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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

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tips for a stronger marriage

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Every February 14th we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a day that commemorates romantic love. On this day, many people take the time to show their appreciation for their spouse or partner. As wonderful as this day is, it begs the question: Why do we need a special day to show our love? Ideally, gestures of affection and respect should happen daily.

Unfortunately, divorce is an outcome for almost half of married couples. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, as many as 42 per cent of marriages in Canada are expected to end in divorce. In 2008, the average age at divorce was 44.5 years for men and 41.9 for women. Divorce ranks high on the list of the most stressful life events for people. It can affect the physical, mental, social, and financial well being of couples and their children.

If you and your spouse are having some difficulties, it is better to take action now, rather than to wait until the damage is beyond repair. Effective communication is key to a successful relationship. However, it is not easy for most couples, and it takes a lot of effort. What are some steps you and your spouse can take to improve the way you communicate?

1. Call your spouse names. This doesn’t mean to use “bad” names (e.g. jerk, whiner, stupid), but to purposefully use your pet names for each other when arguing. Saying, “Honey, I am so mad at you,” already has a softer tone than, “You are a jerk, I am so mad at you”.

2. Watch your language. This doesn’t just refer to swearing. Do not use the words never and always. It clouds what you are trying to say and leaves your spouse feeling like they are being attacked. For example, instead of saying “I always have to remind you to empty the dishwasher,” try saying, “I would really appreciate it if you emptied the dishwasher.”

3. Use “I” instead of “You” statements. This gets your message across more clearly, and again, doesn’t put your partner on the defensive. For instance, instead of saying, “You act crazy when you get mad at other drivers!” try stating, “I get worried when you yell at other drivers on the road.”

4. Also use “We” statements. This promotes a team mentality and avoids placing responsibility on just one person in the marriage. Consequently, when you talk like partners, you will act like partners. For instance, instead of saying, “You always take your mothers side!” try opening the conversation with, “We have to sit down and talk about how your mother’s comments affect us.”

5. Set aside time everyday to talk to each other. On especially busy days, it can be as simple as asking, “How was your day?” and having a two-minute conversation. But attempt to have at least three uninterrupted conversations per week, where you sit with each other and talk for at least half an hour. Make it a time when you can confide in each other about things that are happening at work and news about family members and friends. Include any funny moments you had during the week, as well as hopes and dreams that you have. After all, being life partners must also mean that you are friends.

6. Actively listen when your spouse is talking. This means that you do not interrupt, and that an effort is made to focus on your partner’s words and body language. During the time the other is talking, you should not be planning what you are going to say next. When your spouse is finished stating their point, ask questions to clarify. You can then summarize what you just heard by starting with, “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You’re saying that…”

7. Start an upward spiral of good events. As quickly as things can spiral downwards or out of control, doing nice things for each other can also build momentum. If you take the time to listen respectively, this will likely cue your partner to do the same for you next time. If you make lunch for your spouse unasked one day, your vehicle might get a surprise trip to the car wash.

8. Date each other again. At least once a month, make time for you to go out together alone. This can be a dinner date, a trip to the movies or theatre, a sporting event, a walk in the park, or going out for coffee. Going to the grocery store doesn’t count! There will come a day when your children will be adults and have lives of their own, and the both of you will be left. You don’t want to wait until then to get to know each other again.

9. Revisit your values regularly. Ask yourself how much weight you give to commitment, loyalty, and sacrificing for your loved ones. If you made your vows before God, how much does this mean to you?

10. Count your blessings. A wise friend once told me that his prescription for helping others to heal is to count one hundred blessings in one day. Even though this seems impossible to do in our busy lives, he found that most people completed their list by mid-morning. Listing things that we are grateful for will put problems into perspective. Dilemmas will have less importance to us. Being grateful leaves less time to complain and dwell on what we don’t have. Emotions such as anger, disappointment and jealousy will be replaced with joy. So maybe, just maybe, seeing your spouse as a blessing will give them a place closer to your heart.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at 497 Corydon Avenue, 2nd Floor, Winnipeg, MB R3L 0N9. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or