show each other that they are valued and important to each other. They regularly say thanks to each other, give compliments, and take notice of small gestures from their partners. This is hardest when frustrations and resentments arise, but strong couples find ways to let resentments go and try not to take their frustrations out on each other.  How to do this varies with each person, but could include journaling, exercising, or venting to friends. Strong couples also find ways to forgive each other, and apologize without feeling forced. Third, strong couples find ways to spend time together. We all know that finding family time is difficult, so couple time can be nearly impossible! But time together does not need to be an elaborate date night in order to strengthen a couple. Taking a few minutes each day to talk to each other so that each partner can share some concerns and joys from the day helps to unite and strengthen a couple. During talks, strong couples try to understand what events mean to each other, and explore the feelings behind the experiences without trying to solve or downplay them. The time strong couples spend together also includes finding ways to show affection and express love to each other. This helps to override the resentments that inevitably build within couples. Fourth, strong couples communicate. These couples listen without giving advice (unless advice is asked for) and empathize with their partners. Instead of telling each other what to do, they say “that must be hard on you,” or “I’m sorry you had to deal with that.” They also don’t assume that their partner can read their mind, so they say their needs out loud, and ask for help. Fifth, strong couples deal effectively with conflict. All families experience conflict, but strong couples attack the problem, not each other. Strong couples recognize that different people deal with frustration differently, and they respect those differences. They also look for the feelings underneath the anger, since anger is a cover-up emotion. These couples find ways to make requests of each other instead of accusing the other person. For example, instead of saying, “You never help me!”, they might say, “Could you please help me with this?” These couples use self-regulation techniques (taking deep breaths, stepping away from an intense, emotionally-charged disagreement) to keep conflict from escalating beyond where they can logically solve problems. Finally, strong couples do not waste time on who did what and why, since this is rarely helpful. Instead, they focus on ways that they can help each other. Children benefit from seeing their parents work through conflict as long as the conflict is well managed, and they see that there are only winners, no losers. Children also need to see that compromise and negotiation are necessary in life. Finally, strong couples have rhythm. These couples have routines, rituals, and traditions that give direction, meaning, and structure to the daily flow of life. In other words, they have shared principles that they live by. Rhythms give stability and clarify family roles and expectations. And yet, strong couples are able to adapt when their families needs change. It is important to note that strong couples do not always find a resolution to disagreements. Research has found that happy, successful couples have approximately ten areas of "incompatibility" that they will never resolve. Instead of trying to resolve these, successful couples learn how to manage the disagreements and live life "around" them. They find ways to be themselves, and to be a couple. This greater sense of purpose allows these couples to work through daily stresses and create a cohesive family where each member is valued and respected. Seeking couples therapy is actually the sign of a healthy relationship because it shows that you want to work on the relationship. If you need additional help, or want to talk out your concerns, House Calls Counseling is available to you.