What is “Success” in Marriage?

BY KRISTINA HARTER, Ph.D.

In the complex world of marriage, success is a multifaceted concept that often requires us to redefine our understanding of it. As a couples therapist, I’ve seen countless couples face challenges and conflicts in their relationships, and I believe that embracing a new perspective on success can make all the difference.

1. Tolerating Feeling Unsuccessful

Success in marriage begins with the ability to tolerate feeling unsuccessful without taking it personally or responding defensively. It’s natural to feel caught off-guard, confused, or even disagree with your spouse when they express their feelings or concerns. However, success involves staying balanced and self-connected, responding from a place of calm and clarity, rather than reacting automatically with fight, flight, or freeze responses.

2. Embracing Moments of Confusion

Success isn’t about preventing moments of confusion, distance, or upset; it’s about keeping your internal balance when they inevitably occur. Remember that most negative emotions or conflicts in your marriage are not personal attacks – they’re often not about you at all. Understanding this can help you navigate difficult moments more effectively.

3. Opposite Action to De-Escalate Conflict

A powerful tool for resolving conflicts is practicing opposite action. When your reactions seem disproportionate to the situation or when you find yourselves stuck in the same old arguments, try opposite action or other thought. For instance, if you’re pushing your spouse away, consider reaching out instead. Understanding how your actions affect each other can break the cycle of conflict.

4. Understanding Attachment Styles

It’s crucial to differentiate between insecure and secure attachment styles and how they influence your interactions. Sometimes, we unconsciously seek to fulfill unmet childhood needs through our spouse, which can lead to emotional hijacking. Learning about attachment can provide valuable insights into your dynamics.

5. Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance involves fully accepting the present moment without trying to change it. While we may not have explored this concept extensively in therapy, it can be a powerful tool for reducing conflict. Embracing what is happening in the moment can lead to greater understanding and empathy.

6. Guilt vs. Shame

Distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is a healthier emotion as it separates behavior from self-worth, promoting empathy and perspective-taking. On the other hand, shame can be destructive and lead to escalation and withdrawal. Embrace guilt as a catalyst for positive change.

7. Accepting Unresolved Conflicts

Most marital conflicts are not resolved in the traditional sense. Success lies in changing how you respond to these conflicts, making them less hijacking and dire. Understand that conflicts are inevitable when two well-intentioned individuals negotiate a shared life.

8. Beneath the Surface

Remember that underneath the increased intensity and withdrawal in your conflicts lies a shared desire to protect your marriage. Approach each other’s “bad behavior” with compassion, much like you would with your children’s tantrums.

9. Breaking the Old Narrative

Do you want to cling to the old narrative, the same unproductive patterns? You sought intensive therapy because you’re ready for a new outcome. Be willing to deauthorize the old narrative and allow something new to happen. Applying the skills you’ve learned in therapy can facilitate this transformation.

10. Do a U-Turn

In moments of conflict, do a U-turn by turning your attention toward yourself rather than seeking external validation. This concept, coined by Richard Schwartz, encourages self-reflection and introspection during challenging times.

In conclusion, success in marriage is not about avoiding conflict but about navigating it with understanding, empathy, and self-awareness. By redefining success in this way and incorporating these principles into your relationship, you can create a stronger, more fulfilling partnership that stands the test of time.

About the Author

Kristina Harter, Ph.D., founded 1A Wellness in 2019. She has been a clinical psychologist for over 20 years.

Interested in learning more about Teletherapy or In-Person Therapy with 1A Wellness? Read more about our practice here.

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Note on Health Insurance

1A Wellness is a self-pay out-of-network practice. As such, we do not accept health insurance. But if your healthcare plan includes an out-of-network option, partial reimbursement may be available. See our FAQ section for more information.