Letter to the Newlyweds
I was recently invited to the wedding of a young lady whom I had never met, – the daughter of one of my dear high school friends we had corresponded over the years and I was honored to be included in her celebration. As a couples therapist I find myself in a unique position – both awed and full of enthusiasm for the wonders of committed relationships yet also all too aware of the dangers and pitfalls that the innocence of early marriage can hold. So in addition to the gravy boat, I also sent the young couple two of my favorite relationship books (Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, and How to Succeed at Marriage by John Gottman) and the letter which I share below:
As you approach your wedding day I’m going to take advantage of my position as honorary aunt and give you some unsolicited advice. You see the thing is, good marriages don’t just happen; you really do have to work to create them. Right now you are no doubt madly in love and that is as it should be. What I want to share with you though is that being “in love” is a stage – a necessary stage for enduring relationships, but nevertheless a stage that will eventually end. The reason for this is that that “in love” feeling is actually created by our brains releasing a ton of fun hormones into our system that create a feeling of being high and thus encourage us to mate and reproduce…hmmm. Brain scans of people in love look exactly like the brain scans of people high on cocaine. Scary.
After we get married our brains eventually settle into the ordinary business of earning a living, fixing the house, doing laundry etc. and the hormone levels drop and all of a sudden we are going through withdrawal and we don’t feel so good. What often happens at that moment is that we say to ourselves, “you used to make me feel good and now I don’t feel good anymore so it must be your fault,” and we start trying to get our partners to make us feel good again and often in not very nice ways. That’s usually where fights and will struggle come from. When that happens, and it will, that’s the time to pull these books out, read them, and get curious, “what can I do to get us back on track?”
Here are a few simple bits of advice:
- Avoid criticism: criticism is a love-destroyer. If you are tempted to criticize try to turn it into a request instead.
- Good marriages have a 5:1 ration of positive to negative interactions. That means for every harsh word or cold shoulder you need five hugs, five cuddles, five walks in the park, five complements, five thank yous etc.
- Start and end each day with a few minutes of cuddling and sharing appreciation of each other.
- Even if you don’t have a lot of money, try to schedule some kind of date night every week – especially after you have children. Fun is essential to a good marriage, and laughter is even better so watch those funny movies together.
- Try to avoid those “out of the blue” arguments. If something is worth fighting about it’s worth sitting down quietly to talk about. Schedule a time to talk about the issue, wait till you feel calm, limit the talk to 30 minutes, and if you need to keep scheduling follow up meetings until you both feel ok about the issue.
6. If you think you are going to say or do something hurtful take a time out – even if you don’t mean it, hurtful words once said tend to stick in peoples’ brains and will haunt you later.
7. Don’t bring third parties (Mom, Dad, friends, etc.) into your disagreements, and try to stick to one issue at a time.
8. Take some time to sit down together and write out your vision for your future, then put it in your bedside table and read it together every once in a while.
So that’s more than enough for now. Feel free to reach out to me whenever you want any more unsolicited advice (:
Wishing you a lifetime of waking up together, looking in each other’s eyes, and knowing that you are sharing your life with your soul mate.
Lots of Love,